Highlights from Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s 2015-16 budget:

  • A 10-year $130-billion infrastructure plan, which includes $49.8 billion for transit, highways, and bridges in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.
  • The deficit is projected to decline to $8.5 billion this year, $4.8 billion in 2016-17, and be eliminated just in time for the October 2018 election.
  • Beer will be sold in 450 of Ontario’s 1,500 supermarkets with the first six-packs hitting grocery stores by this Christmas.
  • A new three cents a litre beer tax will kick in this November. That will increase three cents per litre per year until 2018, the equivalent of a penny-a-bottle — or $1 a 24 — hike annually. That eventually will bring in $100 million.
  • Selling off of 60 per cent of Hydro One, the provincial utility that owns 97 per cent of Ontario’s transmission lines, will net $4 billion toward transit.
  • Investing $250 million over two years in a new youth jobs strategy.
  • Cutting 5.5 per cent of all program expenditures except health-care and education, which are the two largest areas of spending. Health increases 1.9 per cent, while education rises 2 per cent, except for post-secondary, which remains frozen.
  • The Ontario Student Assistance Program, which defrays college and university tuition fees, will be adjusted to inflation this fall and there will a push to recover defaulted loans.
  • Motorists who use snow tires will get a discount on their car insurance rates and stopping premiums from going up after minor fender benders.
  • The province will do a comprehensive review of all user fees, such as driver’s licences and hazardous waste levies, to move toward full-cost recovery.
  • Streamlining the process for government advertising to define more clearly what is partisan after the auditor general’s rejection of ads simply because they happen to contain a political party’s colours.

What the 2015 Ontario budget means for you

  • More trains, more often: The budget promises billions more for regional express rail in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area, bringing its total contribution to $16 billion over 10 years. Partnering with Metrolinx, trains in core areas will run every 15 minutes, all day in both directions. By 2020, the province says Metrolinx will increase the number of Go Transit trips from 380 trips a day to 570, with most of the gains happening in the evenings and over the weekend. But transit improvements in Toronto, such as the relief line and Eglinton West extension, are more ambiguous.
  • What the budget means for Ontarians: We’ve known about it for a little while, but the budget put it in black and white; beer is coming to the grocery store. Beer will be available in 150 grocery stores in urban areas by May 2017, eventually rolling out to 450 stores over 10 years. The government is also raising the tax on beer, about an additional .25 cents for a 24 pack.
  • Less auto insurance, but more deductibles: The province promised to reduce auto insurance rates by 15 per cent, but they’re only halfway there. To go farther, the province is cutting the maximum interest rates on monthly auto insurance premiums and banning premium increases for minor at-fault accidents. Insurers will also offer a discount for using winter tires. But it’s not all good news. Some benefits are getting cut, and the province is hiking deductibles from $500 from $300.
  • More about the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan: The government introduced its plan to create a provincial pension plan to help top up federal retirement plans in the last budget. This coming year, the government intends to introduce legislation to create an arms-length administrator to oversee the pension plan and extend the deadline for consolidating split pensions by one year to July 1, 2017.
  • Less for public sector employees: The budget continues with the government’s policy of “net-zero” wage increases for public sector employees. Public-sector salaries continue to increase by just 0.6 per cent, far below private sector salaries or federal public sector salaries and well below the projected inflation rate of 2 per cent.
  • More for youth employment: The government is creating a number of programs aimed at young students. They’re putting additional $250 million over the next two years into the Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy, which funds programs for youth employment. They are also giving $20 million for the creation of Experience Ontario, a kind of provincial guidance-counseling program.