On February 25, 2016, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa released the 2016 Ontario Budget. Generally speaking, the purpose of the annual Budget is to outline the government’s economic and social priorities for the coming year. This year, the Ontario Budget contained very few measures that will directly affect charities and not-for-profit corporations.

In the chapter of the Budget dealing with economic growth, the government indicated that it is developing a “renewed Social Enterprise Strategy” for the province. As explained in the Budget, “[t]he strategy will lead to the development of sustainable and scalable social enterprises, and will continue to position Ontario as a leading jurisdiction for social enterprises.” The government also indicated that it “is dedicated to developing new and innovative social finance tools, including committing to pilot one or more Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) in the province.” No further details in respect of either of these measures were provided.

Despite not providing any details of these measures, the Budget appears to recognize the fact that the social enterprise sector contributes to economic and social development in the province in particular “by creating jobs, increasing entrepreneurship, and addressing society’s most pressing and environmental issues.” It was also noted in the Budget that the social enterprise sector “helps empower the province’s most vulnerable people.” Since 2013, when the government’s Social Enterprise Strategy was first announced, the province has made some investments in the sector, including by way of the Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund, the Ontario Catapult Microloan Fund, the Community Loans Fund, and the Ontario Social Impact Vouchers Pilot Program.

The chapter on economic growth also contained a section dealing with the revitalization of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and charitable bingo games. More specifically, it was indicated that:  

Technological advances continue to drive changes in OLG customer preferences and product offerings, which in turn will drive government policy considerations in the near future related to provincial delivery of charitable bingo games and new commercial gaming products.

It remains to be seen what is meant by “policy considerations related to provincial delivery of charitable bingo games” and whether this will have any significant impact on charities. It was also indicated in this section of the Budget that proceeds from gaming activities in Ontario will continue to be used to support the operation of hospitals, charities, not-for-profit organizations, municipalities, and Ontario First Nations. It seems, based on the data provided in the Budget, that upcoming levels of support from gaming will be roughly the same as in the past year.

Finally, some of the measures in the Chapter of the Budget entitled “Towards a Fair Society” should be of interest to the sector. It was indicated in this section that the government will be updating the Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy, investing more financial resources into a special needs strategy for children and youth, supporting the settlement of refugees in Ontario, and various other fairness measures. The province also indicated that it plans to act on recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Further details of these measures can be found in the Budget document.

Before the Budget was released, some had wondered whether Ontario would review the provincial charitable donation tax credit for high income earners in light of the adjustments made to the federal credit; however, this did not occur.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau will deliver the 2016 Federal Budget on March 22. The federal government has previously indicated that it plans to develop a new legislative framework to strengthen certain aspects of the voluntary sector. It remains to be seen on March 22 what measures in furtherance of this goal, if any, will be introduced in 2016. Miller Thomson LLP’s Charities and Not-for-Profit Group will release an analysis of the Federal Budget measures affecting charities and non-profits on March 22.