The Doug Ford government spent the last week making mini-announcements ahead of the release of its fall economic statement on Thursday.
Here’s what you need to know:
Auditor General to probe Ontario place
The office of auditor general confirmed to CTV News Toronto it will be investigating the province’s plans to redevelop Ontario Place and move the Science Centre to the waterfront site.
No further details regarding the scope of the probe have been released.
Ford’s plans for Ontario Place and the Science Centre have garnered a lot of criticism, particularly the government’s intention to allow a private spa and multi-level parking garage on the land.
The City of Toronto is exploring alternatives, with its executive committee looking at the feasibility of moving the Therme spa to Exhibition Place instead. However the province, and Therme, don’t appear to be keen on the idea.
Tall fences were also spotted around Ontario Place this week.
Advocacy group Environmental Defence let loose over 7,000 pages of documents obtained by freedom of information requests related to both the government’s Greenbelt and urban boundary changes.
The documents included numerous emails from staff about the changes, including some by former chief of staff to then-Housing Minister Steve Clark, suggesting the premier’s office wanted to see maps of land in Nobleton, Ont. “to make sure it’s captured.”
Ford denied that he instructed staff to include specific developer-owned land in any changes to urban boundaries. The land in question is partially owned by Shakir Rehmatullah, who is the developer named in an NDP request for an integrity commissioner probe after it was discovered that he was in Las Vegas at the same time as some government staffers.
“Honestly, I don’t even know which lands you’re talking about,” Ford told reporters this week.
Ontario to get a new infrastructure bank
By the time the province released its fall economic statement Thursday, a lot of the new hot-ticket items had been announced, including an extension of the gas tax and the removal of HST on new purpose-built rental housing.
What was new was the launch of a provincial infrastructure bank, which Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said was another tool to “get more things built faster.”
The bank, which will get $3 billion in government seed money, will in theory encourage institutional investors like public sector pension plans to participate in development.
Few details have been provided as to how this new infrastructure bank will operate, but the fall economic statement said the board will “develop a detailed process to ensure there is appropriate qualification and selection of projects and partners in priority areas.”
These priority areas will be based on financial and public benefit criteria.
Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario’s Minister of Finance, right, walks with Premier Doug Ford as he prepares to release the 2023 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Thursday November 2, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
The fall economic statement also forecast a larger than anticipated deficit for the year.
As of November 2, the province is projecting a $5.6 billion deficit for 2023-24, a significant increase from the $1.3 billion deficit forecasted in the March budget. Officials attributed this change to “updated economic revenue information and higher contingencies.”
It now appears as though the province isn’t set to balance the budget until 2025-2026, a year later than originally promised.
Vaping products could get more expensive
The province also announced in its fall economic statement that it has entered into a new tax agreement with the federal government on vaping products.
By joining, the federal excise duty on products intended for sale in Ontario will double, with half of the revenue being given to the provincial government.
Manufacturers and importers will soon pay $2 per two millilitres of vaping liquids for the first 10 millilitres, then $2 per 10 millilitres for volumes beyond that.
It’s likely this cost increase will be offloaded to consumers.
Will more private healthcare increase wait times?
A new report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives suggests that an increase in for-profit health clinics will reduce wait times across the health system.
The report suggests that the government’s plan to allow more private clinics to conduct surgeries and diagnostic procedures under OHIP will negatively affect staffing in public health while also increasing the chances of extra billing.
A breakdown of the report can be found here.
Constitutional challenge of Ontario bill begins
A constitutional challenge hoping to overturn legislation that prevents the undercover filming of factory farms is being heard in court.
The law in question is the Security from Trespass and Animal Safety Act, a set of laws passed in 2020, which increases fines for people who trespass on Ontario farms.
It also makes it illegal to obstruct trucks carrying animals to these farms.
OTHER BILLS AND REGULATIONS:
- An NDP MPP put forward a bill that would mandate bird safe windows on all new construction and major renovations.
- An NDP MPP also put forward legislation that would require hairstylists in the entertainment industry to take training on Black, Indigenous, racialized, natural and textured hair types.
- A provincial by-election has been called for Kitchener-Centre.
- Ontario is enhancing Holocaust education for Grade 10 high school students.
- The acting financial accountability officer is getting the gig permanently–or at least for a five-year period.
- Public consultation has begun on 2025 construction codes, which are generally released every five years. You can learn more here.
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