Which provincial party is promising the best stuff? A rundown
The provincial election is tomorrow. The three major parties have spent the past few months furiously promising voters a slew of goodies—in the form of new healthcare subsidies, public transit funding, tax breaks and other financial and infrastructural boons—in an attempt to swing the election. For those who still don’t know who they’re voting for, here’s a look at the best stuff pledged by the Liberals, the PCs and the NDP. (All cost estimates are taken directly from party platforms.)
As the ruling party, the Liberals aren’t proposing any major overhauls of the province’s tax system.
The PCs have committed to a tax reduction: a 20 per cent decrease in income tax for middle-earning Ontarians. This promise needs to be regarded with skepticism, though, because it will significantly reduce the provincial government’s income, and Doug Ford hasn’t yet said how he’ll make up the difference. The party estimates the cuts will put a $2.26 billion annual hole in the province’s budget, by year three.
The NDP is promising to raise income taxes on the rich. Taxes on earnings above $220,000 would go up by one percentage point, and taxes on earnings above $300,000 would go up by two percentage points. The NDP would also raise corporate income taxes. The party thinks this would generate an estimated $2 billion in new revenue each year.
The Liberals raised the minimum wage to $14 this year, and current legislation would raise it by another dollar, to $15 per hour, on January 1, 2019.
The PCs are promising to completely eliminate income tax for minimum wage earners, but there’s a catch: they’d also cancel the planned minimum wage hike to $15. A CBC analysis found that full-time minimum wage earners would be better off with the wage hike. The party estimates the tax break would create a budget hole of about $558 million per year.
The NDP would preserve the increase to $15, and they’d take things a step further by indexing the minimum wage to inflation, meaning it would grow along with the costs of goods and services.
The Liberals revamped OSAP last year by increasing the availability of grants to students from low-income families. The program now covers the full cost of tuition for many students whose families earn less than $50,000 per year. The party is now promising to further increase aid to students by reducing minimum parental contributions to tuition.
The PC party has made no specific promises regarding new funding for post-secondary education. Most of the party’s education-related promises are focused on reforming the curricula of primary and secondary schools. (Ontario’s controversial new sex-ed lesson plan would be scrapped, among other things.)
The NDP says it would transform OSAP into a source of no-strings education grants for all students, not just ones from low-income families—meaning nobody who took money from OSAP would ever have to pay it back. The NDP would also forgive all future interest payments on existing OSAP loans, freeing former students from a hefty chunk of debt. This would, of course, come at some expense to the taxpayer: an estimated $450 to $500 million per year for OSAP grants, and a one-time expense of $110 million for OSAP interest forgiveness.
Earlier this year, this Liberal government expanded OHIP to pay for over 4,400 types of medications for people under 25. The party says it will extend this same prescription-drug coverage to seniors aged 65 and over, at an estimated additional cost of around $575 million per year. The Liberals would also create a drug-and-dental plan for people who don’t have extended benefits plans from their employer—though it would max out at just $700 per year for a family of four. The plan would cost an estimated $800 million for the government to administer for the first two years.
There aren’t a lot of specifics in the healthcare section of the PC party’s platform. All we know is that they’re promising to allocate money to provide free dental care to “low-income seniors,” at an estimated cost to government of $98 million per year. They’ve also pledged $190 million per year in new funding for mental health (without saying specifically what they’d spend it on) and they say they’ll create 30,000 new long-term care beds over the next decade to alleviate hospital crowding.
The NDP is promising universal pharmacare coverage—that is, government-subsidized medication for everyone in Ontario—but their program would initially cover just 125 essential medications, with more to be added later. They also have a dental plan, and it’s a bit more ambitious (and a lot more costly) than the PC or Liberal equivalents. The NDP would create a public benefit plan and require any employers that don’t already provide dental coverage for their workers to buy in. And so these “free” dental benefits would be partially funded by contributions from employers and workers, just like other government entitlement programs. Low-income workers would get full refunds for their contributions. The party would also extend public dental coverage to seniors without retiree benefits and people on social assistance. The government would be on the hook for an estimated $1.6 billion per year in new costs once both programs are implemented.
As the ruling party, the Liberals have a number of ongoing transit projects to their credit, including the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT and improvements to the GO rail network. They’re promising $230 billion in infrastructure spending over the next 14 years, which they say will extend to Toronto-centric projects like the downtown relief line and the Scarborough subway extension. The party is also offering a few short-term goodies: lower fares for people who transfer between the TTC and other regional transit systems, $3 GO transit trips within Toronto, and a 15 per cent refundable tax credit on public transit costs for seniors.
The NDP platform mirrors the Liberal one in many respects: the GO rail improvements, reduced fares and downtown relief line funding are all there, though the party doesn’t commit to a specific amount of infrastructure spending. The one standout promise in the NDP plan is a pledge to fund 50 per cent of the operating costs of transit systems across the province. This type of ongoing, reliable operating subsidy hasn’t existed in Ontario since the 1990s, and transit activists have been advocating for its return for years. The party estimates this would cost the provincial government around $800 million per year, to start.
The PCs are promising $5 billion in new subway construction funding. (And, given Doug Ford’s policy predilections, it wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that most of that money would be funnelled into Scarborough.) The party also wants to “upload” the TTC subway, meaning the province would be responsible for at least some of the costs of building and running the subway system—but details of how of the cost split would actually function are scarce. (The Liberals have also said they’d explore the possibility of uploading the subway.) The PCs would continue the Liberal policy of expanding GO rail service, using existing funding.