On March 23, Ontario’s Minister of Finance, the Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy, released Ontario’s 2023 Budget: Building a Strong Ontario. OSPE was invited to participate in the government’s pre-budget consultation process, and is pleased to report that many of the recommendations we put forward were included in this year’s budget.
Ontario’s 2023 Budget is built on six pillars:
- Rebuilding Ontario’s Economy for Today and Tomorrow
- Building Highways, Transit, and Infrastructure Projects
- Working for Workers
- Keeping Costs Down
- Better Services for You
- Protecting You and Your Family
Ontario’s anticipated deficit for 2022-23 is $2.2 billion, which is significantly lower than the projections in both the 2022 Budget, and the 2022-23 Third Quarter Finances (by $17.7 billion and $4.4 billion, respectively). The government expects to run a deficit of $1.3 billion in 2023-24 and anticipates a surplus of $0.2 billion in 2024-25, three years earlier than initially forecasted in the 2022 Budget. Additionally, the government projects a surplus of $4.4 billion in 2025-26. Despite these positive financial updates, significant economic and geopolitical uncertainties remain.
Ontario’s real GDP grew approximately 3.7% in 2022 and is expected to increase by 0.2% in 2023, 1.3% in 2024, 2.5% in 2025, and 2.4% in 2026.
OSPE has identified the following areas of Budget 2023 that are of the greatest interest to our membership:
- Ontario included infrastructure spending of more than $184 billion over the next 10 years. This includes a $27.9 billion investment to support the planning and construction of highway expansion and rehabilitation projects such as Highway 413, the Bradford Bypass, and the new Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph.
- Ontario has earmarked $70.5 billion for transit over the next 10 years. This investment includes the transformation of the GO Transit rail network into a modern, reliable, and fully integrated rapid transit network, as well as the largest subway expansion in Canadian history. The expansion includes the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Subway Extension, the Yonge North Subway Extension, and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. These projects will provide Ontarians with faster, more efficient, and more accessible public transit options, while reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.
Withdrawing Amendments to the Greenbelt Plan, and Proposed Construction of Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass
The amendments to the Greenbelt Plan have been shown to be costly, carbon-intensive and environmentally harmful. They will take Ontario several steps backwards in building sustainable cities. In fact, the province’s own Housing Task Force confirmed that there is enough land allocated to developers to construct 2 million homes without the need to build on the Greenbelt. As well; while the investments in highway expansion and rehabilitation may provide some benefits, these projects also have potential drawbacks, such as increasing urban sprawl, contributing to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and harming natural habitats. The Ministry of Transportation’s own engineers have identified four highway projects that are more deserving of immediate attention and funding than the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413.
Responsible Allocation of Resources
OSPE acknowledges that funding infrastructure projects is a worthwhile and sustainable investment. Nevertheless, OSPE strongly advocates for prudent spending and the need to make tough choices when approving infrastructure projects. OSPE emphasizes that all levels of government should make infrastructure decisions based on factual evidence, weighing the needs of the various regions of the province, and in consultation with engineers to minimize environmental impacts.
Infrastructure Projects Framework
OSPE advocates for the development of a clear and transparent framework in Ontario that outlines the prioritization, sequencing, and funding of infrastructure projects, including the funding mechanisms and models. We recommend that this framework be jointly developed by all levels of government, industry stakeholders, community organizations, and other relevant parties.
Public Procurement to Promote Diversity and Inclusion
Public procurement policy can be leveraged to promote diversity and inclusion in engineering. By requesting that firms disclose their diversity and inclusion initiatives and policies as part of the bid process, public sector buyers can support greater equity and inclusion in engineering without compromising quality or increasing costs, and ensure these investments reflect the diversity of Ontario’s communities. Read our public procurement policy reports for more information.
Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) Framework
To ensure transparency and maximize value for investment in all public infrastructure investments, it is crucial to adopt a Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) framework, particularly given Ontario’s current economic and fiscal state. By using QBS as the preferred method for selecting consultants, the government can ensure that its infrastructure projects provide the highest return on investment and an overall better deal for taxpayers. Read our statement on QBS for more information.
Life-Cycle Costing for All Projects
To optimize the value of infrastructure projects and ensure responsible use of taxpayer funds, it is imperative that the province accurately reports and considers life-cycle costing for all projects. This involves estimating all costs associated with the entire lifespan of a project. By doing so, Ontario can ensure that its infrastructure projects deliver long-term benefits at a reasonable cost.
- Advancing Ontario’s Critical Minerals Strategy to enhance supply chain connections between Northern Ontario’s industries, resources, and workforce, and Southern Ontario’s manufacturing industry, supporting electric vehicle (EV) and battery manufacturing, which is critical. This will enable the province to develop a comprehensive and efficient supply chain for critical minerals.
- Ontario has attracted over $16 billion in investments from global automakers and suppliers of EV batteries and battery materials. This investment will position Ontario as a world leader in the EV supply chain, enabling the province to create high-quality jobs and economic growth.
- Ontario has launched a voluntary clean energy credit registry that provides businesses with a tool to achieve their environmental and sustainability goals. This registry will allow businesses to demonstrate that they have sourced their electricity from clean resources, such as hydroelectric, solar, wind, bioenergy, and nuclear power. It will also promote the development of clean energy in Ontario and help the province achieve its climate targets.
Ontario’s Critical Minerals Strategy
This strategy represents a major step forward in promoting economic development and environmental sustainability in the province. Since 2021, we have been advocating for Ontario’s Critical Minerals Strategy, recognizing the importance of developing a comprehensive and efficient supply chain for critical minerals. By enhancing supply chain connections between Northern and Southern Ontario, and supporting the growth of EV and battery manufacturing, Ontario is creating new opportunities for innovation, job creation, and sustainable growth. This will not only benefit the province’s economy but also combat climate change by promoting the use of cleaner technologies.
Electric Vehicle Promotion
We celebrate the initiatives to promote electric vehicle (EV) adoption in Ontario. It is important to incentivize not only electric vehicle purchases and batter supply chain investments, but also to support investment in charging stations. Charging stations come in different levels to accommodate different vehicle types, and the costs associated with them are solely borne by the consumer (including the corresponding increase in hydro costs).
To address this concern, the provincial government should consider implementing a subsidy for the purchase and installation of charging stations. This would help alleviate the financial burden on consumers and encourage widespread adoption of EVs in the province. By coupling this subsidy with the federal point-of-sale incentive for EV purchases, Ontario can drive the shift towards an electric future. Furthermore, the adoption of more EVs and the encouraged use of overnight charging will help to store much of the half-billion dollars of curtailed energy that is wasted every year by Ontario’s energy producers. As such, these incentives can pay for themselves.
Voluntary Clean Energy Credit Registry
Ontario’s new voluntary clean energy credit registry is a major step forward in promoting environmental sustainability and clean energy development in the province. By giving businesses a tool to demonstrate their commitment to using clean energy, Ontario is encouraging more companies to adopt sustainable practices and helping to build a cleaner and greener future for all Ontarians.
While the new clean energy credit registry is a step in the right direction, it remains a voluntary program, and some businesses will choose not to participate. This limits the overall impact of the program and hinders Ontario’s efforts to achieve its climate targets. Additionally, the registry’s focus on electricity sourcing may overlook other important sustainability issues, such as waste reduction, water conservation, and sustainable transportation.
Climate Crisis Action
Ontario cannot escape the repercussions of the global climate crisis, and it is vital that we take decisive action to protect our land, resources, economy, and people. Engineers play a key leadership role in this effort. By failing to act, Ontario risks our valuable resources and loses opportunities to develop innovative, competitive solutions to this global challenge.
Investing in an Excess Soil Aggregates Framework
Ontario should invest in an Excess Soil Aggregates Framework that provides clear guidelines for project leaders, improves transparency, and leverages engineering expertise. Such a framework would help ensure that excess soil is properly handled, transported, and deposited in a way that minimizes its impact on the environment and human health.
Engaging with Climate Experts and Indigenous Leaders
To advance climate safety and reconciliation, Ontario should convene two separate panels that engage climate experts and Indigenous leaders in transparent conversations about the key issues and challenges facing the province. By bringing together these diverse perspectives, Ontario can better understand the complex interplay between climate change and Indigenous rights and interests, and develop more effective solutions that benefit all Ontarians.
- In the upcoming year of 2023-24, Ontario has allocated $224 million towards a new capital stream for the Skills Development Fund. This funding will be utilized to increase training centers, such as union training halls, and will encourage private sector involvement to provide more flexible and accessible training opportunities for workers.
- The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program is being enhanced with an additional $25 million in funding over three years to attract skilled workers to the province. This funding will focus on attracting skilled professionals in high demand sectors, including the skilled trades.
- Ontario will enable nearly 27,000 students to earn credits for both their Ontario Secondary School Diploma and a postsecondary degree, diploma, certificate, or Certificate of Apprenticeship simultaneously through dual credit opportunities.
- The government of Ontario allocated an additional $3 million in 2023-24 to expand the Ontario Bridge Training Program, helping internationally trained immigrants find employment in their respective fields, and providing them with faster access to training and support to obtain licences or certificates.
Workforce Training Investment
OSPE expresses its satisfaction with the government’s investment in workforce training. Nonetheless, further efforts should be made to ensure that not only tradespeople but also engineers can access these opportunities. Since engineers are responsible for designing various projects in these sectors, failing to support them in knowledge and skill development will impede innovation in the province. Lack of innovation in these sectors will lead to missed job creation opportunities for both engineers and tradespeople. There is already an engineering shortage in the province, and this shortage will be exacerbated as it is estimated that 20% of the engineering workforce will retire in the next few years. Without engineers to conduct environmental assessments, design infrastructure, manage project sites and execute construction plans, we will have a competent skilled trades workforce with no projects to work on.
Ontario Bridge Training Program
We are pleased to see that the Ontario government has taken action our recommendations concerning the bridging program. As we mentioned in our Budget Submission, Ontario should expand bridging program partnerships with international engineering schools to bring more of the world’s brightest minds to our province, strengthen our innovation portfolio, heighten exposure for our competitive job market and promote our province’s post-secondary education.
Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program
We celebrate that the Ontario government is investing in the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program to attract skilled professionals to the province, especially in high-demand sectors like engineering. This investment will not only strengthen our workforce but also contribute to the economic growth and development of our communities, bringing in fresh ideas and diverse perspectives.
Neurodiversity and STEM
We are pleased that the government addressing barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from finding employment. The government’s investment of an additional $3.5 million over three years to support the Abilities Centre in Whitby is a positive step towards achieving this goal. But that’s not enough; the Ontario government should invest in programs supporting neurodiverse students and professionals in the STEM field. This will not only deepen the talent pool and strengthen the workforce, but will also diversify Ontario’s innovation portfolio. These programs must be informed by neurodiversity specialists to ensure they maximize the full potential of the participants. Partnering with provincial and national organizations such as Specialisterne, professional associations such as OSPE, and postsecondary institutions across the province will help funnel neurodiverse talent into the workforce and postsecondary systems.
- Providing $2 billion over 10 years for the Ontario Innovation Tax Credit to support businesses in the innovation economy and encourage investment in research and development.
- Providing $140 million over three years for the Ontario Research Fund to support research projects in areas such as health, advanced manufacturing, and clean technology.
- Investing $50 million over three years to support the development and commercialization of made-in-Ontario advanced manufacturing technologies.
- Providing $7.5 million over three years to support the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing technologies in Ontario.
The Ontario government is investing significant amounts of money in research and innovation across multiple sectors. This investment is likely to stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and improve quality of life for people in Ontario.
The Ontario Innovation Tax Credit
This initiative will support businesses in the innovation economy and encourage investment in research and development. This will stimulate growth and innovation, leading to new products and services that can benefit the province’s economy and people.
The Ontario Research Fund
This fund to support research projects in health, advanced manufacturing, and clean technology is a significant investment that can accelerate progress in these key areas.
Support for Made-in-Ontario Advanced Manufacturing Technologies
Supporting the development and commercialization of homegrown manufacturing technologies will help create new jobs and industries in the province.
Support for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Quantum Computing
Investment in these technologies will help position the province as a leader in these emerging fields, attracting talent and investment to the province.
- Funding for the Black Youth Action Plan, which aims to reduce systemic barriers and increase opportunities for Black youth in Ontario.
- Additional funding for the Ontario Human Rights Commission to address discrimination and promote human rights in the province.
- Expansion of the Ontario Bridge Training Program to help internationally trained individuals, including newcomers and refugees, gain employment in their field of expertise.
- Investments in skills training and apprenticeship programs to support underrepresented groups, including women and Indigenous peoples.
- Support for the Abilities Centre in Whitby, which provides opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in sports and recreation activities, as well as gain employment skills.
Support for Black and Indigenous Communities
One of the key initiatives is the funding for the Black Youth Action Plan, which aims to address systemic racism and improve opportunities for Black youth in Ontario. The plan includes funding for initiatives such as mentorship programs, employment opportunities, and mental health supports.
The budget also includes funding for the Indigenous Economic Development Fund, which aims to support economic development initiatives in Indigenous communities across the province. This funding will help Indigenous communities develop their own businesses, create jobs, and build sustainable economies. As part of a comprehensive strategy that integrates mineral extraction, energy generation, and the well-being of northern communities, we urge the Ontario government to invest in engineering pathway programs for members of Indigenous communities. This investment would not only help to expand the workforce but would also tap into the deep knowledge and expertise that Indigenous peoples have of their land. By engaging and training Indigenous engineers in important infrastructure projects, we can ensure that their voices and perspectives are included in decision-making processes, and that projects are designed and executed in a way that is sustainable and respectful of the environment and local communities.
Support for Women
Additionally, the budget includes funding for the Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategy, which aims to improve economic opportunities for women in Ontario. This funding will support initiatives such as mentorship and networking programs, as well as funding for women-owned businesses.
The Ontario government should promote equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in procurement policies. One way they are doing this is by partnering with municipalities to implement data-driven approaches to EDI in procurement processes. This will help to ensure that procurement decisions are fair and unbiased and will provide opportunities for underrepresented groups to participate in the procurement process. Read our public procurement policy reports for more information.
Investing in Programs to Support Neurodiverse Students and Professionals in the STEM Field
This is essential for deepening the talent pool, strengthening the workforce, and diversifying Ontario’s innovation portfolio. These programs can also address pressing provincial issues. It is crucial to ensure that these programs are informed by neurodiversity specialists to unleash the full potential of the participants.
To achieve this goal, the Ontario government should partner with provincial and national organizations such as Specialisterne, professional associations like OSPE, and postsecondary institutions. These partnerships will create a funnel into the workforce and postsecondary systems, providing opportunities for students and professionals to develop their skills and contribute to the province’s economy.
Through these programs, Ontario can tap into the diverse talents of individuals with neurodivergent conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and dyslexia. These individuals possess unique perspectives and strengths that can enhance innovation and problem-solving in the STEM field. By supporting these individuals, Ontario can diversify its workforce and innovation portfolio, leading to more creative and effective solutions to provincial issues.
- The 2023 budget includes a range of measures aimed at supporting the province’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and building a more resilient economy for the future. However, it is important to note that the virus is still present and measures should be taken to mitigate the spread of airborne diseases, which were not specifically addressed in the budget.
Improving Indoor Air Quality
This should be a top priority, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While it may seem like things are returning to normal, the reality is that the virus is still present, and we must remain vigilant to protect ourselves and others. Therefore, we recommend monitoring, maintaining, and standardizing infrastructure and practices to provide safer indoor air quality.
To achieve this goal, several measures can be taken, including:
a. Mitigation of Airborne Disease Transmission: Strategies such as physical distancing, mask-wearing, and vaccination can help reduce the spread of airborne diseases.
b. Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is crucial for maintaining healthy indoor air quality. Proper ventilation systems should be installed and regularly maintained to ensure they are functioning effectively.
c. Filtration: Air filters can help remove harmful particles from indoor air, such as allergens and pollutants. High-efficiency air filters should be used, and they should be replaced regularly.
d. Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI): UVGI is a method of disinfecting indoor air by using ultraviolet light to kill viruses and bacteria. It can be an effective tool for reducing the spread of airborne diseases.
e. Avoiding Additive Air Cleaning and Alternative Methods: Some air-cleaning methods, such as ionizers and ozone generators, can produce harmful byproducts. It is essential to avoid these methods and use safer alternatives.
f. Transparency and Public Education: Public education campaigns can help raise awareness about the importance of indoor air quality and the measures being taken to improve it. Transparency about air quality data and the effectiveness of measures can help build trust and increase compliance.
By implementing these measures, Ontario can improve indoor air quality and reduce the spread of airborne diseases. It is essential to prioritize this issue to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as annual RSV and Influenza recurrences. It will also help prepare us to prevent future pandemics and their economical, physical and mental impacts on society.