THUNDER BAY – The Ontario budget update includes $7 billion in added resources for the province’s beleaguered health-care system and support for people and jobs, and an additional $10 billion to help support businesses and individuals struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 shutdown.
A total of $3.3 billion in additional health care money was made available through the plan, which was released late Wednesday by the province.
“As Finance Minister, my number one priority right now is ensuring that our front-line health care professionals have the resources they need to fight the COVID-19 outbreak," said Finance Minister Rod Phillips in a release issued by the province.
"The people of Ontario can have confidence that we will do whatever it takes to protect their health and well-being. These additional resources will enhance hospital capacity, protect our loved ones in long-term care, and support our public health officials' work to flatten the curve and slow the spread."
According to a release issued by the Ministry of Health, the plan includes a $1-billion COVID-19 contingency fund and an unprecedented $2.5-billion reserve, along with another contingency or $1.3 billion.
Health-care details include $935 million for Ontario’s hospitals, including $594 million set aside to deal with capacity issues, faced with a global pandemic.
The province will also spend $341 million to provide an additional 1,000 acute-care beds and 500 critical-care beds.
There is no further breakdown, however, as to where those beds will be distributed.
The plan lays out $243 million for surge capacity in the long-term care sector and the ability to provide 24/7 screening, plus staffing to support infection control and supplies to deal with the continued outbreak.
Ontario will also spend $75 million on personal protective equipment.
A total of $3.7 billion will be spent to support families, workers and employers.
Up to $200 per child, up to 12 years of age, and $250 for those with special needs, will be provided as a one-time payment.
Seniors will see a six-month doubling of the guaranteed annual income system.
The province will also provide $5.6 billion in electricity cost relief and will cut taxes for 57,000 employers, worth $355 million, through a temporary increase to the employer health tax exemption.
Businesses will be given five months of interest and penalty relief to file and make payments to most provincial taxes.
Municipalities will be granted a deferment on the next round of education property taxes, while $1.9 billion will be made available by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board allowing employers to defer payments for up to six months.
"We're taking responsible steps to lessen the burden for businesses and people," said Minister Phillips. "Together, these actions can free up as much as $10 billion in cash flows for businesses and people in these uncertain times, helping protect jobs and household budgets."
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath was quick to criticize what she said the budget didn’t contain – help for people.
“Far too many workers, families and small businesses were already struggling to stay afloat before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Horwath said in a 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.”
However, Horwath said the NDP will vote in favour of the bill., while urging Ontario to put its people first.
“I am urging the government to regroup, and put together a direct financial support package for people, and for small and medium-sized businesses,” Horwath said.
“Many Ontarians are at their financial breaking point.”