Every budget consists of literally thousands of decision points, and every year on budget day I try to find out why the finance minister made the choices she or he did. I had a chance to discuss some of this year's decisions with Charles Sousa this evening on The Agenda, but there are always questions we don’t get to, and keeping them in mind may be useful in the weeks and months to come — especially as the Liberals prepare to hit the hustings in anticipation of next summer's election.
Question 1: You’re going to create a new $465 million pharmacare plan, effective January 2018, but you’re limiting it to people aged 24 and under. How come? By way of comparison, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in the United States covers young people up to age 26 via their parents’ plans. Why the arbitrary cut-off at age 24 here?
Question 2: Was it always your plan to introduce a pharmacare program in this budget? Or did the NDP’s decision to unveil a province-wide plan — one that covers everybody — influence the timing of your decision? And while you’re at it, why make this a universal program, rather than an income-tested one targeted to those in greatest need? Do the proverbial parents who send their children to Upper Canada College really need free medicine, or could those dollars be better spent on programs for people without that kind of personal wealth?
Question 3: Why does the new OHIP + pharmacare program not kick in until January 2018? Does it really take more than eight months to get this thing up and running?
Question 4: Pretty much everyone seems to agree that buying homes in the Greater Golden Horseshoe solely as an investment speculation is contributing at least a little bit to the region's housing price sticker shock. You’ve decided to target non-resident buyers with a new anti-speculation tax. But if you’ve determined that buying on spec is evil, why is it any less evil when Ontario residents do it? Why not just an anti-speculation tax on everyone? Does it send the wrong signal, that Ontario isn’t as open for business to the world as you say it is?
Question 5: Almost a decade ago, the government announced a program called Second Career, to help retrain workers laid low by the Great Recession. The initial uptake on the program wasn’t great and so you revamped it. Now, with this budget, you’ve announced you’re revamping it again. How come? Is it not working? Is it out of date? Better to scrap it and start again?
- How does the budget work, anyway?
Question 6: Liberals, both provincially and federally, really hammered former prime minister Stephen Harper for creating boutique tax credits for everything from public transit use to their children's music lessons. Now you’re doing the same thing with your Seniors’ Public Transit Tax Credit. How come it was inappropriate when he did it, but it’s okay for you?
Question 7: You’re getting kudos all around for the basic income pilot project you announced earlier this week in Hamilton. How did you decide on the three regions (Hamilton-Brantford, Thunder Bay, and Lindsay) where you’ll conduct this experiment? And how did you land on the eligibility criteria for applicants?
Question 8: U.S. President Donald Trump made a huge splash on Wednesday when he announced his intention to ask Congress to dramatically lower corporate taxes. The fact is, we’ve enjoyed about a 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate advantage in Ontario, ever since premier Dalton McGuinty’s government lowered those rates a decade ago. Why did you decide to stand pat on corporate tax rates in this budget, knowing whatever advantage we currently have over our neighbouring border states will almost certainly disappear soon?
Question 9: This is always one of my pet peeves. You tell us Ontario’s economic growth rate (an average 2.6 per cent over the past three budget years) exceeds that of numerous other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, France, Japan, and Italy. But that’s comparing apples to oranges: you can’t compare the province of Ontario to the country of Germany. You could compare it to another sub-national jurisdiction within Germany. But you don’t, probably because we both know there are German states with better growth rates than Ontario’s. So, why do you always do that? (Actually, never mind on this one. The answer is obvious.)
Question 10: This last decision actually isn’t in the budget papers — it’s in your head, and you’re probably the only one who knows the answer. One would assumed that, having nursed Ontario’s finances back into balance, you’d use that as a springboard to confirm that you’re going to run again in the June 2018 election. But you haven’t. In fact, I’ve heard from well-placed sources that you’ve already decided not to run for re-election provincially, and that you intend to seek the Peel Regional chair’s job in the fall of 2018. Care to tell us what your decision is on that score? (Didn’t think so.)
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