Province touts ‘prudent’ budget despite record spending

TORONTO – Government officials say they are taking a “prudent” approach to the province’s finances in the 2024 Ontario budget.

But despite a record $214 billion in spending and a $9.8-billion deficit, critics suggest the province is being overly frugal in key areas.

“Budget 2024 takes a prudent approach to making critical investments in healthcare, infrastructure, and keeping costs down,” stated Perth-Wellington MPP Matthew Rae in a press release issued shortly after the budget was tabled by Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy on March 26.

Bethlenfalvy used similar language when describing the budget, which includes new government spending on infrastructure and health care.

“These investments and more are a signal to Ontarians of our commitment to keep building Ontario while retaining a prudent, targeted and a responsible approach to public finances,” the minister stated at a news conference.

The projected deficit of $9.8 billion is up from about $3 billion in the 2023/24 budget. Earlier government estimates had been projecting a small surplus for 2024/25.

Bethlenfalvy blamed economic conditions for the higher deficit in this year’s budget, which contains no new taxation.

“In the face of global economic uncertainty and high interest rates that continue to put pressure on Ontario families, our government is taking a responsible approach by investing to rebuild Ontario’s economy without raising taxes,” said Bethlenfalvy.

“As we invest in key public services and infrastructure, including new roads, highways and the largest public transit expansion in North America, we refuse to offload the costs onto hardworking Ontario families or municipalities at a time when they’re counting on us to keep costs down.”

Health care funding

Rae said the government is continuing to “to build Ontario, including rural Ontario,” citing an increase of 1.3 per cent in spending on health care.

Rae’s press release states new and existing health care teams will receive $546 million over three years to expand primary care to an additional 600,000 people in Ontario.

In addition, small and rural hospitals will receive $50 million over three years “to support the stabilization of health care capacity in rural and northern communities.”

An additional $500 million over 10 years will be made available to support small hospital projects and community health programs, the release states.

“The province continues to support our rural health care system,” Rae said.

The budget also includes funds for York University, which will build the first medical school in Canada focused primarily on training family doctors, the release states.

A total of $128 million over three years was announced to support the training of 2,000 registered nurses and 1,000 registered practical nurses.

“Additionally, Ontario will invest $2 billion over three years to support increases in compensation for personal support workers, nurses and other frontline care providers,” the release states. 

However, a statement from the Ontario Nurses Association contends the budget “fails to commit” to the public health care system “in a meaningful way” and lacks any details on how announced funds will be used.

The 4% cent increase in hospital funding falls short of what is needed for the system to stabilize, said ONA president Erin Ariss.

“This meagre one-year increase does not begin to address Ontario’s hospitals’ budgets, some of which are using lines of credits to pay off their debts,” stated Ariss.

“This is another missed opportunity for the government to do what’s right for public health care.”

In a pre-budget submission the ONA had recommended the government:

  • legislate safe staffing ratios;
  • close the wage gap for nurses and health care professionals working in primary care, nursing homes, and home and community care; and
  • end the reliance on for-profit clinics and nursing agencies, which the association says are “gouging taxpayers – close to $1 billion yearly – at the expense of the public system.

Local mental health, addictions funding

Locally, the budget designated $9 million over three years for Stonehenge Therapeutic Community and the Guelph Community Health Centre.

Guelph’s 10 Shelldale Cres. permanent supportive housing project received $9 million in operational funding over three years to provide supportive housing and comprehensive mental health and addictions “wraparound health care services.”

The building will house 32 new clients and also increase service levels for the existing 76 high-needs supportive housing residents in the Guelph-Wellington area.

“We are so grateful for this funding from the provincial government through the Ministry of Health, which will make a meaningful difference in the Guelph community,” stated Stonehenge CEO Kristin Kerr in a press release.

“I am equally grateful for the many advocates and partners who helped make this project successful.”

Guelph Community Health Centre CEO Melissa Kwiatkowski said the funding “is the last critical piece of the puzzle to making this innovative project successful.”

The building is the product of a partnership between Kindle Communities, the Guelph Community Health Centre and Stonehenge.

Partners are working aggressively to be able to open the building in June.

Green Party Leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner also applauded the local funding announcement.

“I pushed hard for operational funding for supportive housing projects and the Kindle Community in Guelph got that,” Schreiner told the Advertiser in a telephone interview.

“I thank the government for that, along with the number of people who came together to secure this funding.”

Housing, municipalities

Rae says municipalities can expect greater support from the budget as the province continues to pursue its goal of building 1.5 million homes.

He noted the Municipal Housing Infrastructure program and Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund will make over $1.8 billion available to municipalities to build water and wastewater infrastructure, roads and other infrastructure.

“Our government’s historic investment of $1.8 billion in housing-enabling infrastructure will help us and our municipal partners unlock millions of homes across Ontario,” said Rae.  

“I hope our federal partners will join us in building the critical infrastructure that we need to get homes built.”

Other budget announcements impacting municipalities include:

  • a $200 million Community Sport and Recreation Infrastructure Fund;
  • new Ontario Transit Investment Fund providing annual funding of $5 million for local and inter-community transportation projects in unserved/underserved rural areas; and
  • $30 million over the next three years for an application-based grant program to support specialized equipment for municipal fire services.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has been lobbying for a commitment from the provincial government to collaborate with the municipal sector on a review of the fiscal relationship between the province and municipalities.

In a statement posted on its website, the association expressed disappointment the request was not addressed in the budget.

However AMO president Colin Best said the measures included in the budget will help municipalities.

“We believe the Ontario government knows that working with municipalities is essential to their success, and to Ontario’s success,” stated Best, a member of Halton Regional council.

“Today’s budget will help municipalities to provide the infrastructure needed to support growth, housing and the economy, and to make progress on key challenges like the homelessness crisis.”


Rae says this year’s budget builds on affordability measures introduced last year, including:

  • expansion of the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) program, starting in July, making 100,000 additional seniors eligible for the program and adjusting the benefit annually to inflation; and
  • extending the seven-cents-per-litre gas tax reduction until December.

“Our government is focused on ensuring that we keep costs down for families,” said Rae.

“I will continue to advocate for ways to improve affordability for rural Ontario in particular,” he added.

Schreiner told the Advertiser the budget missed the mark on many fronts.

“To me, this budget said ‘no’ to addressing the biggest challenges facing the province,” he said.

“It says ‘no’ to health care, ‘no’ to education and ‘no’ to helping the most vulnerable populations.”

He continued, “There’s nothing about ensuring deeply affordable cooperative housing [in the budget].

“And the premier continues to refuse gentle density and low-rise housing, which are the fastest and cheapest way to get people housed.”

‘We’re better than this’

Schreiner said the slight increase in base health care funding “doesn’t keep up with inflation, let alone population growth.” 

He noted frequent emergency room closures occur in rural hospitals, there are three million people in the province without a family doctor, and over-crowded hospitals continue to treat patients in hallways. 

“To not make an investment at a time when people are struggling on so many fronts, fails to meet the moment,” he said.

Schreiner added one third of Ontario’s schools are facing teacher shortages and that will only grow as baby boomers continue to retire.

Colleges and universities are up against deficits, and that can’t help but affect education and research – both of which are vital to grow the economy, he explained.

Schreiner said poverty costs the province about $33 billion a year and there’s nothing in the budget to raise above the poverty line those people living on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.

The same goes for autism services and developmental services, where the budgets remain frozen, he added.

“I think we’re better than this as Ontarians,” Schreiner said. “We just need a government that cares as much as the rest of us.”

-With files from Joanne Shuttleworth