The Ontario government will table its latest budget Thursday, and while there will be few surprises after weeks of pre-budget announcements, voters will be keen to learn the details of some of the proposed big-spending projects.

The Progressive Conservatives leaked what they said was the governing Liberals’ pre-budget communication plan on April Fools’ Day, and the Grits followed the script almost to the letter in the weeks that followed.

The pre-budget announcements suggest the Liberals are planning some $5.7 billion in new spending in what is no doubt an attempt to appeal to the New Democrats, who can bring down the government and trigger an election if they opt not to support the budget.

Among the big-ticket promises, the Liberals announced:

  • A $2.5 billion, 10-year “Jobs and Prosperity Fund” for corporate grants to attract business to the province.
  • $2 billion to repair schools.
  • $730 million over three years to shorten wait lists for people in need of developmental services.
  • $85 million over three years for In-Vitro Fertilization.
  • $35 million to expand school breakfast programs.

The Liberals are also scrapping the “debt retirement charge” that appears on customers’ hydro bills, which was added in 1998 to pay down the debt of the former Ontario Hydro. The move will save the average ratepayer about $100 per year. The Liberals also plan to tie annual increases in the Ontario Child Benefit to the rate of inflation, starting next year. The benefit is slated to go up to $1,310 on July 1.

Another big-ticket item will be an $11.4-billion cash injection over 10 years to 40 hospitals across the province. The money will go towards expanding and redeveloping the institutions.

The biggest-ticket item, however, will be the $29 billion in new money, to roll out over 10 years, for transit and transportation projects. The Liberals have allocated $15 billion for the GTA and Hamilton areas, and $14 billion for the rest of the province.

The government announced that it will redirect the provincial portion of the gas tax, totalling more than $1.3 billion annually, to the transit fund. As well, it will redirect Ontario’s portion of the HST that is collected on fuel, which amounts to about $130 million per year. That still leaves a gap in funding, which Premier Kathleen Wynne said will be filled in with money from new dedicated revenue tools, as well as money redirected from other areas.

While the specifics were left for the budget, Wynne did say that there will not be a hike in the gas tax, the HST or income tax for middle-income earners.

Transportation Spending

Voters will no doubt be keen to learn more about how the Liberals’ big transportation plan will impact gridlock and their commute times, which are getting longer according to a report released this week. The average commute in Ontario increased from 47.1 minutes in 1994 to 53.5 minutes in 2010, according to the Ontario Trillium Foundation. That’s 6.4 minutes longer per day, which adds up to about 27 extra commuting hours per year.

The cash infusion will be welcome news to voters, but is also a badly needed injection of cash after years of stagnant and, in some years, reduced spending on transit and transportation infrastructure.

The chart below shows how Ontario’s transportation spending compares to Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, as well as to all provinces combined, between 1989 and 2009.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss