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Ontario Liberals to table budget next week - here’s what we can expect

Finance Minister Charles Sousa confirmed Tuesday he will table the provincial spending plan on Feb. 25 - months earlier than usual.
Feb. 16, 2016
By Robert Benzie

Pensions, pinot noir, and pricing carbon.

Those will be the major pillars of Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s budget next week.

Sousa confirmed Tuesday he will table the provincial spending plan on Feb. 25 - months earlier than usual.

That’s to accommodate Ontario’s entry into a carbon-pricing market with Quebec and California, which will ultimate bring in $1.3 billion for the treasury while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, Sousa’s winter budget will usher wine onto Ontario supermarket shelves, building upon the successful launch of beer sales in grocery stores last Christmas.

As first disclosed by the Star’s Martin Regg Cohn last Thursday, there will be wine in 70 supermarkets across Ontario this fall, rising to 150 new outlets in future years.

“I’m well aware of what consumers are asking for,” Sousa told reporters after an Empire Club speech to more than 300 people at the Arcadian Court.

“It’s been more complex than with beer,” the treasurer said, noting international trade deals are making things more difficult than breaking the Beer Store’s monopoly on private sales of six packs last year.

Of the 70 new wine outlets, sources say 35 will be devoted to local VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance) products and 35 will be for foreign and domestic vintages.

Beyond pinot and carbon-pricing, the budget will also tout the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), the launch of which has been delayed for one year - to 2018 - in order to give big business more time to prepare.

Sousa stressed while Queen’s Park and Ottawa “have agreed to enter into a national dialogue to enhance the Canada Pension Plan,” Ontario’s standalone scheme will still go ahead.

“This government does listen to business and to the people of Ontario,” he said, adding the delay gives 400 companies with 500 or more employees additional months to gear up for a plan that will be mandatory for firms without employee pensions.

“Ottawa has agreed to facilitate the ORPP plan registration and data-sharing arrangements (which will) ... ensure the key elements of the ORPP administration are completed efficiently and cost-effectively.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said the delayed implementation of the ORPP is “a step in the right direction,” but he remains concerned the scheme could hurt job growth.

“We have a fragile economy,” Brown told reporters, urging the government to wait until the time is right to enhance the Canada Pension Plan.

“Everyone wants to do more on pensions. That is a noble goal. But the way they’re going about it is not the right course.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she is concerned the early budget will usher in cuts to services - especially since Sousa is sticking to his vow to balance the books in 2017-18.

“What we are worried about is another Liberal ... budget full of cuts ... that takes money out of health care, takes money out of education, that makes life worse for everyday families,” she said.

Horwath said Sousa should instead hike taxes on business in order to eliminate the deficit.

“There’s room to raise corporate tax in this province.”