Ontario Premier Doug Ford kicked off a new legislative session today, re-introducing his government’s provincial budget -- now titled Plan to Build Act (Budget Measures), 2022 -- in the Throne Speech.
It’s largely anticipated that the retabled budget -- the largest in the province’s history -- will be virtually the same as when it was announced on April 28, with a strong focus on transportation infrastructure and healthcare, and little new pertaining to the housing file. That budget was introduced, but not passed into legislation, prior to the provincial spring election, essentially standing in for the PC’s election platform.
“I am pleased to re-introduce the Plan to Build Act (Budget Measures), 2022 bill today so our government can continue delivering Ontario’s Plan to Build, supporting better jobs for workers while building more highways, housing and hospitals right across the province,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance. “With costs rising, our plan also includes measures to help families, including new direct payments to parents to help their kids catch up and increasing Ontario Disability Support Program payments.”
A debate and vote on this latest iteration of the provincial budget will commence following Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell’s reading of the Throne Speech at Queen’s Park. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, is also set to introduce new strong mayor legislation tomorrow, "to provide municipalities with additional tools to build more homes faster."
While much of her speech focused on the urgent need to address staffing shortages within the province’s pandemic-ravaged healthcare system, as well as transportation infrastructure and development in the Ring of Fire, the fact that Ontario is failing to produce adequate housing supply to keep pace with population growth was a key point.
“Now, like much of Canada, Ontario is facing a housing crisis that is freezing young families out of the dream of homeownership,” Dowdeswell reads. “With more housing starts in 2021 than in over 30 years, your government’s policies are working to get more homes built faster, with the ultimate goal of building 1.5M homes over the next 10 years. While this is welcome news, more needs to be done. As the province continues to grow, and as Ontario welcomes more newcomers in search of economic opportunity, the crisis will only get worse. That is, without bold action.”
She added the province will continue to work with municipalities to “break through the logjams” currently holding up housing creation, including a strong mayor system in Toronto and Ottawa.
“Strong mayor systems will help municipal leaders work more effectively with the province, with shorter timelines for development, standardized processes, and address local barriers to increasing the supply of housing,” she reads.
“For urban populations, these new powers will be especially relevant as the province works with its municipal partners to expand the footprint of transit-oriented communities, so more people can live, work and play near the convenience of public transit.”
The government is also exploring partnering with municipalities to leverage surplus provincial lands, and add new incentives to build housing that “lowers costs for potential buyers and puts homeownership in reach for more families.”
Dowdeswell also made special note of the soaring inflation rate, which hit a 40-year record in its last reading, prompting rising interest rates from the Bank of Canada. She stated that while there is no consensus on when it will moderate to “normal” levels, the hit to households’ finances cannot be overlooked.
“People are now paying more for every day goods like groceries and gas, putting increased strain on household budgets, particularly for low-income families,” she read.
“Businesses of all sizes are struggling to find the skilled women and men they need to grow, or the parts they need to take on more orders. Amidst this scarcity, the rising cost of labour and supplies may in turn increase the cost of goods being sold to consumers."
The government also released the 2022-23 First Quarter Finances today, which provides updated information about the evolution of Ontario’s economic and fiscal outlook since the 2022 Budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Due to higher-than-projected taxation revenues, the government is projecting a deficit of $18.8B in 2022-23, an improvement of $1.1B from the outlook presented in the 2022 Budget.
“We have a prudent and flexible plan which builds on our record of responsible fiscal management, while making the investments that will reduce commute times, support front-line health care and help create good jobs,” said Minister Bethlenfalvy. “In a time of economic uncertainty, our government is supporting Ontario workers and families by putting more money back into their pockets.”
According to Bethlengalvy, employment in the province hit 192,400 jobs in July, 2.6% above the February 2020 pre-pandemic level. As well, Ontario's GDP rose 1.1% in the first quarter of the year, exceeding that of the fourth quarter of 2019 by 1.3%. Gains in household spending, business investment, and exports, led growth.
A Look at the Previous Budget
The $198.6B budget, in its April iteration, included no fresh housing initiatives, instead reiterating a number of measures -- such as the province’s mandate to build $1.5M homes over the next decade -- that had been introduced in the early spring.
Those included a $19.2M spend to address the backlog experienced by the Landlord and Tenant Board and Ontario Land Tribunal, as well as $3B (previously allocated between 2020 and 2022) in supports for community housing and the homeless, such as the $1.2B Social Services Relief Fund.
The previously sitting Ford government had also implemented an expanded Non Resident Speculation Tax of 20% for foreign property buyers for the entirety of the province, and rolled back rebates specific to international students and foreign nationals working in Ontario. They also stated a commitment to creating a plan to bring the recommendations set out in the report compiled by the Housing Affordability Task Force (HATF).
The More Homes for Everyone Act received Royal Assent on April 18th, which proposed a number of changes to existing housing legislation -- including the Planning Act and City of Toronto Act, such as imposing new timelines for municipalities to make development and zoning approvals.
The Act also announced new changes to Ontario’s Building Code, allowing 12-storey mass timber-frame buildings, and the streamlining of multi-unit building approvals.