Ontario budget brings youth pharmacare, OSAP and housing relief

Some budget items positive, critics say, but more needs to be done to help students

On April 30, the Ontario Liberal government released the 2017 provincial budget. The sprawling document is a daunting read, but some items will bring changes for students and youth across the province.

“We are delivering on our commitment to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities for success,” wrote Charles Sousa, Ontario’s minister of finance, in a press release.

For many students, the most important change is coming to OHIP with the creation of a youth pharmacare program. The budget is promising that most prescribed medications will be free for anyone aged 24 or under, regardless of income, beginning on Jan. 1, 2018.

For students and graduates who accessed OSAP there is more good news. You won’t have to start repaying the Ontario portion of your OSAP loans until you earn $35,000 a year. And having a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) will no longer count against OSAP applicants.

These changes will supplement the OSAP overhaul implemented in the 2016 budget, which is set to come into effect for the 2017-18 academic year.

For renters, a bevy of positive changes are coming via the Fair Housing Plan, which includes a proposed extension of rent control to all rental units (as opposed to just pre-1992 builds), a strengthening of tenant law and additional restrictions placed on evictions.

For students worried about their future careers, the province’s new Career Kick-Start Strategy will see $190 million in additional funding over three years to create new internship, fellowship and apprenticeship positions in the province.

“The government is clearly committed to producing a more highly skilled workforce,” responded Linda Franklin, Colleges Ontario president and CEO, via press release. “More people will enter the workforce with the qualifications and expertise to find long-term success.”

Toronto mayor John Tory criticized premier Kathleen Wynne for neglecting transit and social housing funding, issues vital to many students, while Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said, “the premier ignored the people of Toronto in last week’s budget,” during the question period on May 2.

Speaking from the Ontario students’ perspective, Nour Alideeb, chairperson-elect of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, was similarly underwhelmed.

“To be honest with you, I think it’s sort of a missed opportunity, because we’ve been talking about free post-secondary education for such a long time,” she said. “I still think we have a lot of work to do.”

Alideeb felt the youth pharmacare improvement and OSAP overhaul were beneficial changes, but noted that international students are shut out from these benefits, as well as the lacklustre attention paid to transit.

“There are so many things that affect our students’ lives, I’d hope to see a more comprehensive budget in the next year.”

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Ontario budget brings youth pharmacare, OSAP and housing relief