Ontario Liberals recycle spring budget

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (L) with Finance Minister Charles Sousa. The Ontario legislature was...

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (L) with Finance Minister Charles Sousa. The Ontario legislature was back in session at Queen's Park for the first time since the election on Monday, July 7, 2014. (JACK BOLAND/QMI Agency)

Antonella Artuso, Queen's Park Bureau Chief

, Last Updated: 9:58 PM ET

TORONTO -- The Ontario government hit the resend button on its spring budget.

"As I was saying..." Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa quipped Monday as he reintroduced the budget.

Opposition MPPs rejected the budget in the spring, triggering an election which gave the Liberals a majority government.

One of the few changes was the decision by the government to implement planned tax increases on aviation fuel at a faster pace, increasing the rate by 1% a year for four years, starting on Sept. 1.

All the big spending commitments remained in the budget, including a $2.5-billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund, which will dole out taxpayer dollars to attract and retain businesses in the province; a 10-year, $130-billion infrastructure plan, and wage increases for some workers.

The Ontario Pension Plan will be introduced in 2017 for employees without a workplace pension plan, costing someone earning $45,000 a year an extra $788 a year in exchange for a maximum annual benefit on retirement of $6,410.

Employers would be required to match the employee contributions, which some business groups have warned could be a job-killing tax.

In his budget speech, Sousa said the plan will be publicly administered at arm's-length from government.

"After a lifetime of work and a lifetime of contributing to the economy, retirees deserve to maintain their standard of living," Sousa said.

The province's highest earners -- those with annual taxable income above $150,000 a year -- will be squeezed for some extra income tax, which the government expects will bring in an extra $700 million a year by 2016-17.

Interim Progressive Conservative leader Jim Wilson said the public didn't vote for this budget in the last campaign, they voted against the PC pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs.

The budget was crafted by Premier Kathleen Wynne to paint NDP Leader Andrea Horwath into a political corner before the June 12 election, Wilson said.

The budget forced Horwath to vote against a plan that her supporters liked and that "vendetta" against the NDP continues with the reintroduction of the same document, he insisted.

Horwath predicted the budget will trigger a "fire sale" of public assets and opens tax loopholes for wealthy corporations to write off perks like stadium boxes for major sporting events.

"We will not be voting for this Trojan Horse budget," she said.

Reaction to the budget was mixed with some hailing it as progressive, others calling it privatization-by-stealth and fiscal watchdogs describing it as reckless high spending.

Warren "Smokey" Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), said he can't figure out how the government can wipe out a $12.5 billion deficit by 2017-18 without major cuts or the sell-off of public assets.

"The May Day budget was a reckless and irresponsible fiscal plan for Ontario," Canadian Taxpayers Federation Ontario director Candice Malcolm said in a statement.

STILL IN THE BUDGET

- $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund

- End of Ontario Clean Energy Benefit/Debt Retirement Charge in 2016

- $2.5 billion in investments in highway rehabilitation and expansion projects across Ontario in 2014-15

- Up to $1 billion for infrastructure development in Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire

- Ontario Child Benefit increasing this month to $1,310 per child

- Minimum wage to be tied to inflation

- $2 an hour wage hike for Early Childhood Educators over two years

- $4 an hour wage hike for Personal Support Workers over three years

- Increase in Social assistance rate of 1%

- $130 billion over 10 years for transit and transportation infrastructure across Ontario

- Ontario Retirement Pension Plan for employees without workplace plan

- Setting province-wide standards for home inspectors

- Mandating that only qualified designers and design professionals design certain types of buildings

WHAT’S NEW IN THE BUDGET

- Moving up the implementation of new aviation fuel tax - 1% a year starting in September

- Continue MPP pay freeze until budget balanced as confirmed by the Public Accounts

- Amendment to Electricity Act to ensure Feed-in-tariff (FIT) program conforms to World Trade Organization ruling

- Amendments to Pension Benefits Act to clarify spousal entitlements to pre- and post-retirement death benefits.


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