Ontario prepares to unveil budget details
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is expected to unveil details Monday on the planned release of its upcoming budget, according to two senior government sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
BNN Bloomberg has also learned the budget will reflect the reality that until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, the province will need to adjust for peaks and valleys in case counts, which undoubtedly will impact the economic picture.
Government officials have modelled for the possibility of living through rolling lockdowns over the next year, according to one source.
The budget will be released in the coming weeks, according to the sources — who would not specify the date. PC leadership previously said the government will table a budget by Nov. 15, after postponing its original release in March due to the pandemic.
Ontario — the most populous province and Canada’s largest economy — is battling a spike in COVID-19 cases. Daily infections reached a new record over the weekend.
Still, the provincial government remains committed to a multi-year budget, following months of talks with stakeholders who require budgets for planning purposes even in the face of uncertainty.
Phillips, a former business executive who became finance minister after a cabinet shuffle last year, helped lead some of those conversations, speaking regularly with municipalities and leadership at the province’s hospitals, universities, and charities.
BNN Bloomberg has learned the government plans to make projections over three years, with the budget addressing the current 2020-21 fiscal year, as well as 2021-22 and 2022-23.
The projections are expected to include an update on spending efforts tied to challenged areas such as health care.
The Ford government recently backed away from an election promise to balance the province’s books by 2023-24. “That was the plan prior to the pandemic,” Ford told reporters earlier this month. “Now we’re in a whole different ballpark.”
In March, Phillips delivered a one-year economic and fiscal update, which estimated this year’s deficit would more than double to $20.5 billion. By August, the projection had swelled to a record $38.5 billion.
Ontario’s budget watchdog — the Financial Accountability Office (FAO) — recently predicted the deficit could be even larger when reserve funding is factored in.
“Ontario businesses have shown significant resilience and adaptability in the face of an unprecedented global health crisis,” Phillips told BNN Bloomberg in a July television interview. “But nobody knows exactly right now what the other side of this is going to look like and so we just have to be flexible and respond to the specific issues.”
One bright spot was this summer’s reopening of the economy. The initial bounce back prompted the FAO to revise its forecasted drop in this year’s real gross domestic product from nine per cent in the spring to its current forecast for a 6.8 per cent decline.