2019

April 16, 2019

Ontario Budget 2019

To help keep you informed, Sun Life has developed this high-level summary of the 2019 Ontario Budget, focusing on announcements related to pensions and health care.

What happened

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli tabled the 2019 Ontario Budget in the Ontario Legislature on April 11. This document is the Ford government’s first budget, and provides the first detailed look into their long-term fiscal plan and mandate.

The budget projects that the deficit will decline from $10.3 billion in 2019–20 to a surplus of $300 million in 2023-24. The government will also introduce the Fiscal Sustainability, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2019 (FSTAA) to modernize the rules that govern fiscal planning by enhancing transparency and public reporting, and other measures such as requiring any surplus go toward debt reduction.

What is in the budget

Pensions:

  • Electronic communications: The government is considering future legislative changes to the Pension Benefits Act to permit plans to use electronic communications as the default method to provide plan information to their members, while enabling members to opt to continue receiving paper documents if desired. Officials confirmed this signals a solid commitment to explore and consult on this idea, but no corresponding legislative changes are included in the budget bill.
  • Target benefit multi-employer pension plans: To provide more employees with defined benefit-like pensions, the government intends to move forward with a target benefit framework that would allow more multi-employer pension plans, including those in the non-unionized not-for-profit sector to participate; legislative changes are being proposed to facilitate this change. The government will consult with stakeholders on other changes to the target benefit framework, including the funding framework, which was previously announced in 2017.

Financial sector policy:

  • Electronic beneficiary designations: Last fall, the government amended the Pension Benefits Act to allow pension plan administrators to permit electronic beneficiary designations. The budget announces amendments to the Insurance Act that would clarify that insurers may accept electronic beneficiary designations, subject to any requirements that may be prescribed in a rule by FSRA. Sun Life successfully advocated for both of these measures.
  • Financial Services Regulator of Ontario (FSRA): The budget reaffirms a target launch date of June 2019. The government is considering legislative and regulatory changes that would provide FSRA with additional rule-making authority in the pension sector. FSRA’s first-year priorities include reviewing data collection and filing requirements.
  • Regulatory oversight of financial planners and advisors: As signalled in the 2018 Fall Economic Statement, Ontario will move forward with proposing legislation to protect titles for financial planners and advisors. A corresponding framework is being developed that would require planners and advisors to have an appropriate credential, while being mindful of the current regulatory oversight of licensees and registrants. Further consultation is expected.

Health care:

  • Mental health strategy: As previously announced, Ontario will invest $3.8 billion over 10 years for mental health, addictions and housing supports. Key components of the strategy include:
    • Building a mental health and addictions system focused on core services embedded in a stepped-care model.
    • Creating a robust data and measurement framework.
    • Building a centre of excellence in mental health and addictions services.
  • Scope of practice for health professionals: The government will expand the scope of practice for certain regulated health professionals, such as pharmacists, nurse practitioners, dental specialists and optometrists. One example includes reducing regulatory barriers to accessing up-to-date drug therapies to give health care providers more treatment options for their patients.
  • Ontario Drug Benefit Program: The government will continue to examine other ways to redesign the program, including providing timely access to new clinically proven medicines while continuing efforts to lower drug costs, modernizing and strengthening oversight of payments to pharmacies and reducing the administrative burden for clinicians and red tape for the industry wherever possible.
  • Public Health Units: 10 regional public health entities and 10 new regional boards of health with one common governance model will be established by 2020-21, and the number of public health labs will be reduced. Dental coverage for seniors: By late summer 2019, single seniors age 65 and older with incomes of $19,300 or less (or senior couples with combined incomes of less than $32,300) and without existing dental benefits will receive free dental services in public health units, community health centres and Aboriginal Health Access Centres, something the PCs campaigned on during last spring’s election. The program will cost approximately $90 million annually once fully implemented.

Digital and data strategies:

  • Ontario is adopting a digital-first strategy that will leverage the best tried-and-true technologies to improve how people and businesses access government services and reduce system costs.
  • It will also adopt a data strategy to harness the value of data while protecting privacy and security.

Infrastructure:

  • The budget flags a government initiative that has been launched to transform the management of capital assets, including the way in which infrastructure investments are planned, prioritized and procured.
  • The budget only provides an update on the government’s infrastructure investment plan, which aims to invest about $144 billion over the next 10 years. Following the government’s review of major projects planned or underway, hospital projects will be prioritized, capital funding for high-speed rail will be passed, the construction of a freight rail by-pass will be cancelled, funding for new schools and child care will be realigned, post-secondary capital projects will be reduced, and as announced April 11, 2019, four new priority projects in Toronto will be prioritized.

Questions?
Please contact your Group Retirement Services representative