By Barb Willet
Yesterday’s provincial budget held few surprises for many key elements had been released over recent weeks. Balance was the theme; it was stressed frequently and demonstrated in the Liberals’ efforts to balance investment with restraint.
The Liberals continued their commitment to a fair society and included a strong focus on many of the fundamental factors that influence health, including a stronger public transit infrastructure; a range of income supports such as increases in minimum wage, the child benefit tax credit and social assistance; continued investment in early learning; and affordable housing.
Education and health care remain priorities. There is investment in hospital and school infrastructure and aspirational goals for both are outlined within their ten-year economic plan. Related highlights include:
- increasing support to seniors to help them stay active and engaged and enhancements to the current Long-Term Care Home Renewal Strategy;
- expanding health and dental benefits to all low-income workers;
- strengthening the Smoke-Free Ontario Act;
- expansion of the newborn screening Ontario program;
- acting on the Healthy Kids panel recommendations;
- explicitly committing to the provincial mental health strategy, Open Minds, Healthy Minds; and
- expanding Community Health Links.
The proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan; commitment to increase wages for personal support workers, early childhood educators and other licensed child care workers; investment in the Ontario Youths Jobs strategy; and improving the quality of life for Aboriginal communities are examples of other noteworthy initiatives.
Austerity measures continued with reference to their efforts to implement recommendations from the 2012 Drummond report and their commitment to “root out waste” with increased accountability and a tight oversight of and reduction in public spending.
We applaud these measures and the government’s desire to invest in the right areas while working to stimulate the economy and reduce the deficit. It’s a step in the right direction but more is clearly needed to address the determinants of health, reduce inequities and strengthen communities across Ontario.
I believe Trish Hennessy from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said it best when she wrote, “But Ontario hasn’t exactly entered a brand new post-austerity world, which leads me to this conclusion: Budget 2014 could be worse, but given the multiple pressures facing Ontarians, it most certainly could be better”.
With the announcement that the NDP will not support the 2014 budget, Ontario is yet again moving to an election. While the elements of the budget clearly will form the foundation of the Liberal platform but whether or not they are implemented is uncertain.
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