November 2nd, 2023 at 1:00pm, the Minister of Finance released the 2023 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review - Building a Strong Ontario Together. The outlook referred to $206.4 billion in spending in sectors such as healthcare, education, justice, and social services. The province is forecasting an increase in spending of $7.6 billion over last year, with the post-secondary sector expected to receive just 6.5% of the increased funds allocated, which is just under $500 million in total funding. Provisions specifically designed to assist post-secondary learners include:
Over the next three years, the province will spend $32.4 million to support 6,500 high-quality paid research internships.
$200 million to address immediate healthcare staffing shortages by hiring qualified students and internationally educated nurses.
$3 million to supplement GO transit fare and services- including increased PRESTO discounts for post-secondary students.
There are several commitments which may indirectly benefit students in areas of need such as housing, infrastructure, rural/northern communities, transportation, skill development, and minimum wage.
Taking steps to enhance the Ontario Harmonized Sales Tax new Residential Rental Property Rebate by removing the 8% provincial portion of the HST on qualifying new “purpose-built” rental housing. CSA would expect student housing to be high among the “purpose-built” priorities.
Continuing to expand and build better GO rail and GO bus services to better connect growing communities across the Greater Golden Horseshoe and Southwestern Ontario.
Purchasing three new train sets to restore the Ontario Northlander passenger rail service to provide a safe and reliable transportation option for Northern communities.
Providing $2B over 5 years, beginning in 2021-22 to help 425 small, rural, and northern communities to repair community infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water, and wastewater infrastructure.
Enhancing the Skills Development Fund by investing $160M to prioritize training programs for people who may face barriers to employment.
Although these commitments may provide some benefit to students, college students across Ontario need direct, intentional, and sustained investments in the post-secondary education sector. Students face unique issues that require unique solutions. In the 2023 Economic Outlook, the province calls out the anticipated post-secondary sector spending increase of $900 million from 2023-24 to 2025-26 as “mainly due to higher college sector spending due to increasing enrolment”. This means, the increased funds are not necessarily to improve outcomes or livelihood, but to simply accommodate the increasing college student population. In CSA’s annual student-led issues brief, we identified 5 areas of need that require specific financial commitments to improve student livelihood across the province. These relate to: international students, housing, mental health, food insecurity, and work-integrated learning. CSA looks forward to submitting its calls for action through the 2024 pre-budget consultation process.