National Newswatch

TORONTO — Ontario will be announcing free dental care for low-income seniors in Thursday's budget, The Canadian Press has learned.

Anyone 65 and over in the province making under $19,300 — or $32,300 for couples — would qualify, said senior government sources who were not authorized to speak publicly about the budget item.

Preventable dental issues such as gum disease, infections and chronic pain lead to more than 60,000 emergency visits per year — a "significant portion" of which are by seniors, one source said.

"We're quite encouraged this will make a difference," the source said. "It's really aimed at those who don't have a supplementary source of income."

The service could be accessed through public health units, community health centres and aboriginal health access centres, with the potential for mobile dental units in the future.

The program, which will cost nearly $100 million per year, was promised by the Progressive Conservatives in their election platform last year.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the program should be broader.

"All seniors who need dental care should be getting dental care," she said. "What happens to a senior who is earning $20,000 a year or $22,000 a year?"

Various tidbits have been announced or leaked in the past several days ahead of the Tories' first budget on Thursday. 

Licence plates are being redesigned, with one of the Progressive Conservatives' campaign slogans — "Open For Business" — under consideration for commercial plates.  

Tailgate parties, usually held in the parking lot of a sporting venue before a game, will be legalized in the budget by amending a regulation that sets out the terms for special occasion liquor permits.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson has also hinted that child care news will be coming in the budget.

"We certainly campaigned on ensuring that child care across Ontario is successful and affordable and flexible for families from one end of this province to another so stay tuned until Thursday," she said this week.

The Tories promised during the election that families would receive a rebate of up to 75 per cent of their childcare expenses, up to $6,750 per child until age six. For kids between six and 15, families would receive up to $3,750.

During the campaign the Tories said it would work on a sliding scale, with families earning less than $34,800 qualifying for the maximum and declining to a rebate of 26 per cent of childcare costs for families with an income of $155,095 or higher. At the time the party pegged the annual cost at $389 million.

One of the key issues in the budget will be how the government will eliminate a $13.5-billion deficit. Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has said the budget will show a path to balance, but he hasn't indicated how long it will take to get back in the black. He has often used a Goldilocks analogy, saying it won't happen too quickly or too slowly.

Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday that his government will take a careful approach to balancing the budget.

"When it comes to the deficit we're going to be responsible and we're going to be thoughtful and we aren't going in there slicing and dicing," he said.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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