LILLEY: Ford's first budget boosts spending just slower than Libs

Ontario's Tories don't plan to balance books until after election

Ontario Budget 2019 to allow purchase of gambling tickets on smartphones

"It's very shocking this Ford government is wanting to balance this budget on the backs of children, vulnerable people, students, attacking colleges and universities and us who live in rural and Northern Ontario", Monteith-Farrell said.

The first fiscal blueprint of the Progressive Conservatives' term contains several measures to loosen rules around alcohol consumption in the province, while also liberalizing certain gambling and combat sport laws. The Ford government is increasing spending and doing it at a rate well above that of inflation.

Ford's budget makes no serious effort to lower the province's debt-to-GDP ratio, which many economic experts consider a more important measure of fiscal discipline, or lack of it, than deficits and debt. And the Tories intend to move forward with a previously announced plan to put beer and wine in corner stores.

The province plans to entice gamblers to place their bets in Ontario by offering single-game betting options - something they've asked the federal government to green light. "In the case of this government, it's clear what they want to protect is booze, gambling and tailgating".

The budget does unveil a new tax credit - CARE - for families with low or modest incomes which is created to help offset child care expenses for about 300,000 families.

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The new alcohol regulations will also give wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries greater flexibility to serve booze at their manufacturing sites, with the government planning to scrap required serving sizes. Families could receive up to $6,000 for eligible child care expenses per child under seven, up to $3,750 per child between the ages of seven and 16, and up to $8,250 per child with a severe disability.

As well, the government plans to make changes to the way it funds the province's 45 publicly assisted post-secondary institutions. It will tie 60 per cent of a school's funding by 2024-2025 to yet-to-be finalized metrics that will include student skills and job outcomes.

Revamped licence plates and logos were also a part of Thursday's budget announcements.

Ontario plans to work with the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA), a newly-established independent financial regulator, to reduce insurance fraud through enhanced data analystics, new rules on deceptive practices and an online claims process that would help detect fradulent activity.

The budget unveiled a new Ontario licence plate - two shades of blue and white with the slogan 'A Place To Grow, ' with a new trillium design to replace the mostly white version with the "three-men-in-a-hot tub" trillium introduced by the Ontario Liberals.

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After years of massive spending increases under the Liberals, the best that can be said is that under Ford's PCs, the spending is going up by less, but still going up.

Meanwhile, casinos will now be allowed to advertise free alcohol to "level the playing field" with American competitors, the budget says.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the change shows Ford is using "public money for partisan purposes". "Instead of investments in health care, education and more opportunities for children, Ford is focused on booze and sticking a partisan ad on your auto".

In the nine short months since taking office, the government has already reduced the deficit by $3.3 billion, going from $15 billion to a projected $11.7 billion for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

"When you make these kind of changes you have to recognize that they will have (social) impacts and plan for those impacts", Horwath said.

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