Ontario is planning to spend billions in the fight against COVID-19 and run a $33.1-billion deficit which could take years to eliminate.
The province has released a $186.1-billion budget which includes major funding for pandemic supports.
It is the largest budget in Ontario’s history.
The plan contains $6.7-billion in pandemic-related measures, including $1-billion for the vaccination campaign and $2.3-billion for testing and contact tracing efforts.
“You can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people,” explained Finance Minister and President of the Treasury Board, Peter Bethlenfalvy. “For the past year, we have been focused on protecting people from COVID-19. Many challenges lie ahead. But with vaccines being distributed in every corner of the province, hope is on the horizon. We are ready to finish the job we started one year ago.”
There is also funding for a second round of small business grants and a plan to create a new Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit.
A third round of payments will be offered to families with children through the Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit, doubling it to $400 per child or $500 per child with special needs.
Hospitals are set to receive $1.8-billion, while $650-million has been earmarked for long-term care.
Another $2.8-billion will help connect more homes, communities and businesses to broadband.
The budget also shows a deficit of more than $33-billion, which the government says will take until 2029 to erase.
By 2023-24, officials are hoping to cut the deficit to $20.2-billion, with fairly steady decreases after that.
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath says the new budget “maintains the disastrous status quo.”
“The pandemic’s not over,” said Horwath. “The pain continues for people and families. This budget was an opportunity to give people the help they need to get to the other side, and to give folks a future with hope. This budget doesn’t do that.”
She noted several measures missing from the budget, like paid sick days, paid time off for vaccines, new supports for long-term care residents and more funding to tackle the surgical backlog.
Horwath also slammed the decision to cut funding to schools.
“Now is the time to invest in people,” she concluded. “Ontarians deserved a budget that gave them help getting to the other side of the pandemic, and hope for a future they can look forward to.”