The Ford government is expected to present a large spending budget on Wednesday afternoon at Queen’s Park. Sources tell 680NEWS it will be a plan to help Ontario weather the pandemic.
The Ford government’s third full budget will be tabled by its third finance minister, Peter Bethlenfalvy.
His predecessor, Rod Phillips, resigned on New Years Eve after learning he made a trip to St. Bart’s despite travel advisories.
In November, Phillips unveiled a record budget of $ 189 billion with a deficit of $ 38.5 billion. These numbers are expected to rise further on Wednesday.
Bethlenfalvy, who according to tradition will buy a new pair of shoes on Wednesday morning, has already been busy making major pre-budget announcements: $ 933 million to expand and improve long-term care spaces last Thursday, 1,2 billion in hospital funding on Monday and $ 3.7 million on Tuesday to help the elderly and people with disabilities travel to get their COVID-19 vaccines.
Sources tell 680NEWS the government is not ready to step down because Ontario remains in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I said from day one that I will not hesitate to spend whatever it takes to protect people,” Premier Ford said on Tuesday.
“We are definitely protecting and investing in people’s health,” said Bethlenfalvy, adding that “the second element is support for employment.”
Similarly, the government could look to a suggestion from Restaurants Canada to help the struggling bar and restaurant industry by allowing establishments to purchase alcohol from the LCBO at wholesale prices rather than ‘to the 6% mark-up currently paid.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation may not get much off its budget wishlist, which includes cutting government spending on non-essential goods, a plan to eliminate the budget deficit, and tax cuts.
Another important item to watch out for is universal child care. The former chief of staff to the finance minister wrote an opinion piece in a newspaper on Monday saying such a move would be wise as it would increase women’s participation in the workforce.
“We will have a lot more to say about this,” Bethlenfalvy said when asked on Tuesday.
“The Premier unconditionally promised all Ontarians a year ago that we would do whatever it takes to protect people from this pandemic and spare no expense, and I am privileged to be the Minister of Finance to support him and all of our colleagues and all Ontarians to do this work, ”added Bethlenfalvy.
The biggest questions in Wednesday’s financial plan may be how far the government is charting a path out of the record deficit and what exactly are its plans to stimulate an economy ravaged by COVID-19 closures.
The finance minister has hinted that tax increases are unlikely, so the government will have to find new creative measures to improve its bottom line and tackle the massive amounts of red ink.
The next provincial elections will be held in a little over a year, on June 2, 2022. Whatever concrete measures the government has in mind to trigger a struggling economy, they will have to be put in place now so that Ontarians can see the results the moment they go to the polls.
Jacob Robbins-Kanter, a doctoral candidate studying Canadian politics at Queen’s University, said he doesn’t expect the province to lead the way to balance the budget since a third wave of COVID-19 is in progress.
“We don’t know exactly with these worrisome new variants what’s going to happen,” he said. “I don’t know if we are at the stage where budget projections can explain a return to normal.”
The government has not said whether the budget will include a path to balance, although the finance minister has acknowledged that record deficits are not sustainable in the long term.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said on Tuesday the opposition would like to see the government step up investment in long-term care and education.
The government must also provide paid sick days for workers to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the vaccine rollout continues, she added.
“We want to see investments in jobs, we want to see investments… to ensure the safety of people at work,” she said.
Liberal lawmaker John Fraser has said the government should use the budget to raise the wages of workers in the long-term care sector.
“The Prime Minister hedged his bets there,” he said. “You have to give them full time jobs because it needs to stabilize the workforce there.”