Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.
The new Ontario budget unveiled on November 5 drove a lot of criticism from the opposition. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that Premier Ford “waved the white flag” at the coronavirus pandemic by not having given new money for public health. She was referring to the fact that the $2.8 billion funding for the second wave was announced back in September and that this budget left $2.65 billion in contingency funds for this fiscal year.
The government insists that the contingency funds will be used during the second wave which is upon the province now. The opposition asked why that money could not be used to expand COVID-19 testing. The budget specifies that the $2.8 billion contingency plan includes $1.4 billion for more testing and contact tracing. On November 9, the government announced that it is adding several new testing sites in the Peel region which has entered the Red or “Control,” the second-highest of five levels of COVID-19 restrictions.
Member of Provincial Parliament Natalia Kusendova (Mississauga Centre), who acts as the Chair of Parliament’s Standing Committee on Social Policy, explained to the New Pathway – Ukrainian News that, in total, hospitals this year will receive $2.5 billion more than they did last year. Across the province, since March 2020, additional 3,100 hospital beds have been added. These beds are not a temporary measure and will stay after the COVID-19 pandemic while a brand new hospital will be built in Brampton, said Kusendova.
Another contentious issue which arose with regards to the province’s new budget is the province’s long-term care system which has been badly affected by COVID-19 outbreaks. “There’s no action in the budget to urgently address this crisis and it’s shameful,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. She noted that the budget lacked details about the cost of bringing the average daily direct care per resident to four hours a day, which made her suspicious about the government’s intent.
MPP Kusendova explained that the province is committed to implementing the new standard by 2025. She said that this time is needed for planning and coordination of “the unprecedented change in resident care”, as well as to hire and train tens of thousands new personal support workers. In the meantime, the province has temporarily raised PSW wages.
Ontario’s latest budget has a record deficit of $38.5 billion. MPP Kusendova believes that “this is not a time for austerity, this is really a time to invest in protecting people’s health and protecting the economy.” The budget contains three deficit outlook scenarios. In the most optimistic scenario, the deficit shrinks to $21.3 billion in 2022-23.
Kusendova expects that such measures as providing electricity cost relief to families and lowering electricity prices for the industry will help bolster Ontario’s economy. The government estimates that, as a result of lower hydro rates, an automotive parts manufacturer and a small hotel would receive about $382,000 and $130,000 respectively in annual savings.
Kusendova hopes that the economic recovery will allow to balance the budget going forward. She said that the government is not considering raising taxes for Ontario families and companies to balance the budget.