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Drug costs and drivers licenses: What Ontario's budget means for you

Toronto, Feb. 07/11 - Shoppers Drug Mart Prescription Centres and drug dispensary at a Shoppers Drug Mart location in Toronto, Ontario.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

If Dalton McGuinty has his way, renewing your driver's licence or obtaining a birth certificate through Service Ontario will get a whole lot easier, thanks to a public-private partnership that will see some of these services delivered online.

This is one of many pledges buried deep within the provincial budget, along with a new tax credit that will make it cheaper for seniors to renovate their houses to install things like wheelchair ramps and a vow to clamp down on "victory laps" by high school students.

Such items might seem like small potatoes compared to big-ticket plans like freezing civil service wages and controlling health-care costs but, if implemented, they will have some of the most immediate effects on Ontarians' everyday lives:

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> Some seniors will pay more for prescription drugs. Those who earn over $100,000 will pay a $100 deductible, plus three per cent of their income over the $100,000 mark. Couples with an income over $160,000 will pay a $200 deductible and three per cent of their combined income over $160,000. They will all pay $6.11 per prescription. However, Queen's Park is also offering seniors some financial relief in a bid to keep more of them in their homes and out of long-term care. A new tax credit will offer help to those who want to renovate their houses to improve accessibility and install the sorts of things they need to keep living there.

> Nearly a decade after the province scrapped grade 13, some 20,000 students are still running "victory laps" – returning for an extra year of high school, even after graduating. In a bid to save $22-million per year, the province will limit the number of credits students can take after earning a high school diploma to four.

> To make it a little easier for those students to make the jump into university or college, the government will index its tuition grant, which provides as much as $1,600 a year to post-secondary students, to annual tuition hikes. Conversely, the province will cut the textbook and technology tax credit and phase out another scholarship program.

> The Ontario Clean Energy Benefit will be scaled back: the province will now only provide assistance up to 3,000 kilowatt hours per month. Such a change would likely not be felt by most families, but large consumers of power such as big businesses, will notice the squeeze.

> The Ontario Child Benefit will increase, but more slowly than the government had initially planned. It will climb to $1,210 from $1,100 in July of next year, then rise to $1,310 in July 2014.

> The province estimates it can find big savings and make routine services simpler by moving many of Service Ontario's functions online. The kiosks provide a single place for people to obtain health cards, drivers licences and other services. But, of course, it costs money to make money and the government doesn't have the $100-million it would need to develop the project. Therefore, it is looking at creating a public-private partnership to make it happen.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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