POLITICS

Ontario budget 2015: What will it look like?

04/23/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/18/2015 08:59 EDT
Budget day has arrived in Ontario.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa will unveil the budget in the legislature later today, at which point the public will get a full picture of what the governing Liberals have planned in terms of spending for the year ahead.

Speaking with reporters yesterday, Sousa said he believed it is a budget that Ontarians will like.

"It's going to be a great budget," he said.

Sousa said the budget was "a very progressive, forward-thinking document" that addresses the needs of Ontarians both now and in the future.

The government has already provided a few glimpses into what will be printed on the pages of the thick document that will be tabled in the legislature around 4 p.m.

Beer on grocery-store shelves

It's not often that beer is being discussed in connection with the provincial government's budget.

But it has been a dominant talking point for the government in the lead-up to budget day.

The finance minister even held a pre-budget photo op at a brewery west of Toronto.

A new tax on beer is expected to raise $100 million on an annual basis, according to the government.

The government will also allow hundreds of grocery stores to sell beer on their shelves — something the Liberals proposed three decades ago when David Peterson was leading the party.

Selling Hydro One shares

The government has also already announced an intention to sell a majority stake in Hydro One, or some 60 per cent.

The Liberals say they would limit any group or shareholder from owning more than 10 per cent of Hydro One.

Both opposition parties are critical of the proposed sale and for different reasons.

The Tories previously tried selling stakes in Hydro One when they were in power, but do not believe that the government should be selling off majority control.

The New Democrats have questioned if the premier has a mandate to sell the utility, and the party wants the province to retain 100 per cent ownership of it.

The opposition parties say the plan the Hydro One sale will lead to higher electricity prices for Ontarians.

Transportation and infrastructure

The title of this year's budget may offer a clue to some of its contents — it's called Building Ontario Up.

After the Liberals announced plans in last year's budget to spend $130 billion on infrastructure within a 10-year period, the public may expect to hear more details on this front.

Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters Wednesday that building transportation and infrastructure is a "cornerstone" of the government's economic plan.

Still on track to balance?

The Liberals have long held on to their goal of bringing their budget to balance by 2017-18.

The opposition parties, however, predict that the government will have to make cuts to programs or hike taxes — or do both — to eliminate the province's $10.9-billion deficit.

The finance minister said the pending budget was built in a way to keep the long-term goal of balancing the books in sight.

"There is substantive amount of investments being made [in the budget] and it's also going to very disciplined, very determined to come to balance by 2017-18," Sousa said Wednesday.

Less drama

The provincial budgets of the past few years arrived with a greater sense of drama, as the Liberals had previously held a minority position in the legislature.

Last year, the Liberals tabled their budget on May 1, and the premier released a letter telling NDP Leader Andrea Horwath that she and her party had a week to decide if they would support it.

Wynne's letter was directed at the New Democrats, as the Tories had already said they would not support the budget.

A day later, Horwath said her party would not support the budget, and that put Ontario on the path to the polls.

Six weeks later, the Liberals won a majority, an outcome allowing them to deliver a budget this time around that does not pose any threat to their immediate survival as a government.