Highlights from Ontario Budget 2018
March 28, 2018
Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa tabled the 2018 Ontario budget on March 28. Below are some highlights of interest to the library and information management community:
In Ontario, digital resources are becoming increasingly crucial for educational purposes, to access public services, and for participation in the labour market. Public libraries play a central role in providing access to new technology and digital resources in communities.
Digital Public Library
To ensure that everyone can benefit from digital technologies in their lives, Ontario will invest $28 million over three years to create a provincial Digital Public Library that provides access to digital content such as e-books, music and audiobooks; research databases; special collections; and accessible and alternative format materials across a common web platform. For the first time, equitable digital library services will be available to all Ontarians regardless of where they live in the province — including rural, remote and Indigenous communities. This will support the province’s 300 public libraries, including 46 First Nation public libraries, which serve over 99 per cent of the population.
Building Up Public Libraries
Public libraries are increasingly embracing their role as community hubs, providing access to free information, programs and services across a range of areas such as newcomer settlement, early learning, housing, employment, small business support and public health. Libraries also offer important employment and career training programs to job seekers, helping connect them to the technology resources they need to find and compete for job opportunities. That is why Ontario is increasing the Public Library Operating Grant by $51 million over three years.
Ontario continues to be a leader in accessibility to ensure that people of all abilities can move through life with confidence and independence. With passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005(AODA), the government has established accessibility standards in five key areas of daily living: customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation, and the design of public spaces. New standards for the health care and education sectors are also under development. Moreover, the government recently hosted a stakeholder forum to begin the conversation towards a more accessible built environment in communities.
The implementation of the AODA has resulted in significant progress towards making Ontario a barrier-free province by 2025.
Ontario is acknowledged as a world leader in AI, anchored by advanced competencies and world-renowned talent. Nearly 200 AI-enabled firms and institutions in the province are creating opportunities to improve lives through the delivery of AI-enabled advances in health care, education and transportation.
The Province capitalized on its leading position in the AI sector by investing $50 million to help establish the Vector Institute, designed to support AI technology startups and generate investment from companies looking to hire experts and expand their AI footprint. A number of the Vector Institute’s key partners have also announced plans to expand their presence in Toronto, including Google Brain, Uber Advanced Technology Group (ATG) and Accenture (Liquid Studio).
The Province is investing an additional $30 million to support the Vector Institute’s work with postsecondary institutions. This will allow the Vector Institute to collaborate with academic institutions and existing Ontario employers, including scale-ups, to increase the number of Master’s degree graduates in AI-related fields to 1,000 annually within five years. This increase will help the Province respond to the need for AI-trained specialists to help evolve and grow Ontario companies to compete in the new knowledge economy.
Encouraging Artificial Intelligence Entrepreneurs
NextAI is a Toronto-based accelerator for early-stage startups that leverage AI technologies. This organization focuses on founder development and creating new AI ventures, occupying a critical niche between advanced applied research occurring within the Vector Institute and venture acceleration. It provides seed funding for businesses, creates mentorship opportunities with corporate partners, and provides access to corporate advisors and leading researchers. The Province is continuing to support the AIecosystem through NextAI by providing an additional $15 million in funding over the next three years. This funding will make Ontario’s economy more innovative and productive through ongoing support of exceptional entrepreneurs.
Ontario’s investments in infrastructure and digital government services must be protected from the growing threat of cyberattacks. Increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks on governments and businesses around the world underscore the necessity of proactively safeguarding the province’s mission-critical ITsystems and protecting the personal information of Ontarians.
In the 2017 Budget, Ontario committed to enhancing the cybersecurity of the province’s private financial institutions to help ensure that consumer and business information remains safe and protected. Cyber criminals also frequently target governments, trusted custodians of vast amounts of valuable information.
Ontario is investing an additional $64 million over three years to enhance existing cyber practices and attract highly skilled and in-demand cybersecurity talent using new recruitment methods, including through innovative partnerships with postsecondary institutions.
The vast streams of data generated by social media and business information platforms, smartphones, the Internet of Things and sensors are the fuel that powers the emerging data-driven global economy around the world. Organizations that are able to capture, use and reuse these streams of data are developing valuable new products, solutions and services, including public services that benefit consumers and businesses, grow the economy and support social well-being. Recognizing the explosive growth of the data-driven economy, the government is exploring a Data Strategy for the province that will help ensure that the people of Ontario are able to reap the significant benefits from responsibly using publicly funded data generated here, while protecting the public interest. The government will consult with key stakeholders to inform a Data Strategy so that Ontarians benefit from data generated in Ontario while leveraging the potential that data holds to enhance economic activity and grow Ontario businesses.
In 2017, the Province introduced the Ontario Digital Service (ODS) to make services faster, simpler and better for people, communities and businesses. Better online services help make people’s lives better — seamlessly connecting them to health care services, demonstrating the affordability of college and university, or simplifying processes such as renewing a health card or driver’s licence.
At the heart of this approach is designing services that are easier to use and make life better for Ontarians. For example:
- The newly redesigned online Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) application and calculator made it easier for students to see how much financial support is available to them, putting higher education within reach for thousands of Ontarians. The total number of OSAP awards increased by 16 per cent to 420,000 recipients from 2016–17 to 2017–18.
- A new OHIP+ prescription drug checker tool helps families see which medications are available and covered, with over 3,000 searches done daily, on average.
- The government is partnering with Code for Canada to develop a digital solution that will help adult learners easily compare, explore and discover programs that best fit their educational needs. Learners and service providers are directly participating in the creation of this solution.
Building on these results, ODS will implement a common Digital Service Standard for all online government services, so that Ontarians can access services easily from anywhere, any time and on any device.
These programs will be supported by a new government-wide Digital Inclusion Strategy that will be developed at ODS.
Graduates are entering a world that is more globally connected and technologically engaged than ever before. Expanding digital learning opportunities will better prepare students to succeed in a rapidly changing economy by providing them with the knowledge and tools employers are looking for.
Improving access to digital learning resources enables more students and educators to build their digital skills and take advantage of high-quality online courses, regardless of where they attend public school.
That is why the Province is improving access to high-speed Internet at publicly funded schools. Ontario is connecting an additional 250,000 students at approximately 850 schools with high-speed Internet access by the end of 2018, and is on track to bring high-speed Internet access to every classroom by 2021.
In addition, the Province is building students’ digital skills with investments in new classroom technology. Through the Technology and Learning Fund, students across the province are experiencing a wide range of digital learning opportunities, including robotics and coding activities, assistive technologies and digitally facilitated connections with other students, classrooms, schools and experts, across Canada and the world.
Ontario’s Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) is developing low-to-no-cost solutions, and generating evidence on what works — and what does not work — before scaling up. The BIU collaborates with its partners across the public sector to create more efficient processes, improve outcomes and deliver better services to Ontarians.
Where evidence shows that new approaches improve outcomes or enhance service experience for the people of Ontario, initiatives will be scaled up system wide.
Management of program expenditure will also build upon government action already underway to evaluate current government programs to make them work more efficiently and meet the needs of the people of Ontario. The government will support, leverage and enhance efforts to modernize and transform public services. This means the government will continue to:
- Find savings through program improvements and cost avoidance (i.e., less costly services now, or better outcomes and prevention of downstream costs), while maintaining high quality of services and supports;
- Reduce duplication across service sectors by harmonizing program delivery, reallocating existing resources to more effective programs, and scaling down investments that no longer demonstrate value for money; and
- Establish and assess investment priorities to manage overall sustainability of program spending.
The government is committed to openness and transparency. It is important that the needs of Ontarians and their ideas help identify program options and form the solutions. Program transformation and modernization will be informed by their experience, knowledge and lessons learned. The government will also harness the expertise of thought leaders and experts. Jurisdictions with effective innovation, modernization and expenditure management processes will be consulted.
Industry leaders, academic experts and representatives from the general public will be engaged to help guide program transformation, and make recommendations to the government on how to best achieve outcomes and improve user experience while focusing on cost savings or avoidance.
The investments that the government is currently making are restructuring and transforming public services to make them work more efficiently and meet the needs of the people of Ontario. Targeted investments in key sectors aim to accelerate system transformation, maximize effectiveness and build longer-term sustainability. For example:
- Increasing access to child care so that more children and their families can choose high-quality licensed care in a safe and convenient setting. Child care is an integral part of women’s economic empowerment, and an investment in the future of Ontario.
- Expanding mental health and addictions services to ensure that people living with mental illness or substance abuse disorder have the supports they need to recover and lead a healthy life. This focus is not only on health services such as greater access to psychotherapy and harm reduction services, but also on housing — ensuring that those living with mental illness or substance abuse disorder have a stable home as they recover. These investments will improve mental health outcomes, support active community participation and help to prevent negative outcomes down the road.
- Investments in hospitals support the needs of local communities and residents, and ensures immediate and short-term health care needs are met. The government is also investing in care outside of hospitals — in the home and community.
These investments will harness innovative approaches to business practices and service delivery to achieve desired outcomes and make programs more user-centred.
The Province recognizes that broadband and mobile connectivity will continue to be essential to the economic well-being of Ontarians, enabling meaningful civic engagement, inclusive growth, economic development, and access to government and public services. That is why the government is committed to ensuring people have access to digital services, and is building a foundation of digital infrastructure — including accessible and affordable high-speed broadband networks across Ontario.
Since 2007, the government has committed close to $530 million in broadband infrastructure investments in communities across Ontario, including:
- $90 million as part of the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project, which will expand access to broadband networks by delivering fibre optic coverage to 3.5 million people in over 300 communities — spanning counties and municipalities in southwestern Ontario, as well as Caledon and Niagara;
- $67.5 million in a partnership with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), to support broadband coverage or service expansion projects in the north;
- Up to $30 million to improve access to distance education, skills training and new business opportunities for five Matawa-member communities in remote northern Ontario; and
- Investing $130 million over five years in two projects across Ontario that will advance the development and commercialization of 5G and next-generation technologies and networks across Ontario.
To ensure that people of Ontario can fully participate in the 21st century economy and access basic services, the government is investing an additional $500 million over three years to expand broadband connectivity in rural and northern communities. This will include an investment of up to $71 million towards improving cellular coverage in eastern Ontario, and up to $20 million to Telesat to support a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation project, which will help enable access to secure broadband services in rural and remote Ontario. These investments will also help to increase average speeds in underserved and unserved communities.
Ontario is also supporting the creation and development of free online textbooks and educational resources for students to make college and university more affordable and accessible. This initiative allows students and faculty to browse, view and download free textbooks for use in their courses.
The $1 million Ontario Open Textbooks Initiative, launched in June 2017 in partnership with eCampus Ontario, focuses on Ontario-specific content in areas where the most significant impact and cost savings for students can be realized, including high-enrolment first-year courses, French-language content, content for Indigenous studies, trades and technical skills content, and content for new Canadians.
The current library collection has amassed over 230 textbooks, and anyone from across the province can view and download the open materials for free (openlibrary.ecampusontario.ca). The Open Textbook Library addresses two key barriers to education — access and affordability — and since the library’s soft launch in May, more than 5,270 learners have saved over $520,000.
Ontario is taking a new, open approach to how government works by breaking down silos and driving active public engagement. The government is engaging with more Ontarians in different ways. Budget Talks, an online consultation tool, is just one example of how the Province is engaging with citizens to help shape the policies and programs that will be part of Ontario’s future.
As part of its involvement in the Open Government Partnership, Ontario has been working with the public, non-governmental organizations and community groups to develop commitments that leverage innovation and technology to increase transparency, accountability and public participation.
Ontario is also proactively sharing government data and information so that Ontarians can better understand how government works. Government policies and directives are shared online to help show how decisions are made inside government. In addition to sharing more data, the government is also making data more accessible and easier for Ontarians to navigate. Public Accounts data is now released under an Open Government licence and using an interactive visualization tool powered by machine-readable data, making it easier to understand ministry expenditures.
In 2017, Ontario was the first province in Canada to adopt the International Open Data Charter, strengthening its commitment to an open-by-default approach. Open government is driving public engagement and enabling more businesses, not-for-profits and public-sector partners to use high-value data and develop customer-centric tools.
Ontario recognizes the importance of bridging the postsecondary attainment gap for Indigenous peoples, as well as improving Indigenous access to, and success in, the postsecondary education sector. Ontario’s nine Indigenous Institutes are essential to this effort, offering pathways for over 1,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners to earn a diploma, certificate or degree that reflects Indigenous knowledge, cultures and languages.
The Indigenous Institutes Act, 2017, was passed to support a new pathway for Indigenous students to earn a diploma, certificate or degree. The legislation recognizes that Indigenous Institutes play a unique role in Ontario’s postsecondary education system by providing accessible education and training to Indigenous students in culturally responsive learning environments. The legislation also supports Indigenous Institutes as a complementary pillar to Ontario’s postsecondary education system — alongside the province’s 45 publicly funded colleges and universities.
Recognizing Indigenous Institutes builds on the Province’s historic $56 million investment in Indigenous learners, announced in the 2017 Budget, as an important part of a thriving postsecondary system and a key step towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Ontario.
In addition, over the next three years, the Province will more than double the funding under the College Equipment and Renewal Fund — with an increase from $8 million to $20 million per year. This investment will provide colleges with support to invest in cutting-edge equipment and technology to ensure students’ skills are aligned with the tools industry is using today. The Province will provide a new investment of over $500 million starting in 2020–21 to help renew and modernize Ontario’s university and college campuses. Investments will support institutions to update classrooms and labs, and undertake facility retrofits and other renewal projects to enhance students’ learning experience.
To meet this commitment, the Province will collaborate with universities and colleges to identify opportunities for specific investments in facility renewal that enhance the student experience.