Ontario government unveils pandemic-centred budget plan

Queen's Park Toronto (BlackburnNews.com file photo by Sue Storr)

Protection and support of Ontario residents from COVID-19 are front-and-centre in Ontario’s new budget plan.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips presented a record-breaking $187-billion spending plan to the provincial legislature Thursday afternoon at Queen’s Park in Toronto. Making up a large portion of the budget are provisions designed to help Ontarians navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, support those who are most vulnerable to the virus, and assist business owners with economic recovery.

The province will spend $45-billion over the next three years just on pandemic-related measures.

The additional spending on pandemic relief will understandably mean a bigger deficit. The budget will include a $38.5-billion deficit for this year, with a plan to balance the budget in the next fiscal year.

The proposed plan includes an increase in spending on health care, and also addresses a campaign promise by Premier Doug Ford to end “hallway medicine”. This will provide $2.5-billion in expanding and improving hospitals and clinics. It will also support pandemic control initiatives such as testing, assessment centres, lab equipment, and protection for health care workers in the form of masks, gloves, and face shields.

Ontario will assist pandemic-stricken businesses by providing a subsidy for hydro rates that are charged to medium and large-sized commercial and industrial firms. Commercial firms will be eligible for a 16 per cent cut from their hydro bills, and industrial businesses 14 per cent.

Phillips also announced a proposed tax credit for senior citizens, which will help them stay in their homes longer. The credit allows for seniors to recover up to one-forth of any renovation expenses, up to $10,000.

Schools are expected to receive the same amount of funding over the next three years, with $31-billion set aside for education this fiscal year, with slight increases each additional year. Parents will also receive tax relief related to stay-at-home learning, of up to $200 for students under 12, and $250 for students with special needs.

But Andrea Horwath, Ontario’s Leader of the Opposition, said teachers are still not getting the support they’ve needed. The NDP leader told BlackburnNews.com Thursday night that the labour strife in the province’s schools before the pandemic only amplified the problem.

“They [the Conservatives] were trying to increase class sizes, and trying to cut teachers’ and educational support workers’ jobs, and this budget clearly shows that’s the same track the government is going to stay on, and that’s not what our kids deserve,” said Horwath.

One key component of the COVID-19 defence plan was the announced increase in direct care hours for long-term care residents to four hours a day. Ford said Thursday that those details will be added once further consultation with stakeholders is completed.

That explanation did not sit well with Horwath.

“It’s disgusting and shameful,” said Horwath. “And look, everyone knows how bad things are in long-term care, and they’ve been bad for a long time. It was the Canadian Forces that finally blew the lid off of all that.  Mr. Ford is doing everything on the cheap. It’s costing people their lives.”

The budget plan was tabled Thursday with debate still to be scheduled.