If there’s one thing top of mind for most folks, it’s the cost of living. Recent polling commissioned by the Broadbent Institute showed that whether it’s housing, healthcare, or simply paying for daily basics like food, Ontarians and the rest of Canada are worried that their largely stagnated incomes just can’t keep up. And they expect their government to start doing much more to make life affordable.
When Doug Ford rolled into office last June on a simple and effective slogan: “For the People”, many expected that under his rule their affordability concerns would be answered. Within the first few months however a pattern started to form of choices and policies that benefit special interest groups, while making life for the rest of us less affordable. This budget is yet more proof that Premier Ford will end up costing most folks more.
More healthcare costs on the way
It started on his second day in office when it was quietly announced that pharmacare for those under 25 was cancelled, closing the door on the promise of pharmacare for the rest of us. It’s a good deal for drug companies and insurers who make more money off of a fractured system of largely private coverage, where little is being done to control drug costs and premiums. It’s a crappy deal for the rest of us who continue to see our out-of-pocket costs for medications rise.
Yesterday’s budget plans to “save” another $200 million through the PC Government’s controversial plan to merge Health Units, but details are non existent and it’s always dangerous to cut a critical service like healthcare before identifying where the money will come from. Many public officers of health are saying it will likely mean less locally responsively service for people.
Less money for the work you do
Within a couple of months into his mandate, Ford cancelled the planned $15 minimum wage along with other benefits to workers such as two paid sick days. Their claim that a new “LIFT” income tax exemption for those making under $30,000 would give more money to the working poor has since been proven false by the government’s very own Financial Accountability Officer. Surprise! The minimum wage increase would have put an average of $400 more in our pockets. The business lobby are the only ones who remain pleased with the government’s choice.
The budget adds insult to injury by cutting the Ministry of Labour’s enforcement branch and allowing employers to “self audit” their compliance to labour laws. Abuses regarding working hours and wage theft that are already too common under the current level of monitoring and enforcement will get worse.
Higher housing costs
When Ford reversed his campaign promise last fall and removed rental control on all new units, he answered the lobbying efforts of landlords and developers over the plight of all of those who are struggling in the housing market (higher rents lead to higher housing prices overall). The move was widely panned as having little to do with creating more housing and a lot to do with allowing landlords to charge more on top of already sky high rents.
The budget is missing in action on any concrete efforts to counteract this disastrous move and improve housing affordability.
Paying more for your child’s education
More recently Ford’s PC government moved to increase school class sizes and cut funds for student supports and tutoring. Every parent knows what this means; they will have to spend more time and money getting educational supports outside of the public school system. That is if they can afford them. No doubt the cut helps pay for the $275 million cost the government incurred when it cancelled a surtax on the wealthiest last fall.
The budget further lays out an increase in education spending of only 1.2% over the next three years, less than half of what is needed to match inflation and population growth. So more hurt is on its way to Ontario classrooms.
Services where you will pay more for less
It’s true that this budget provides some much needed relief for very low-income seniors through a new dental care program, and to low to middle income parents in the form of a rebate program for some of their childcare costs. These are consolation prizes measured next to the growing list of decisions that make life harder and less affordable in Ontario.
The budget cuts government spending in over a dozen agencies and ministries. Indigenous Affairs had its budget cut in half, a final death knell for Reconciliation under this government. Children, Community and Social Services will lose a billion over the next three years. Legal Aid is losing nearly 30% of its budget. There is little doubt that these cuts, the large and the small will be felt by folks trying to get affordable services they expect and need from their government.
There’s a litany of clawbacks in the budget as well. One of the most notable is the cancellation of an increased gas tax transfer that was supposed to provide much needed funding to repair Toronto’s transit system and other municipal transportation infrastructure across Ontario. Now those costs will likely end up on transit riders that are already paying some of the highest prices in North America.
Ford’s PC Government says its “for the people” but now it’s becoming clear which people they mean; landlords and developers, the wealthy, the healthy, the business lobby. Meanwhile, the plight of folks struggling with housing, those stuck in bad jobs with poor pay, families depending on public education to help their kids get ahead, and the sick are largely ignored.
Katrina is the Program Director at the Broadbent Institute