Looser rules on alcohol a significant focus in first PC budget

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

Another causality of the Ontario budget, Legal Aid sent a letter to staff Thursday, saying the province has reduced their funding by 30 per cent, which is $133-million less in this fiscal year than anticipated.

The post-secondary sector will see funding cuts, with spending dropping one per cent on average for the next three years, largely due to changes to student financial assistance.

"This change will level the playing field for Ontario casinos and enable them to compete more effectively with those in the United States", the budget states. The government is also exploring the introduction of new options-such as pay-as-you-go insurance-and allowing drivers to provide electronic proof of insurance.

Bars, restaurants and golf courses in Ontario will be able to start serving alcohol at 9 a.m., seven days a week.

The budget, which projects an $11.7-billion deficit for 2018-19, also hinted at further reforms to auto insurance, new home warranties and ticket sale regulations. Another $510 million is expected annually through "operational efficiencies and cost savings" as well as streamlining programs such as childcare, affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs. That allowance is instead of cutting the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent, as the Tories had promised in the election. Their polling suggests that people want key public services preserved far more than they want a "cut-the-deficit-above-all-else" approach.

The government plans on introducing legislation that would allow municipalities to designate parks for the consumption of alcohol.

It says insurance forms, policies and other documents will also be simplified so drivers can make informed decisions more easily.

The government is behind the continuance of the Wataynikaneyap Power and the East-West Tie transmission projects as well as following through its promise to deliver natural gas access to Northern communities and to spend $315 million on improving "shovel-ready" broadband and cell service across Ontario.

Rules governing combative sports in Ontario will also see an overhaul, with legislation on the way to modernize the way kickboxing, mixed martial arts and boxing matches are staged in the province.

Back on the opposition benches on budget day for the first time in 15 years, veteran Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle has more questions than answers about the Ford government's first financial blueprint.

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The budget also reveals a new Ontario trillium logo - virtually identical to a previous iteration - as well as a largely blue licence plate redesign and an accompanying new slogan, "A place to grow".

The government is also ending the Estate Administration Tax for taxable estates with assets of $50,000 or less on January 1, and reducing it by $250 for larger estates.

"Put the investment in our education as a priority in this years budget".

That's money, as Fedeli noted, which can't be spent on more health-care workers, fixing schools or reducing taxes.

"There certainly weren't a lot of the details I was looking for, particularly related to Northern Ontario", Gravelle said.

The review will also look at how to support rail freight and fix operations in the North. The budget also contains a previously announced 10 per cent tuition cut that takes effect this fall.

Premier Doug Ford's PCs will press the pause button on a scheduled increase to the wine tax enacted by the previous Liberal government.

Drastic and widespread cuts that many had feared did not materialize in this budget, but the path to balance shows that much of the heavy lifting comes at the halfway mark to the next election, and after it.

New Democrats are sounding the alarm about what they call deep and cruel cuts in the Ontario budget.

However, teachers' unions have said the changes would be devastating to the province's education system and result in the loss of thousands of front-line teaching positions.

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