Highlights from Ontario Budget 2016
February 28, 2016
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa tabled the 2016 Ontario budget on February 25. Below are some highlights of interest to the library and information management community:
In 2017, Ontario will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its place as a province within Canada. This anniversary provides an opportunity to celebrate its achievements as a society and to position Ontario as a place of economic growth and prosperity for future generations.
As reported in the 2015 Budget, the government will deliver a program that will recognize and celebrate the past, while building a strong and secure foundation for the future.
Ontario has always been a leader on the national and international stage, as well as in innovation, cultural expression and community diversity. This celebratory year will create a strong economic, social and cultural legacy for Ontarians, with a particular focus on youth.
Produced with community organizations, municipalities and the federal government, the Ontario 150 programming will be a proud commemoration of the sesquicentennial for Ontarians in all regions across the province.
The government is supporting the development of community hubs. These hubs make public services more convenient and accessible by using a public space for many community purposes. Examples of community hubs include:
- Providing child care in schools;
- Sharing recreational facilities between municipalities and school boards; and
- Offering social, medical and legal services in one public building.
The Province has accepted all the recommendations contained in Community Hubs: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan and is moving forward with new key initiatives on a priority basis. These include:
- Building local capacity by investing in a resource network for community partners, including an interactive and online resource centre to provide access to information, best practices and data for community organizations; and
- Continuing to advance the plan’s recommendations regarding school properties to support continued community use, including introducing changes that would allow greater opportunity to parties interested in acquiring or leasing surplus schools.
To guide the implementation of key initiatives of the action plan, the Province will extend the mandate of the Special Adviser and the Advisory Group to the Premier on community hubs through 2016–17.
To support the learning and teaching requirements of the 21st century, the government is ensuring that Ontario’s publicly funded school boards have equitable and affordable access to high-speed broadband services.
Ontario will help school boards, especially those in northern and remote communities, gain access to high-speed connectivity, to support stronger 21st century competencies and learning needs.
First Nations / Métis / Inuit
The government has made it a priority to acknowledge and teach the history and legacy of residential schools in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) recommendations, from a three-year annual investment of $5 million in the education sector from 2016–17 to 2018–19.
This funding will be used to help develop resources on the history and legacy of treaties, residential schools and Indigenous peoples in Ontario. This will help enhance teaching resources, build capacity and provide learning opportunities to build skills among Ontario educators to encourage critical thinking and deepen the understanding of Canadian treaties. See Chapter I, Section E: Towards a Fair Society for more details on the Commission’s report.
Ontario has made it a priority to act on the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The Province will work with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples to acknowledge and teach the history and legacy of residential schools, take action to close gaps in outcomes, and build culturally sensitive and community-based services. Ontario will continue to work with Indigenous partners as the Province responds to the Commission’s final report, released in December 2015. See Chapter I, Section E: Towards a Fair Society for further details.
Ontario has a solid foundation from which to act on the report. Most recently, Ontario signed a historic Political Accord that represents a renewal of the relationship between First Nations and Ontario. The Political Accord is an important step in the ongoing empowerment of First Nation communities and will help in the continued pursuit of reconciliation.
Ontario welcomes the federal commitment to ensure quality education for First Nation children on-reserve, address violence against Indigenous women and girls, and improve essential physical infrastructure for First Nation communities including clean drinking water, access to sustainable electricity and adequate housing. Together with Indigenous partners in Ontario, the Province is ready to work with the federal government as it acts on these commitments.
Currently, government support for students’ educational costs is largely provided through a combination of grants and loans through OSAP and tax credits through the Personal Income Tax system. To help more students qualify for grants and access the student loan system, the government will create a single major upfront grant — the Ontario Student Grant (OSG), starting in the 2017–18 school year. This will be done by redirecting 100 per cent of the funding from the 30% Off Ontario Tuition grant, Ontario Student Opportunity Grant, Ontario Access Grants and other grants offered by OSAP. These changes will ensure that financial support is transparent, timely and targeted to those students with the greatest financial need.
The government proposes to discontinue the tuition and education tax credits. This reform is in line with recommendations by stakeholders, including student groups. All of the additional revenue from eliminating these tax credits would be reinvested to support the new OSG or other postsecondary, education, training and youth jobs programs. The government will announce details of the new program later this year. See Chapter V, Section A: Tax Measures for more details.
Making Tuition More Affordable
Ontario’s student aid transformation will make average tuition free for students with financial need from families with incomes of $50,000 or lower, and will make tuition more affordable for middle-class families. Under the new Ontario Student Grant (OSG):
- More than 50 per cent of students from families with incomes of $83,0004 or less will have non-repayable grants in excess of average tuition;
- No Ontario student will receive less than they are currently eligible for through the 30% Off Ontario Tuition grant; and
- Students from families with incomes of less than $50,000 will have no provincial student debt.
In addition, the Province will:
- Expand financial support for mature and married students. Eligibility for grant support will no longer be tied to the number of years a student has been out of high school, and the Province is reducing the amount a student’s spouse is expected to contribute;
- Raise the Ontario weekly assistance maximum levels for individuals, and married and sole-support parents; and
- Increase access to interest-free and low-cost loans for middle- and upper-income families by reducing their expected parental contributions.
Strengthening the Postsecondary Education System
The Province is focused on improving access and success for Indigenous learners. Ontario is providing stable funding of $97 million over the next three years to support key initiatives that will help more First Nation, Métis and Inuit learners access high-quality postsecondary and training opportunities. Of this investment, $5 million is to ensure that high-quality postsecondary education and training remain accessible to Indigenous learners through the Province’s nine Aboriginal Institutes. The government will be engaging this spring with Indigenous and postsecondary education partners to create a policy for Aboriginal Institutes and better define their place within the postsecondary education sector.
To provide more flexibility and choice to students, the government is continuing to expand access to high-quality online learning opportunities for students through eCampus Ontario. The first phase of eCampusOntario.ca is providing students across the province with one-window access to more than 13,000 online courses and over 600 programs offered by Ontario colleges and universities. There are also more credit transfer opportunities and new tools available to help students navigate the postsecondary education system. Students now have access to 120,000 course equivalencies and about 1,300 pathways on ONtransfer.ca, an online database of courses that allows students to know how many credits they can expect to receive before transferring institutions.
The government is engaging with the postsecondary education sector and the broader community to develop a comprehensive postsecondary international education strategy that will seek a balanced approach for attracting international students and new partnerships, and promoting international experience opportunities for Ontario students.
Investing in schools is part of the government’s plan to build Ontario up. The funding responds to local needs while creating contemporary learning environments for students.
Over 10 years, the Province plans to provide more than $11 billion in capital grants to school boards. These funds will help build new schools in areas of high growth, improve the condition of existing facilities and invest in projects to reduce surplus space through school consolidations.
As of winter 2016, approximately 200 major capital school projects are either being planned or underway across Ontario, including projects that incorporate a community hub model. Examples of projects include:
- $8 million to retrofit Alexander Henry High School in Sault Ste. Marie into a new JK–8 school that will accommodate local enrolment pressures and partner with the municipality to include a public library to create a community hub;
- $9 million to consolidate two schools into a new Greensville Public School in Hamilton that will partner with the municipality to include community space, a public library and 39 child care spaces;
- $15 million to rebuild Davisville Junior Public School in Toronto, with plans to partner with the City to create a community hub;
Open Government / Online Services
Ontario is enhancing the delivery of public services through the use of technology. Nearly 90 per cent of Ontarians use the Internet regularly to make purchases, find information, learn new skills and interact. In this digital age, users of government online services — people, businesses, communities and partners — deserve simple and straightforward programs and services that are intuitive and easy to use.
The Province will take further steps to enhance access to public services in 2016, including the following strategies:
- Digital Government;
- Open Government;
- ServiceOntario modernization; and
- Building on recent successes.
In the last decade, the explosion of digital technology has revolutionized entire industries, from transportation to retail sales. People expect to connect with their government anytime, anywhere, on any device.
To meet the expectations of the public, government digital services must mirror the simplicity and effectiveness Ontarians have experienced using private-sector digital services. This does not simply mean putting existing processes online; it means fundamentally rethinking how government programs and services are delivered in Ontario.
In 2016, Ontario will release a Digital Government Action Plan that unveils a vision for transforming government online, including creating a new digital service office, led by a chief digital officer, to drive change across government. The action plan will serve as a public roadmap for Ontario’s digital transformation — setting new organizational standards, empowering the next generation of digital talent and shifting government culture to deliver the best possible customer experience.
The action plan will outline key initiatives such as identifying high-impact digital projects and services to be transformed; adopting a “digital-by-default” approach focused on making online services so easy to use that Ontarians prefer to use them over traditional methods of service delivery; a digital talent strategy to attract in-demand skills; and online information and engagement initiatives to make it easier for people to participate in government decision-making.
People want to be involved in government decision-making in new ways. The Province’s new online consultations directory will provide one location for Ontarians to find and participate in government consultations. This allows a broader, more diverse range of Ontarians to inform the policies, programs and services that affect their daily lives. Ontario’s innovative online Budget Talks platform is a primary example of a new approach to engagement. For more information, see the section Engaging Ontarians at the beginning of the Budget.
Ontario is sharing government and provincial agency data online and taking an open-by-default approach. This enables more businesses, not-for-profits and public-sector partners to use high-value data and develop customer-centric tools.
ServiceOntario provides Ontarians access to a wide range of services, including driver and vehicle registration and issuance of health cards and birth certificates. As part of its modernization initiatives, ServiceOntario plans to develop a new online option for health card renewals by 2018. It will also align how Ontarians change their address for their health cards and driver’s licences, simplifying the transaction and improving the integrity of customer information.
ServiceOntario will also redesign and enhance key existing online services, including the used vehicle information package and its Service Finder.
Most students will have less debt than they would under the current system, and the maximum OSAP debt level will be capped at $10,000 annually for higher-income families. Ontario will continue to offer financial assistance for students who have difficulties repaying their student loans.
The simpler, integrated, upfront grant will benefit all eligible students. Ontario families will be better able to plan their education. They will know the total amount of support they are eligible for when they apply and will be aware of the actual cost of their education well before the start of the school year. To help families better understand how grants reduce their costs, the government will work with the postsecondary sector to develop tools to more accurately calculate actual tuition costs, after deducting institutional and OSAP grants, and better communicate them to families. The government will also work with universities and colleges to implement net tuition billing by 2018–19.