Last week the Toronto Star came over after school.
It wasn’t a play date. As a photographer captured our family’s typical pre-dinner crazy-hour, the Ontario Government was releasing its 2016 provincial budget. Afterwards, I spoke with The Star about how the $133.9-billion spending plan may affect the ‘average Toronto family.’
Some of my thoughts appeared in this article, along with reactions from other Torontonians on various issues. There were many announcements. And after the highlights were headlined, families are left wondering what will really happen when those big spending changes trickle down to their little households.
What was cut and who made the cut?
Here are some ways Toronto families faired in the Ontario budget.
Free Post-Secondary Education for Low-Income Families: Wow! Through the Ontario Student Grant, families with incomes less than $50,000 will have access to free tuition. Some students from families with incomes of $83,000 will qualify for non-repayable grants for tuition. Here is an example of how it breaks down. Now, details please. Will all institutions participate? Will there be a cap? And as the cost of post-secondary education continues to rise, what can the ‘average family’ with toddlers or teens in TOw count on to ensure their post-secondary goals remain attainable? And always a big question mark – will it be clawed back as governments change?
Investment in Maternal and Newborn Care: What an incredible commitment – $1-million in new funding to support women (and their families) whose pregnancies end in miscarriages or stillbirths. It’s just one example of how heath care is more than just about hospitals. Families need more accessible support and fulsome care right in their communities. Let’s look at expanding Public Health Teams (there are only a dozen in central Toronto) and intergrating midwifery care (optimize midwives’ work in hospital, ensure access to all expectant parents who request midwifery care, and educate about options such as the Toronto Birth Centre.)
Good-bye to Children’s Activity Tax Credit: Cut from the list of tax credits and benefits for families is the activity tax credit worth $70 when you enrolled children in sports, arts, and cultural programs. Why? The government says about half of the 675,000 families claiming the tax break have household incomes above $100,000. I get it. So instead of handouts to those who may not need it the most, let’s find a way to encourage all families to get kids active – especially physically active. Investing in healthy habits now could avoid pouring millions into healthcare later for unhealthy adults.
No New News on Child-Care: Securing high quality daycare is one of the biggest concerns for working parents and no surprise Toronto has the highest costs in the country. The Ontario Government offers various levels of financial support. While subsidies are essential for those who need it, the ‘average family’ is desperate for more options. And it’s no longer just about more full-day daycare spots. Work-life is changing and as parents return to the workforce after parental leave or shift schedules to better balance work and family, child-care options need to meet these new realities – half-day, part-time, after-school and full-time care. Government may not but the full-stop but something’s gotta give to ensure a productive workforce and strong economy.
Commitment to the Environment: High fives to the government for having a long-term vision for the environment by implementing cap-and-trade. But let’s make sure it actually holds the biggest polluters accountable. Already big businesses will have some leeway to prepare for the changes and I suspect they also have the resources to ‘play’ with these new rules. It’s families who don’t have a lot of wiggle room when they are confronted with a 4.3-cent-a-litre levy on gas and a $5 increase on the average natural gas household.
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