A little over six months late from the actual start of the Provincial fiscal year, the Government of Ontario delivered the 2020-2021 budget with some of the usual fanfare. Called, “Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover,” the government insists that their budget will strengthen frontline health care, and offer support for businesses and workers, while laying the groundwork for the future. The opposition obviously disagrees.
The budget lays out $45 billion over three years to fight the pandemic and its various social and economic effects. From the $45 billion, $15.2 billion will go to urgent needs in responding to the pandemic, $13.5 billion will go to helping people in the short term, and $4.8 billion will go to planning a post-COVID economic recovery.
An additional $11.3 billion has already been made available through various measures to improve cash flow by allowing municipalities to defer the June payment of the education property tax, a six-month deferral of premium payments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), and $7.5 billion in interest free loans to Ontario businesses.
“The health risks of COVID-19 remain extremely serious. We are making available every necessary resource to keep people safe, including our loved ones in long-term care and our frontline health care heroes during the second wave and beyond,” said Finance Minister Rod Phillips in a statement.
“Every negative economic statistic represents a person who has lost their job, an anxious small business owner or a family struggling to make ends meet,” Phillips added. “Today we are providing new support to those who have been hardest hit, including parents, seniors and small business owners, while building on what has already been provided.”
In brief, hospitals are getting an additional $2.5 billion to fight the pandemic; parents with kids under 12 doing at-home learning will get an extra $200; $180 million will go to service-based businesses to retain workers; small businesses with payrolls less than $1 million will be exempt from paying the Employer Health Tax; $30 million will go to group homes and women’s shelters; and $680 million will be spent over four years to expand rural broadband access.
The 2020 budget also represents record spending for an Ontario government. There are $187 billion in expenditures in this budget, which comes with a $38.5 billion deficit. Deficits will persist for the next few years with $33.1 billion in 2021-2022 and $28.2 billion in 2022-2023, meaning that the Provincial government will not be returning to balanced budgets before the 2022 election.
But while the Government of Ontario says that their prioritizing health spending and economic resiliency efforts, the leaders of Ontario’s opposition parties have a decidedly different opinion on the matter.
“This is a bare-bones budget that fails to prepare Ontario for the tough battle before us,” said Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner in a post-budget statement. “As Ontarians deal with record-high case numbers, the Premier is standing pat with a COVID-plan that isn’t getting relief where it is needed.”
Schreiner had a laundry list of issues where he felt the budget missed the mark including raises for nurses and PSWs, more money for patient care in long-term care homes, action on the housing crisis and increased budgets for mental health support. “People and businesses have stepped up to confront COVID-19. They deserve a provincial government that steps up as well,” Schreiner added.
Official opposition leader Andra Horwath went further by saying that the message to Ontarians in this budget was clear: You’re on your own.
“Doug Ford is telling seniors in dangerously understaffed long-term care homes that more staff won’t come in this year. He’s leaving more than 30 kids packed into classrooms. He’s chosen to give no new money to public health, leaving families at grave risk,” said Horwath in a statement. “He’s throwing in the towel on the fight against COVID-19, and telling people, families and businesses that no help is coming.”
Betrayal was also a theme in Liberal leader Steven Del Duca’s statement. “Ford has betrayed all those with family members in nursing homes. His inaction has heartbreaking consequences for our parents and grandparents. Doug Ford owes them an apology,” he said. “Today’s budget makes it clear that Doug Ford is content to betray families because he’d rather focus on himself and his friends.”