Provincial budget focuses on care

By Dryden Observer Staff

Commentary is pouring in from across the land on the Ontario Liberals’ election time budget, which if the Wynne Liberals manage to successfully defend their government in June’s election, will feature $20.3 billion in new spending over the next three years.

The Wynne government introduced a bold 2018 budget last week with some big perks for working families including free preschool for children aged two-and-a-half years until eligible for kindergarten. The move could save the average family with a pre-school aged child over $17,000 in the preschool years. 

The province will add to the ongoing efforts to bolster the availability of child care with an additional $534 million to build 10,000 more childcare spaces in schools and an additional 4,000 in public spaces.

Hospitals will receive an additional $822 million in 2018-19, an increase of 4.6 per cent, targeting wait times and the number of critical services and procedures like MRIs, cancer and cardiac surgeries, organ transplants and further life-saving supports.

Also among its highlights, seniors can look forward to receiving prescription medications through the Ontario Drug Benefit at no cost as well as up to $750 for eligible seniors to help offset the cost of maintaining a home. Home care and community care will receive a $650 million boost to increase nursing and therapy visits as well as caregiver respite. The next three years would see $300 million flow towards long-term care, on top of a previously announced development of 30,000 new long-term care beds over the next 10 years.

Mental health and addictions services would see an historic investment of $2.1 billion over the next four years on a variety of initiatives, notably those focused on increasing access for youth to mental health services and combating the opioid crisis.

A new $800 million Ontario Drug and Dental Program would reimburse participants for up to 80 per cent of eligible prescription drug and dental expenses, up to an annual maximum of $400 for singles and $600 for couples, plus $50 for each child in the family.

The budget would also make college and university tuition free for more than 225,000 students of all ages. Free or low tuition is available for students from low- and middle-income families; tuition is free for those earning up to $90,000 and students from families who earn up to $175,000 are also eligible for financial aid. 

Kenora Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell says the budget lacks the focus on local issues to improve the lives of northerners.

“Northerners are struggling with the high costs, poor access to services and long wait times that has become part of everyday day life in our area,” said Campbell. “They have told me that they were looking to the provincial government to provide health care that works for us in the north: home care when and where we need it, better access to health treatments closer to home in Ontario and Manitoba, a Northern Health Travel Grant program that covers the true costs of accessing medical care, and dedicated long-term care beds in Sioux Lookout to address the growing needs in our region. This budget fails to offer relief in any of these health-related areas, nor does it offer any commitment to four-lane the Trans-Canada highway west of Thunder Bay, or any much needed relief on our hydro bills by offering reductions to the costs of electricity.”

Thunder Bay/Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle says provincial investments in the Ring of Fire mining project and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund (NOHFC) offer great support for northern development.

“The 2018 Budget includes significant benefits for Northern residents and business,” said Gravelle. “This includes our continued commitment of $1 billion into the Ring of Fire, one of Ontario’s most significant mineral deposits. Furthermore, we are seeing an increase in one of our most important and impactful programs through the NOHFC, which will see an increase of an additional $85 million over the next three years, reaching $150 million by 2020-21. Our government’s 2018 Budget commitments will ensure Northerners have financial security and affordability in this time of rapid economic change.”

Campbell says the budget’s strides on child care are encouraging but leave gaps for parents of infants and toddlers.

“As a mother of young children, I can personally attest to the outrageous cost of daycare, with a single child costing up to $1,000 a month. For parents with more than one young child, it is totally cost prohibitive to enroll your children in daycare and return to work. More needs to be done to make childcare affordable in Ontario, and this move—while it leaves out children younger than 2.5—is a step in the right direction.”

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