Ontario Liberals unveil a generous election-year budget

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Even liberal leaning media outlets have concluded that this budget spending seems to be a bit over the top.

The budget includes billions in new spending on a wide range of issues that go beyond some of the announcements that have been made in the past few days- $2.2 billion to make preschool free for children aged 2-and-a-half years to four, $575 million for free prescription drugs for seniors, and a total of $2.1 billion to expand mental health services.

Most of the 308-page budget may well be destined to become a fantasy wish list if the Liberals fail to win the upcoming elections.

Critics see this budget as a last-minute hope to sway voters who believe that more money is required in the areas outlined but wonder if it is fiscally responsible to be sliding into even greater debt given the risks involved down the road in the event of an expected recession and an era of higher interest rates which will make repaying debt even more costly.

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Here are some of the budget highlights:

• A new drug and dental plan for 4.1 million Ontarians without workplace benefits, regardless of income, that pays up to 80 per cent of expenses to a maximum of $400 for a single person, $600 per couple and $50 per child in a family of four with two kids.
• A Seniors’ Healthy Home Program that would provide $750 per year to eligible households to help those 75 and older maintain their home.
• $300 million to hire a registered nurse in every long-term care facility in Ontario.
• 3 per cent increase in rates for those living on Ontario Works the Ontario Disability Support Program.
• $5,000 annually for 47,000 eligible Ontarians living with disabilities to access care and services.
• $11 billion to begin work on a high-speed rail line from Toronto to Windsor, Ont.
• $534 million to create 10,000 additional child care spaces in schools and 4,000 spaces in community centres.
• Those earning $71,500 or more annually — approximately 1.8 million people — would see a personal income tax increase. It’s on a sliding scale, so someone earning $95,000 would pay an extra $168 in tax. However, some 680,000 people would pay less personal income tax.
• $19 billion for hospital infrastructure and operations over the next decade.
• $16 billion in capital grants to build new schools or improve existing ones.
• Increase in OSAP awards for students from low-income families (those who make less than $90,000 a year) and for Indigenous students. Tuition is free for those earning up to $90,000.
• $4 dollar increase in the price of a carton of cigarettes. The change goes into effect at midnight.
• GO Transit and UP Express trips within Toronto will be $3 for Presto users. GO Transit trips under 10 kilometres long will also be $3 across the entire GTHA.

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The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, a subsidiary of the LCBO, is projected to lose $40 million in its first full year of operation. By the 2020-21 fiscal year, it’s expected to bring in a net income of $100 million.

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