TORONTO — Ontario's Liberal government delivered its first balanced budget in a decade on Thursday. Here are five things you need to know about the financial plan:
POLITICAL CONTEXT: The $141-billion budget — which includes measures aimed at youth, seniors, parents, homeowners and anyone who uses the health-care system — comes as the provincial Liberals prepare for next year's election campaign. The party, which has been at the helm for 14 years, has seen its popularity falter in recent polls.
PHARMACARE FOR YOUTH: A new program will offer free prescription drug coverage to anyone under 25, regardless of family income. The OHIP+ program, which is a key plank of the province's fiscal plan, will include the more than 4,400 prescription medications currently covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit program and requires no co-payment or deductible. It takes effect in January of next year and is expected to cost $465 million per fiscal year.
SENIORS: A new tax credit will make getting around on public transit a little more affordable for those 65 and over. It will allow seniors to claim 15 per cent of eligible transit expenses, up to $130 a year, which is expected to cost the province $10 million annually. Money is also earmarked to build 40 new so-called elderly persons centres, which run programs such as meals on wheels.
TOBACCO AND HOTEL TAXES: The Liberal government is increasing tobacco taxes and giving municipalities the authority to introduce a hotel tax. The tax on a carton of cigarettes will go up $10 over the next three years, with the first $2 increase to kick in Friday. The hotel tax will be designed by the municipalities after amendments are made to the Municipal Act and the City of Toronto Act.
NET DEBT: The province may have eliminated the deficit in the 2017-18 budget, but net debt continues to grow. It's projected to reach $312 billion this fiscal year and rise by $24 billion by 2019-20, even though the Liberals expect to balance the next two budgets as well.