By MPP Toby Barrett
Protecting people’s health and the economy has been the Ontario government’s top priority since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not just necessary to fight COVID-19 and save lives, it is also the most sensible economic and fiscal policy. After all, without healthy people, you cannot have a healthy economy.
COVID-19 arrived on Canadian shores over a year ago. At the time, few could have anticipated the devastating consequences, here at home and across the globe. Our loved ones, our economy, our education system, our main streets and our communities have all been impacted.
Every victim of COVID-19 has left behind a devastated family, while the fear of the virus infected all aspects of our lives and led to new mental health and addiction concerns.
This is why Ontario’s primary focus since March 2020 has been protecting people’s health and to make good on Premier Ford’s promise to the people of Ontario – we will do whatever it takes to keep you safe.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to unfold during the preparation of this budget, people have been very clear that they expect us to be focused on two vital priorities: to protect people’s health and to protect our economy. That is exactly what this year’s 2021-22 budget does.
We have been through stormy seas this past year. But with vaccines arriving in our communities, hope is on the horizon and a safe harbour is in sight. At community centres, doctors’ offices, hospitals and pharmacies, frontline workers are delivering vaccines that will help us return to normal. That’s what hope looks like. For example, to vaccinate every person in the province who wants to be vaccinated, Ontario has made more than $1 billion available for a province-wide vaccination plan.
The economic impacts that the global pandemic has had so far are well known. Between February and May 2020, over 1.1 million jobs were lost. Ontario’s real GDP decreased by an estimated 5.7 per cent in 2020. These economic impacts have caused hardship, anxiety and loss for thousands of individuals and families across the province.
In response, governments have stepped forward with unprecedented support, including Ontario’s Action Plan, which now totals $51 billion over four years. This support has been vital, and it must continue. But it has also had a significant impact on public finances. Ontario’s deficit is projected to increase from $8.7 billion in 2019-20 to $38.5 billion in 2020-21 and holding steady at $33.1 billion in the present fiscal year. This year’s debt will come in at $441 billion.
While hope is on the horizon with vaccine distribution underway, public health modelling demonstrated that because of new variants of concern, there continues to be risks related to the future path of the pandemic. This is why Ontario’s focus today continues to be protecting people’s lives and livelihoods from the virus.
Eventually shutdowns will be in the past and the road to fiscal recovery will begin. Ontario has outlined a plan in the 2021 Budget that does not rely on tax hikes or cuts to government services.
That’s been our promise since the beginning of this crisis. It remains our promise today.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk.