Ontario Budget 2015: Five things you need to know

WATCH ABOVE: Alan Carter reports on the newly released 2015 Ontario provincial budget. 

TORONTO – Finance Minister Charles Sousa released the 2015 Ontario Budget Thursday, a 372-page document which outlines how the government will be spending your money.

With the exception of a hike on the price of beer, there are no new taxes. There are cuts but spending does increase in several areas, as well, most notably on public transit and infrastructure, an investment Premier Kathleen Wynne pegged her 2014 re-election campaign on.

Here’s some highlights:

More money for public transit

The government is spending an additional $2.6 billion on public transit over the next ten years, bringing the total amount up to $31.5 billion from the previously announced $29 billion.

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There’s no new projects listed in the budget, but some of the additional money will go towards major light rail transit projects like Finch Avenue West and an LRT connecting the big suburbs of Brampton and Mississauga that occupy the western regions of the Greater Toronto Area.

Discount on car insurance

The Ontario government wants to reward people using winter tires. So if you do, you can expect a discount on your car insurance. But how much and when will be the subject of consultation with industry. Some insurers already provide this discount in Ontario, to the tune of between 3-5 per cent.

It’s not all good news though; some drivers should also expect a higher deductible, with a standard comprehensive plan moving up to $500 from the current $300 standard. There’s also a slight decrease in the money available for rehab after an accident.

A balanced budget in time for the next election

Ontario will have a small surplus just in time for the next provincial election in 2017-2018, according to the 2015 Ontario Budget.

The province’s deficit currently sits at $8.5 billion – $400 million less than the government projected in last year’s budget. The government hopes to cut the deficit nearly in half, to $4.8 billion next year, and achieve a balanced budget in 2017-2018.

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But to get to that surplus the government will be cutting program spending by nearly $500 million over the next two years while paying $2 billion more on debt interest, more on education, and more on healthcare.

So where are those cuts coming from? The budget lists a $2.8 billion cut under “other programs” which the budget suggests will be the result of lower pension expenses including the Teachers’ Pension Plan, and savings from ending the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit.

Beer in grocery stores

The Ontario government is also moving to expand the sale of booze in Ontario allowing the sale of beer in 150 grocery stores by May 1, 2017 with that number increasing to 450 by 2027.

The changes also mandate the Beer Store, which is privately owned by three multinational brewers, promote the sale of Ontario craft beer by dedicating 20 per cent of their shelf space to local beer brands.

Some craft brewers will also be able to operate a second on-site store at their brewery if they have more than one production site.

But you still can’t get 24s at the Liquor Control Board. The LCBO, the Crown-owned alcohol retailer, will experiment with selling cases of 12 in 10 locations across the province, with the possibility of that expanding to 60.

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And beer will cost more as the government introduces a $100 million increase on beer sales over the next four years.

Asset sales

The Ontario government is in the initial stages of asset sales expected to add billions to government revenues over the next couple years.

The sale of 60 per cent of Hydro One is expected to net $9 billion, with $4 billion dedicated to transit. The Ontario government will also be selling off large swaths of real estate including the LCBO’s head office on Queens Quay and the Ontario Power Generation’s head office.

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