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Our asks of the Ontario government

5 MIN READ

Every year as the Ontario government prepares its budget, various stakeholders present their visions to the province to inform policy changes and investment opportunities. This pre-budget submission period is an opportunity for organizations like ours, and other businesses, advocacy groups, and non-profits to outline our recommendations, priorities, and requests for funding to increase economic and social wellbeing in our communities.  

Ontario’s debt this fiscal year is expected to be $4.5 billion, which is $1.1 billion lower than what was forecasted in the fall economic statement, but higher than what the finance minister had hoped to achieve. As a result, Budget 2024 is a crucial opportunity for the provincial government to provide relief to Ontarians as they continue to face high inflation and a high cost of living. The Budget must also contribute to fiscal sustainability and help meet some of the province’s ambitious targets, such as building 1.5 million homes by 2030.

United Way East Ontario collaborates with all levels of government to address social and community needs. This partnership is crucial as we advocate for policies and funding to target issues like poverty, youth mental health and addiction prevention, housing and homelessness, equitable employment pathways and enabling access to basic needs.  

By Preeti Prabhu, Senior Director of Public Policy, Government and Stakeholder Relations, United Way East Ontario

Here’s what we asked of the Government of Ontario as they craft their 2024 Budget:

As demand for mental health services continues to rise, we must ensure they are timely, affordable, accessible and community-led in order to strengthen people’s wellbeing. Investing in preventative wellness programs before people reach a crisis point can alleviate pressure on healthcare providers and reduce wait times for service. 

In our pre-budget submission, we advocated for investments from the provincial government to increase the capacity of project step. Project step is a community-wide initiative that ensures young people and their families have access to support, treatment, education, and prevention of the harms related to substance and technology use.  

Prevention is hard to measure, but we know project step works in breaking the cycle of addiction: 

  • 76% of youth who accessed project step counselling in the community in 2021 reported improved mental health.  
  • Another 86% reported improved academic or employment success.  

Our ambition is to expand project step beyond Ottawa and into rural Eastern Ontario through partnerships with frontline agencies. A stronger investment in project step will support counselling and education services for thousands of youth and their families, fostering early intervention and support for mental health and addiction challenges. 

👉 Learn more about how we’re preventing and addressing youth addictions.

In today’s labour market, Indigenous and racialized adults, non-permanent residents, people with disabilities, and immigrants encounter higher unemployment rates and barriers to inclusion throughout the employee lifecycle. This is all while there are labour shortages in many sectors across Ontario.  

United Way East Ontario has facilitated the employment of thousands of people from groups that are under-represented in the workforce. Additionally, the networks we lead equip employers with tools and resources to lead systemic change within their organizations.  

In the 2024 Budget, we recommended the province invest in projects like the Employment Accessibility Resource Network, Hire Immigrants Ottawa and the Indigenous Employment Leadership Advisory Table to bolster employer capacity, create culturally sensitive workplaces, and enhance inclusivity for all. 

👉 See how we help people in our communities achieve financial independence and stability.

Did you know that in Ottawa, we lose 31 affordable housing units in for every new unit of affordable housing built 

Ontario United Ways initiated a province-wide strategy to address the critical need for affordable housing in Ontario. With insights and recommendations from over 400 experts and partners across Ontario, we released the report to highlight the dire need for affordable and deeply affordable housing, and recommendations on how to achieve solutions for our communities. Locally, we have had follow-up discussions with elected officials from all levels of government. 

The report highlights seven key recommendations, including leveraging surplus lands, increasing investments in deeply affordable housing, and incentivizing non-profit housing development, among others. Despite recent increases in housing supply, Ottawa’s housing prices and rents continue to skyrocket, exacerbating the housing crisis. Rural and urban households alike face unaffordability, with shelters at full capacity and homelessness rising. The lack of affordable housing poses significant risks to health, wellbeing, and economic productivity.  

Our United Way also supports the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC)7 in 7 Regional Housing Plan.” This approach aims to provide 7,000 new affordable rental units in seven years. This plan aligns with Ontario’s goal of constructing 1.5 million homes by 2030. The EOWC emphasizes the critical role of the community housing sector and the need for increased capital investments to grow and preserve affordable housing. 

As part of its goal to build 1.5 million homes in the next six years, we call on the Government of Ontario to: 

  • Prioritize access to safe and affordable housing as a key determinant of health, education, and employment outcomes 
  • Include non-profit housing in all plans in order to maintain and increase deeply affordable housing 

👉 Everyone deserves a place to call home. See how we’re working to prevent and address homelessness.

211 offers free, confidential support that connects individuals to vital social and community services. 211 operates 24/7 in over 150 languages via phone, chat, text, and web.  

Social and community services exist across the province to serve the diverse needs of residents. However, many people many do not know the full scope of supports that exist, or how to determine which service is best for their unique needs. 211 connects people to the best resource for their circumstances. By reaching people early with the right support, 211 becomes a key tool in preventing individuals’ challenges from becoming chronic or from reaching a more acute crisis that is more difficult to address over the long-term.    

Despite a consistent increase in demand, the Ontario government’s funding for 211 has remained stagnant since 2009, causing strain on resources. With over 25,000 unanswered calls in the last six months due to staffing constraints, it’s evident that urgent investment is needed. 

United Way has requested an increase in operational funding for Ontario 211s to ensure they can answer the calls of thousands of Ontarians during a time of increased financial pressure and economic uncertainty. 

👉 See how 211 connects callers with local services that meet their needs.

What comes next

We anticipate hearing the results of our requests by March 31, 2024. The pre-budget consultation process highlights our commitment to ensuring the needs of our communities in Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County and Renfrew County are considered in the policy and funding decisions of our provincial government. 

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The Government of Canada tabled its 2024 budget on April 16, 2024. Read our analysis on what it means for social services and people in need across East Ontario.

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