Highlights of Ontario's 2020 budget

The Ontario government unveiled its new budget on Thursday, amid a backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic fallout.

Key takeaways from a budget tabled during a global pandemic

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his government hope that spending big will help accelerate the province's COVID-19 recovery. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Ontario government unveiled its new budget on Thursday, amid a backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic fallout.

The accompanying legislation will amend 44 existing laws, including a change that the province says will help it establish online gambling and make permanent a rule allowing restaurants and bars to sell alcohol with takeout food.

Here are some key highlights:

Record spending

The budget projects more than $187 billion in expenditures this year, including $30 billion in pandemic-specific spending. It comes with Ontario's biggest-ever deficit, $38.5 billion. 

The budget lays out three different scenarios that could see the province's deficit levels change in the coming years depending on how long the pandemic lasts. Currently, it is forecasting lower deficits of $33.1 billion in 2021-2022 and $28.2 billion in 2022-2023 if economic growth progresses at a moderate rate.

New funds for hospitals

The province says it is spending $2.5 billion more in the hospital sector this year to help fight the pandemic. The budget allocates an additional $572 million today for costs incurred during the health crisis.

Hospitals have been asked to anchor much of Ontario's pandemic response, including running COVID-19 testing centres and assisting some long-term care homes. The facilities have also struggled with capacity issues through the second wave of the pandemic as they respond to a rise in cases while avoiding cancelling surgeries.

Money for at-home school costs

The budget renews funding to help parents with the added costs of at-home education. The program consists of $200 per child under 12 and $250 per child or youth with special needs. That program will cost the province $380 million, on top of the $378 million spent earlier this year.

The province says the program is intended to help parents cover costs like workbooks, school supplies, and technology.

Tax credit for seniors

The budget includes a new tax credit to help seniors live in their homes longer. It will reimburse them for 25 per cent of eligible renovations costing up to $10,000, regardless of their income and whether they owe taxes for 2021.

The government says the minimum credit will be set at $2,500. The temporary measure can be used for things like installing wheelchair ramps, non-slip flooring, and additional light fixtures.

Tourism tax credit

The government says it is exploring ways to create a tax credit of up to 20 per cent of expenses for visiting destinations in Ontario. It says it wants to make 2021 "the year of the Ontario staycation." There will also be a new $100-million community building fund to support tourism, cultural and sports organizations, and a one-time $25-million infusion to help cultural institutions.

Rural broadband

The province says it will spend an additional $680 million over the next four years to expand rural broadband access. The budget says when the new cash is combined with previous investments it will total nearly $1 billion over six years for broadband expansion.

The program is expected to increase broadband access for 220,000 homes and businesses across Ontario.

Other highlights include:

  • Education funding is forecast to go up about 2.85 per cent this year.
  • Doubling of the existing funding for the Black Youth Action Plan, adding $60 million over the next three years.
  • An additional $572 million for hospitals to help them weather the winter season.
  • $30 million to help services such as group homes and women's shelters curb outbreaks of COVID-19.
  • $180 million over three years to help retrain workers who lost jobs due to the pandemic, especially those in service industries.
  • Province will subsidize up to 16 per cent of electricity costs for industrial users and 14 per cent for commercial users starting Jan, 1, 2021.
  • 30,000 small businesses with payrolls of less than $1 million will be exempt from paying the Employer Health Tax.
  • Standardizing the rate of the Business Education Tax, which will help 94 per cent of Ontario businesses save on property tax, according to the government.
  • The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation revenue dropped from $2.3 billion in 2019 to just $200 million this year.

With files from Mike Crawley, Lucas Powers and The Canadian Press