Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government tabled its second pandemic-era budget Wednesday. Here are the highlights:
BILLIONS IN SPENDING, LONG PATH TO BALANCE
The budget contains $186.1 billion in spending, with $6.7 billion earmarked for pandemic-related measures.
The Progressive Conservative government’s spending plan also shows a deficit of $33.1 billion.
The government projects it will take until 2029 to balance the books.
VACCINES, TESTING AND CONTACT TRACING
The budget says the province’s vaccination effort is costing $1 billion.
The government says it is also spending $2.3 billion over the next year on COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
A grant program launched last year for manufacturing personal protective equipment and other supplies is getting a $50-million boost.
Ontario’s overall heath funding is being hiked to $69.8 billion, up from $66.7 billion the previous year.
Hospitals are getting an additional $1.8 billion to help ease pandemic-related pressures.
That includes $300 million to reduce the backlog of surgical procedures that have been cancelled or delayed due to the pandemic.
The budget indicates those funds will help hospitals keep operating rooms open later at night and will also go toward a surgical waitlist program that matches patients with available surgeons.
LONG-TERM CARE SPENDING
The long-term care sector is getting $650 million for pandemic-specific relief.
The funds will go towards preventing the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, increasing staffing and buying personal protective equipment.
The budget also puts a price tag on the government’s previously announced promise to have nursing home residents receive an average of four hours of direct care every day.
The document says it will cost $4.9 billion over four years, with half a billion dollars of that money to be spent this year.
The funding will be used to hire 27,000 personal support workers.
Ontario families with children can expect to receive a new round of payments from the government aimed at relieving pressures related to the pandemic.
The province will give parents $400 per child in Grade 12 or younger, or $500 per child or youth with special needs who’s under the age of 21.
That’s double the amount offered to parents in two earlier rounds of payments.
The province is also proposing a temporary 20 per cent top-up to the Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses tax credit, which was introduced in 2019.
JOBS AND BUSINESSES
The government is offering a second round of grants – ranging between $10,000 and $20,000 – to small businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
It has set aside $1.7 billion for the program.
The budget also introduces a new, temporary tax credit for people paying for jobs training or higher education expenses.
The Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit provides a maximum credit of $2,000 and can be applied to expenses from occupational skills courses, trade or professional exams and postsecondary courses.
As part of the long-term fiscal recovery plan, the government also plans to form a task force to address economic barriers faced by women, especially during the pandemic.
The budget offers hundreds of millions of dollars to Ontario’s tourism sector through various programs.
A $100 million fund will offer one-time grants of between $10,000 and $20,000 to eligible tourism and hospitality small businesses.
The province is also introducing the Ontario Tourism Recovery Program – also pegged at $100 million – meant to help “historically successful businesses” get back on their feet.
The government is further setting aside $150 million for a tax credit to encourage Ontarians to explore their home province once public health experts say it’s safe to travel.
Ontario says it will spend an additional $2.8 billion to bring broadband access to more people across the province.
The government says the funding, and new legislation it plans to introduce, will ensure every region of the province has access to reliable broadband by 2025.
The funding is in addition to money previously committed by the Progressive Conservatives dating back to 2019, with $4 billion in total being spent over six years.
MUNICIPAL AND COMMUNITY FUNDING
The budget offers $1 billion in funding to support municipalities in their COVID-19 response.
It also sets aside $50 million for community and faith-based organizations affected by COVID-19 and associated costs.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press