COVID-19 budget comes with record spending and deficit
By Robin MacLennan
Ontario Construction News Editor
The 2020 provincial budget presented by Finance Minister Rod Phillips on Thursday includes a skilled trades strategy that he says will get people into in-demand jobs quickly.
“For Ontario to recover, we need strong, sustained economic growth,” Phillips said. “Now is the time to invest in retraining our workers so that they are ready to contribute to the recovery of our province,” he said, announcing an additional $181 million for Ontario Skills Training and $60 million for programs to help workers get into in-demand industries.
A new “unprecedented skilled trades strategy is designed to “break the stigma, simplify the system and encourage employer participation in skilled trades training and apprenticeships.
“These initiatives will help job seekers, particularly those hit the hardest by COVID-19, to get the skills they need.”
In tabling the spending plan in the legislature, Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the budget aims to “provide as much certainty as possible in an uncertain time.”
“There is still great uncertainty in the global economy, and this means the same thing for the Ontario budget,” Phillips said. “This means there is a greater degree of risk underlying our projections than normal.”
He focused on the commitment to assist Ontario businesses with programs including a subsidy for some commercial and industrial hydro bills starting Jan. 1, 2021 when the province will absorb costs from green energy deals signed by the previous Liberal government that are now being paid by electricity users.
The ministry of finance estimates it would save an average industrial user 14 per cent and commercial user about 16 per cent on their hydro bills.
“This cost on business is costing us jobs.”
With the government assuming the costs, industrial and commercial businesses will save an estimated 14 to 16 per cent on their energy bills.
“For a mine in Northern Ontario, this means a savings of $270,000 a month or $3.2 million a year,” he said.
“Employers big and small have told us that … it simply doesn’t make sense for them to come here because the cost of electricity is just so much higher, “ he said.
The costs to the government of the program are expected to decline annually until 2040, when they have all expired.
Also, about 94 per cent of businesses will see a reduction in their property taxes, through a standardized business education tax, changing the current system that sees rates depending on where the property is located.
Businesses will also be permanently exempted from paying the Employer Health Tax – a move that Phillips said would benefit about 30,000 small businesses with payrolls lower than $1 million annually.
“Ontario will go from being one of the least competitive jurisdictions because of the cost of electricity to one of the most competitive,” Phillips said, by reducing and eliminating “taxes on jobs and making life more affordable for employers.”
“Now is not the time for anyone anywhere to impose increases on employers.”
Municipalities will also be given power to provide property tax reductions for small businesses and Ontario will match the discount.
“This is help now and this is help for the future,” Phillips said.
High speed internet and cell service is not just an “abstract Third world problem,” Phillips said, re-announcing Ontario’s vision is to see a broadband connection in every home, business and farm in Ontario.
The total expansion budget is $1 billion and the province is “urging” the federal government to step up to the plate with more money for broadband services.
According to the finance minister, elements in the budget will make Ontario more attractive to investment because costs to operate here “will be better than the US average” and similar to those paid by businesses located in the Great Lakes states.