Finance Minister Charles Sousa hints at new measures to cool real estate market before upcoming budget

Budget day in Ontario will be April 27, but voters can expect to see Liberal politicians making budget-related announcements in the meantime, as a decade of deficits comes to an end.

Ontario's Liberal government to create transit tax credit for seniors in first balanced budget in a decade

After nine straight deficits under Ontario's Liberal government, Finance Minister Charles Sousa is promising to table a balanced budget for 2017-18. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Budget day in Ontario will be April 27, but voters can expect to see Liberal politicians making budget-related announcements in the meantime, as a decade of deficits comes to an end. 

Finance Minister Charles Sousa revealed the budget date in a speech Thursday afternoon to a business audience in downtown Toronto.

Sousa said the budget will include a new provincial tax credit for seniors for their public transit costs. He also repeated his pledge that the deficit will be eliminated, which would mean Ontario's first balanced budget since 2007-08.

"The 2017 budget represents the start of a new era," Sousa said in his speech. 

"Over the next two weeks, as we take the final steps on our path to balance, my colleagues and I will be making a series of important announcements to help you and your family," he said. 

Sousa previously indicated the budget will include measures to cool soaring home prices in the Greater Toronto Area, but his speech indicated he'll reveal some steps "in the coming days." 

Finance Minister Charles Sousa hinted his measures to cool housing prices will target "speculators who are playing the market and limiting supply." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Sousa hinted that his targets will include  "speculators who are playing the market and limiting supply," which he called "property scalpers." 

"There are those who go into new developments, buy up a slew of properties and then flip them, while avoiding to pay their fair share of taxes," said Sousa. "They are crowding out families who are trying to put down roots."

He will meet with federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Toronto Mayor John Tory next Tuesday to discuss solutions to housing costs.

Sousa offered no details on the promised transit tax credit for those over 65. The federal government eliminated its public transit tax credit in the budget delivered last month, and in response Sousa promised to "provide support and encouragement" for using transit. 

'Major booster shot' for health care

The 2017 provincial budget will also follow up on previous Liberal pledges to spend billions on new transit infrastructure and child care spaces, and there's a hint of more spending in Ontario's $50-billion a year health system. 

"We will be giving health care a major booster shot," said Sousa. 

Ontario's successive Liberal governments have been in the red since the 2008-09 recession, with a budget deficit that year of $19 billion. The Liberals have been forecasting 2017-18 as the date for returning to balance since the 2011 election campaign.

Sousa's path to eliminating the deficit this year has been eased by better than expected economic growth. Figures released Thursday revealed the province's GDP grew 2.7 per cent in 2016 — that's half a percentage point higher than projected in the 2016-17 budget, and means billions more in tax revenue than forecast.

"This is not just a Toronto economic recovery story," Sousa said in the speech, listing the dropping unemployment rates in Windsor, Guelph and Oshawa. 

After the federal government eliminated its tax credit for the cost of public transit, Ontario's government is now promising a new provincial tax credit, but only for public transit users over age 65. (John Rieti/CBC)

The opposition Progressive Conservatives said Sousa will be tabling a "so-called balanced budget" and accused the Liberals of making life unaffordable.

"The only way a balance will be possible is through even higher taxes, deeper cuts to our schools and hospitals, and the fire sale of Hydro One," said PC finance critic Vic Fedeli in a statement.

NDP finance critic John Vanthof also lamented the Liberals' insistence on selling Hydro One. The government privatized the former Crown corporation in 2015 and has sold off 30 per cent of its shares.

Sousa's budget will have to account for the Liberals' promise to cut hydro bills by 17 per cent starting this summer. 

"Ontarians expect to see immediate relief on their hydro bills and a real fix for our electricity system," Vanthof said in a statement. "People are struggling and Premier Wynne is out of touch with their needs."

Since Jan. 1, the government has been rebating the provincial portion of the HST from residential and small business hydro bills, a move that is costing the treasury about $1.1 billion this year.