Notification Window

General Comments on the 2016 Ontario Budget

February 25, 2016

Toronto, ON -- Earlier today, Adam Tracey, Manager of Policy and Government Relations for the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA), attended the Queen’s Park Stakeholder Budget Lock-up, an opportunity given by the Provincial Government to specific stakeholders to review the budget prior to its public release, this afternoon.  Adam files this summary report on specific items in the released budget affecting architecture in the province. The OAA will further look into the budget, in the days ahead, to identify opportunities and challenges facing the profession and the public’s interest.
As with the 2015 budget, many of the announcements in the 2016 Ontario Budget had previously been introduced or expressly alluded to. While some further clarification around the cap-and-trade program was expected, the 2016 Budget contained little new information about the program. Cap-and-trade could further significant development in the area of sustainability and energy efficiency for the architectural profession, but in the absence of details, this remains to be determined.
On the subject of infrastructure investment, the OAA remains concerned about a growing focus on civil infrastructure to the detriment of the built environment. While this analysis has required a bit of reading between the lines, if accurate, this should be a significant concern for the architectural profession, and for the People of Ontario on the whole.
On the Infrastructure backgrounder provided in the stakeholder lockup, 4.5 out of 6 pages were dedicated to civil infrastructure. Much of the discussion around infrastructure in the 2016 Budget similarly appears to be civil in nature. If this perception is accurate, it would echo statements made by other senior government officials including John McKendrick, Executive Vice President of Infrastructure Ontario, who noted in early 2015 that “there is definitely a shift taking place from building into civil infrastructure”.
According to MPP Vic Fedeli, approximately 60% of infrastructure is buildings plain and simple. Yet $8.3 billion in the 2016 Budget, representing 51.1% of total infrastructure expenditures, is dedicated to the transportation sector. This includes $2.2 billion in provincial highways alone, which is larger than the infrastructure investment for education ($2 billion), and dwarfs investment for Postsecondary ($800 million), Social ($312 million) and Justice ($255 million). 
During the OAA’s deputation to the Standing Committee on Good Government on the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015, the OAA cautioned MPPs against getting “caught in a discourse focused specifically on roads, bridges and transit” arguing “we must all work together to get back to a more balanced conversation about infrastructure”. OAA President Toon Dreessen argued that “architects must play a major role in that discussion, because it is architects who make the majority of infrastructure possible.”
While the OAA both supports and recognizes the significant need to invest in transit, transportation, and other civil areas, the OAA would again strongly urge the Government to focus more of its time, attention, and infrastructure investment on buildings within the built environment.
2016 Budget Specifics (and comments, where applicable)
Investing in a Low-Carbon Economy
Ontario’s proposed cap-and-trade program—in addition to reducing emissions—will direct resources and investment to encourage companies to be more innovative and ensure households thrive during the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Building Tomorrow’s Infrastructure Now
Investing about $160 billion over a 12-year period, starting in 2014-15. The 2016 Budget also increasing investments in health care infrastructure to maintain hospitals in good repair. 
Modernizing Regulations
The OAA has been communicating with the Ministries of Municipal Affairs and Housing as well as the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure about the need to modernize the site plan approval process in Ontario. 
We will watch with interest the development of the Red Tape Challenge (to be launched this spring) as well as the establishment of a Regulatory Modernization Committee and a Centre of Excellence, as announced in the 2016 Budget.
Cap-and-Trade Program
The 2016 Budget remained light on details regarding the cap-and-trade program, though it did quantify that it expects proceeds from cap-and-trade allowances to be as $478M in 2016-17, and 1.8B-$1.9B annually, starting in 2017-18. These funds are targeted towards a number of greenhouse gas reduction initiatives, one of which is Home & Business Energy Efficiency.
Green Investment Fund
As was already announced back on February 4, the government is committing $100M to help homeowners reduce their energy bills and cut GHG emissions—an opportunity that could be worth some additional attention from the architectural community.
Building Tomorrow’s Infrastructure Now
The Budget announced that the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015, will come into force on May 1, 2016. Following a number of questionable amendments to the Bill last year, the OAA continues to push the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure for clear regulations for the architectural profession and will be watching this file closely.
Further Infrastructure Announcements
Child Care and Educational Infrastructure: Over 10 years, the Province plans to provide more than $11 billion in capital grants to school boards to help build new schools and improve the condition of existing facilities
Postsecondary Education Infrastructure: The Province plans to provide $3 billion in capital grants to postsecondary institutions over 10 years.
Health and Community Infrastructure: The Province plans to provide $12 billion over 10 years in capital grants to hospitals to continue building essential infrastructure, plus $50 million to assist hospitals in maintaining their facilities in good repair.
Community Hubs: While no dollar amount was assigned to this area, the 2016 Budget does note ongoing support for work in the area of Community Hubs.
Alternative Financing and Procurement
Despite ongoing concerns raised by the OAA and other stakeholders in the construction and design sector, the 2016 Budget continue to promote the program as a glaring success. The OAA continues to press for improvements to Alternative Financing and Procurement.
Making Tuition More Affordable
The Province has announced changes to the way student aid is provided that will hopefully reduce the debt load post-secondary for students. This may help make architectural programs more affordable.
Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy
The Province made some announcements regarding affordable housing, but largely reverted back to legacy claims of having committed over $4 billion to affordable housing since 2003. The 2016 Budget committed $178 million to support the construction of up to 1,500 new supportive housing units.
In 2013, there were 158,445 households on the waiting list, including 72,700 in Toronto alone. It remains clear that efforts across all levels of government in this area are chronically below what would be required to begin addressing the problem.
Gender Wage Gap Strategy
The OAA entered a nominal submission during the Gender Wage Gap consultations in January 2016. The Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee is expected to make recommendations in May 2016 and the OAA will watch for this announcement.
Energy-Saving Home Retrofits
As previously noted, the government is dedicating $100 million of its $325 million Green Investment Fund to help homeowners conduct audits to reduce their energy bills by identifying energy-saving opportunities and completing retrofits. However, these appear to be things such as “replacing furnaces and water heaters and upgrading insulation”—what some could consider a rather narrow view.
Community Hubs
Again, no announcements were made though the mandate of the Province’s Special Adviser Karen Pitre has been extended through 2016-17. The OAA has been engaged in informal discussions with Ms. Pitre on the subject of community hubs and will continue to monitor this file for future developments or opportunities to participate.
Improving Outcomes and Evidence-Based Decision-Making
The 2016 Budget noted a move towards a focus on evidence-based decision-making, a recommendation that has been made by the Construction and Design Alliance for improving the AFP process in Ontario, and generally for better targeting strategic, long-term infrastructure investment.
Risks to Ontario’s Economic Outlook
The 2016 Budget reiterated widespread and growing concerns regarding the risk of a housing market correction, and the effect that could have on the economy. The 2016 Budget appears to minimize these risks, despite increasingly escalating concerns from groups including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Bank of Canada. The OAA remains concerned about the housing affordability crisis and possible effects on the stability of the provincial economy.
Collaborative Action to Face Shared Challenges
Towards the end of the 2016 Budget, the Government noted the need for Canada’s governments to collaborate to achieve meaningful and lasting solutions. The OAA agrees and hopes to be involved in this collaboration.
Health Homes Renovation Tax Credit
This credit was widely underutilized, and will be phased out as of January 1, 2017.
Technical Amendments
A number of technical amendments are proposed to various pieces of legislation and, time permitting, the OAA will try to review these amendments to ensure they have no impacts on the architectural community.