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Ontario Hansard - 10-March2020


Ms. Andrea Horwath: My first question this morning is to the Premier. Families are watching the global developments around the spread of COVID-19 with growing concern. They’re wondering how a health system already struggling with the challenge of hallway medicine will cope with the spread of this disease. They’re wondering what the impact on their jobs and savings will be as they watch volatile stock markets. More than ever, people need to know their government is prepared to act and has a plan.

Can the Premier provide that assurance today and, more importantly, start informing Ontarians of the contingency plans to deal with the economic and health system impacts of the COVID-19 virus?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: Well, I can say to the leader of the official opposition that we certainly do have a plan. We have had a plan in place since this coronavirus, COVID-19, came forward. It was developed after the experience that Ontario had with SARS 17 years ago. There have been protocols developed. We have a public health agency in Ontario now. We have had a plan that has been ready to be set in motion, and it has been set in motion.

We are already doing the screening of people coming forward who are travelling from other countries. We’re ready to enhance that if we need to. We are looking at this day by day. We have a command table that has been set up that is operated by the Deputy Minister of Health and Dr. David Williams, our Chief Medical Officer of Health.

We are taking the steps that we need to take as the situation develops, so you can be assured, and the people of Ontario can be assured, that the plan is working and that the risk to Ontarians still remains very low.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary question.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, the COVID-19 virus is creating unique challenges here in Ontario and all over the world. Businesses are wondering how they will deal with supply chain disruptions and volatile markets. Working women and men, particularly in precarious work in industries like entertainment and tourism, are wondering if they’ll be able to take time away from work if and when they’ll need to, and how their industries are going to survive. Many are wondering what the impact of more government cuts will have on a softening economy.

I wrote the Premier yesterday asking him to meet with me to discuss how the Legislature can move quickly to address these concerns as they develop. When will the Premier meet with me for this important discussion?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Minister of Finance to reply.

Hon. Rod Phillips: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for her question. On the health front, as the Deputy Premier and Minister of Health has pointed out, we have a plan, and that plan is working. We should all be very pleased with the work of our public health professionals and the rest of the health care sector, including our front-line workers.

When it comes to the economic impacts, as I said yesterday in this Legislature, we are monitoring those impacts. The steps that our government has already taken to make sure that Ontario has a robust economy, that the private sector is strong and that we are supporting the working people of Ontario are now going to come home in a very positive way.

We are coming into this from a strong position in terms of job growth, but we are monitoring this on a day-to-day basis, and we’ll make sure that the supports are necessary, both for our health workers and for our economy to keep Ontario strong and to keep Ontario healthy.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The final supplementary.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Well, I was at the chamber of commerce event last night and I spoke with folks yesterday afternoon as well, and people are wondering where is the plan? It’s not good enough to monitor. You need a plan, and you need to communicate that plan so people have an understanding of what’s going on.

Sadly, when people look at this government for a plan, they see a Premier that’s moving in the wrong direction; moving ahead with cuts and forced amalgamation of public health units in the midst of a public health crisis, taking away legislative protection of sick days at exactly the moment when health experts are urging people to stay away from work when they’re ill and plowing ahead with an agenda of cuts that will put a drag on the economy at a time when we need to boost it.

Is the Premier prepared to work with all parties in this Legislature to ensure their government can respond swiftly and practically to all aspects of COVID-19?


Hon. Rod Phillips: To the Leader of the Opposition: Of course we will continue to work co-operatively with all members of this Legislature.

But quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, this kind of alarmism that the Leader of the Opposition is raising is not helpful. The thought that the boards of trade and chambers of commerce of this province are leaning on the NDP, after their anti-business, anti-investment agenda—are leaning on them for advice or support at this time is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

Mr. Speaker, I have been in touch with senior business leaders. I have been in touch with the chambers of commerce. I met this morning with the president of the CFIB. They appreciate the work and the confidence of this government, both when it comes to the health issues we are facing and the way they’re being addressed, and the strength that we are putting behind the growth in the Ontario economy.

We will continue to work with everyone, including the Leader of the Opposition and the members of this Legislature, the business community and our health professionals, to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

I want to say that I’m looking forward to the meeting that I’ve asked for, to get updated on what this government’s plan is. Hearing just this moment that a whole floor of an RBC building in Mississauga—the whole floor of workers—is now under self-quarantine because of COVID-19, I think, should give a wake-up call to this government that they need to be more proactive in terms of how we help businesses weather this storm.

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