(By: Jonathan Bradley)
Ontario’s Liberal government indicated its plans for the upcoming budget in the Speech from the Throne at Queen’s Park on Monday, promising significant new spending on multiple programs and issues.
Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell hinted that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government intends on investing in new programs and expanding on current ones.
Dowdeswell said that Wynne will direct spending to reduce hospital wait times and increase access to home care for seniors and mental health care. The scope of people who qualify for post-secondary grants will broaden. There will also be an expansion of the OHIP+ program beyond children and youth to allow more people to receive free prescription drugs.
Dowdeswell did not specify people who will be covered under an expanded OHIP+, but said “other parts of the population” will now be included. Dowdeswell also suggested that there will be changes to dental coverage.
“More people without a drug or dental benefits plan will have access to more affordable prescription drugs and dental care,” she said.
Speaking at the Leaside Curling Club, Wynne said she would make prescription drugs free for seniors if she were re-elected.
“It’s going to be one less thing that people have to worry about,” said Wynne.
Wynne said that more than 4,400 prescription drugs would be available for free to seniors through an expansion of OHIP+. Seniors would no longer have to pay a deductible or co-payment, and they would have to present an eligible prescription and OHIP number at a pharmacy to receive their prescription drugs for free.
She said that the expansion of OHIP+ to seniors would take place on Aug. 1, 2019.
She prorogued the Ontario legislature last week to prepare for the Speech from the Throne, and she has denied it was an attempt to fix problems before the election. The Ontario New Democrats called proroguing the legislature “a stunt,” and the Ontario PCs decided to hold a “unity rally” on the same day as the Speech from the Throne.
Ontario’s election is set for June 7.
The speech comes one week before the government is set to table its 2018 budget. Dowdeswell said that the budget will have a deficit of about $8 billion to increase spending for health care, child care, and post-secondary grants.
“After delivering a balanced budget this year, your government has made a deliberate choice to make more investments in the care and the services that the people of this province rely on,” she said. “As a result, the 2018 budget will show a modest deficit next year of less than one per cent of our GDP and outline a path back to a balanced budget.”
The Liberals used their speech to celebrate their record after 15 years in power. Dowdeswell pointed to the minimum wage increase, which is set to rise to $15 on Jan. 1, 2019, and the cap and trade program.
It did not mention rising hydro rates that have contributed to low approval ratings for Wynne and are expected to be an important issue to voters. Polls suggest that she needs to make serious advances if she wants to beat the Ontario PCs.
(Header photo courtesy of the Hamilton Spectator)