Health care, jobs, businesses focus of $17B provincial aid package

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips. (Photo courtesy of Twitter @RodPhillips01)

To ensure the health care system, communities and the economy are positioned to weather the challenges of a global pandemic, the Ontario government is taking action in the form of a $17 billion aid package.

Premier Doug Ford was joined by Finance Minister Rod Phillips on Wednesday to announce the aid package, called Ontario’s Action Plan, as part of a financial update for the province.

“This is an unprecedented time and we are responding with an unprecedented plan. Our province is facing a challenge, the likes of which it has not seen for generations,” Ford said during the announcement. “We will fight this threat with every ounce of our resolve. We will fight for those in the hospitals battling this virus, we will fight for the nurses and doctors working around the clock, we will fight for the mothers and fathers already struggling to put food on the table… we will not stop fighting. The next round of that fight starts right here and right now with $17 billion in new emergency relief and support.”

The financial update came the same day many businesses that are deemed un-essential were forced to close their doors to help fight the spread of COVID-19. Earlier this week, the province announced a list of just over 70 categories of businesses that are deemed essential and will be permitted to operate during the pandemic.

The plan includes a total of $3.3 billion that will be dedicated to additional health care resources including $2.1 billion in new measures to support the COVID‑19 response and a $1 billion COVID‑19 contingency fund. As well, another $1.2 billion will go towards meeting the demand for services in the health and long-term care sector.

The second part of the aid package will provide $3.7 billion to help people and jobs. Included is $75 million in additional support for 194,000 low-income seniors, a one-time $200 payment per child to help families pay for extra costs associated with the closure of schools and daycares and $9 million to help families pay their energy bills. The aid package also includes a $355 million tax cut for around 57,000 employers through a proposed temporary increase to the Employer Health Tax exemption. And for students, the province is providing six months of Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan and interest relief.

The final part of the government’s aid package will make up to $10 billion available to help protect businesses and household budgets through tax deferrals and other methods. Of that, $6 billion in relief will go towards helping support businesses with a five-month interest and penalty-free period to pay most provincial taxes. The province will also allocate $1.9 billion to allow employers to defer payments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board for up to six months.

While Ontario’s plan for aid during the COVID-19 crisis covers a lot of ground, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it neglects certain people and small businesses.

“Far too many workers, families and small businesses were already struggling to stay afloat before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Horwath in a news release. “Now a lot of folks have seen their incomes cut or eliminated altogether, which means they’re now laying awake at night, worried about how to keep making ends meet. They can’t wait weeks for federal support to come in, and most can’t get by with their income cut in half.”

While the NDP has said its members will support the financial statement bill, Horwath said the Ford government needs to do more to ensure people are not in financial turmoil and prevent some businesses from going under.

“I am urging the government to regroup, and put together a direct financial support package for people, and for small and medium-sized businesses,” said Horwath. “Many Ontarians are at their financial breaking point. Rent and mortgage payments are coming due, and people’s credit card charges are piling up. Folks are worried about how they’ll avoid eviction, and avoid racking up debts that will dog them in the months ahead. And small businesses can’t use a tax credit if they have no cash coming in.”

The government announced earlier this month that it would postpone the tabling of its spring budget amid the economic instability caused by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

For a full breakdown of the Ontario’s Action Plan for responding to COVID-19, click here.