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Ontario Hansard - 08-March2021

CONCURRENCE IN SUPPLY


Hon. Paul Calandra: I move concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Long-Term Care, including supplementaries; the Ministry of Education, including supplementaries; the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, including supplementaries; the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries; the Ministry of Health, including supplementaries; the Ministry of Infrastructure; the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines; the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, including supplementaries; the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade; and the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, including supplementaries.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Mr. Calandra has moved government orders 48 through 57. Back to the government House leader.

Hon. Paul Calandra: With that, I’ll cede the floor to the opposition.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Further debate?

Ms. Catherine Fife: It’s a pleasure to join the debate today. This might be my first one as the finance critic on estimates, and the debate, and really reviewing what has happened through the course of this year—a year, I think, that we can all acknowledge was very challenging.

Just to review how we got here, at this particular time and place: Last Thursday, the province released the second edition of their supplementary expenditures estimates for the budget year. You may remember that in September, the first edition of supplementary estimates was released. Back in November, they released their 2021 estimates. At the beginning of February, the government also released their Q3 numbers, and we are anxiously awaiting the 2021-22 budget, which will be the most important, I think, in the history of this province.

We all know that the work in this House is important work; of course it is. Question period is fun for some people and not so fun for others. But the work in our legislative committees is equally if not more important to the governing of this province. The estimates committee plays a key role in monitoring government spending and ensuring that funding is properly allocated and invested in the services that Ontarians rely on. This work has never been more important, especially during this pandemic.

As many in the House know, the budget estimates are required to be tabled no later than 12 sessional days after the budget has been tabled. From those estimates, the Standing Committee on Estimates picks at least six and up to 12 ministries to review. The minister and high-level ministry officials are subject to the scrutiny and questioning of MPPs. This is very similar in many respects, Madam Chair, to what happens at public accounts. I was very proud to chair that committee for the last two and a half years.

It is an important measure of accountability. It is an important measure of checks and balances and it speaks to the importance of financial transparency for the entire province. This is the type of accountability that governments of all stripes need. The committee needs to be done with this review by the third Thursday in November. This year, the committee did not complete their report. As I mentioned, it has been an unusual year. This was also complicated by the fact that the formal budget for the last fiscal year was not tabled until November 5, so there was no time for the estimates committee to meet and review the spending presented in the November 5 budget. Moving forward, this cannot happen again.

The Standing Committee on Estimates serves an important role in holding the government and ministers to account. If you believe, as I do, that budgets are moral documents that speak to our priorities as a government, as a Legislature, those priorities should reflect what the people of this province need. Listen, we also have to make sure that that money which was allocated is actually spent. Moving forward, I hope to actually be keeping a very close eye on these expenditures. I also look forward to the government following the appropriate schedule this year and tabling the estimates on time so that the committee has sufficient time to meet and to scrutinize.

Just one final point about the committee is that the committees that are chaired by opposition members—public accounts, estimates and government appointments, important committees—the government has not allowed those Chairs of those committees to call the committee to work outside of the legislative schedule. However, the government committees are allowed to meet. We fundamentally find this to be unequal, if not desperately unfair. Listen, the Chairs of those committees that are led by opposition members want to do the work. It is important work to be done, so let them work. Let them work.

Everyone in the House will agree that it’s been a challenging year for the province’s finances. The pandemic has brought unparalleled disruption to our economy and our society. The financial impact of that disruption hasn’t just been felt this year; it will be felt for years to come. As I mentioned, I think those committees should be able to work outside of the legislative calendar to ensure that we are responding in a fiscally responsible and timely manner to the COVID-19 pandemic. But just because there have been unprecedented challenges does not mean that the norms of good governance and accountability need to be disregarded. It’s important to follow the money to see what the government’s priorities really are and to see if those priorities match what the people need, especially during a time of crisis.

Let’s look at the government’s Q3 outlook that was released in February. From that government outlook, “Since the 2020 budget, the government has fully allocated all of the time-limited pandemic response funding and extraordinary contingencies of $13.3 billion in 2020–21. In light of this, and to help mitigate expense risks for the remainder of 2020–21, the standard contingency fund has been allocated an additional $2.1 billion for 2020–21, given the uncertain and unprecedented impact of the global pandemic.”

This is important, Madam Speaker. The government has topped up the contingency fund: “The standard contingency fund is maintained to help mitigate expense risks—for example, in cases where health and safety may be compromised, and which may otherwise adversely affect Ontario’s fiscal performance. The remaining standard contingency fund at the time of the 2020 budget was $3.0 billion, with $1.9 billion remaining after draws in the 2020–21 third quarter” estimates.

Why is this important? Well, I will tell you, Madam Speaker. The whole issue of contingency funds is a quandary that Legislatures across the country face. A recent report examined where the money came from, because disentangling the federal funding and the provincial funding is important, because it indicates: Has the provincial government really stepped up and invested money in health, in education, in health and safety?

In Ontario, it’s really interesting; the health care spending in Ontario is expected to be the equivalent of—this is the top-up—$1,180 per person, with only $160 of that per-person allocation from the provincial government. So on the health file with regard to COVID-19, this government relied very heavily on the federal government. In fact, 94% of that funding was federal money.

On the education response—because when the schools closed down last March, there was an urgency to open those schools safely, and there were measures that needed to be put in place to make schools as safe as they could be. But on this file, the COVID-19 top-up of the $100 per person being spent on child care and education—only $20 of that came from the provincial government.

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On the contingency fund—and this is an important distinction: unallocated funds related to COVID-19. I will speak to this in a little bit. The government has put out their expenditure estimates, and this came out last week. On page 17 of the estimate reports, under “Treasury Board support program,” it very clearly indicates that there is almost $4 billion in this contingency fund. I’m going to get to why that’s so important.

You’ll have to remember that the fiscal year is March 31. The government of the day has 23 days to spend this money or it will go to pay down the deficit. So this not only is a question of transparency around where the money is going or where the money is not going, but it is a question of—and this is an important debate that we should be having; it should have happened at estimates, and we should have had that opportunity—is this where the government should be putting that contingency fund, to pay down the deficit, as we are coming into a third wave?

I’m sure you noticed that the numbers today have gone up again, so all of us in this House should be singularly focused on preventing a third wave and another shutdown of the economy.

We would argue—and we will—that investing right now in long-term care, in our health care system, in accelerating the very sloppy vaccination strategy that the government has done, and in ensuring that our schools have everything they need to to ensure that they do not become places where transmission of COVID-19 happens—those investments would be very wise right now. In fact, I would argue that they would be fiscally responsible.

On the issue of unallocated funds related to COVID-19: This is a type of contingency fund that may be used in the future for direct measures, but for which there are no committed plans. This is very true. Of the $3.9883882 million that is now currently sitting—


Mr. Gilles Bisson: Billions.

Ms. Catherine Fife: Billions, sorry. Thank you, yes. It’s a very big distinction.

There are, to date, no directives about this funding. If there are no direct measures, for which there are no committed plans, these funds impact the government expenditures and, therefore, the government deficits.

As I said, the fiscal year is fast approaching—March 31—and $4 billion, I hope we can all agree, is a lot of money. As far as an accounting structure, these accounting structures can be eliminated with the stroke of a pen, thereby reducing the deficit.

This is, of course, concerning to us for a number of reasons, in that we think that at this time in the history of this province, there are ways to invest that money in keeping people safe and in keeping the economy open. In fact, there has never been a more clear and apparent case for public investment in public safety. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that money is going to get out into the province. We argue that it should be put into place and that there’s a good financial case for that.

The Globe and Mail also noted, when the Minister of Finance did announce the top-up of the contingency fund, “But its numbers also show it still has $4 billion left to spend this fiscal year if needed in a general contingency fund, while leaving $500 million in a reserve fund meant to be drawn upon if the province’s revenue projections are off.” All the more—


Mr. Gilles Bisson: It’s $4.5 billion?

Ms. Catherine Fife: It’s $4.5 billion in total—so all the more reason for estimates to meet, and to go line by line and to review. If the government can point—which you haven’t—to where that money is going, to date, we would really appreciate seeing it. Why not demonstrate where that money is going? If it’s not going someplace, then we all have a big problem in this Legislature.

This really points to the transparency in spending. In both the Q3 and the second supplementary estimates, the province isn’t being totally transparent about what the contingency fund money is being spent on. We have no evidence, we have no notes about where this money is going, because it remains unallocated. I want to see a line-by-line accounting of where this contingency funding is being allocated. I want to follow the money to see where the priorities are, if they do align with the people we serve. Is the money rolling out quickly enough to Ontario so that they are properly supported?

We certainly know that, on the small business grant, that is not happening. It took this government almost eight months to come forward with direct support by way of a grant, and it’s a huge process for businesses to go through. Many have been waiting weeks now—and never mind that they waited almost eight months for that support.

So after countless missteps, a lot of Ontarians just don’t trust this government. When the citizens of this province lose trust, then you have a very serious issue of undermining confidence in the pandemic response and in the economic recovery of the province.

Last week’s supplementary estimates—and I’ve already pointed to them, page 17. That’s a big number. The description of that spending in the estimates documents regards as “other transactions.” There are no details attached to these, as I mentioned. This is a lot of money. No details, a lot of money—you see a pattern here, Madam Speaker.

The contingency fund is meant for unforeseen emergencies or crises that the government may need to respond to. Well, I can make a very compelling argument right here and right now that we are in an economic crisis, and I’m going to go through who is being negatively impacted by a lack of strategic investment to date in the province.

In my opinion, these crises haven’t gone away. Certainly, that has been confirmed by several public health units across the province. You will note that Lanark county, whose MPP who has served in the House and who was basically telling folks that COVID-19 is a bit of a hoax, is moving into the red zone in the province. We’re seeing higher numbers in Simcoe–Muskoka of the new variant. There’s a lot of concern around pockets of spread around COVID-19, because once it’s out there in the community, it is very, very hard to control. We know this. We went through the first wave together. We went through the second wave together. We made the same mistakes in the second wave. So there is a good financial and economic reason to invest these dollars in strategic investments to keep people safe.

So $4 billion, as most Ontarians would tell you, is a lot of money. I remember when the Liberals were here. They used to drop that on the way to work. But in today’s terms, in the middle of a crisis, that money needs to be helping people stay healthy and safe so our economy can stay open.

Why can’t the government be transparent and say where the money is going to be spent? Why aren’t they sharing that information with this House, and why aren’t they sharing it with the members of the public?

Money in the bank doesn’t support people in long-term care or improve safety in our schools.

And if this money isn’t spent, as I’ve pointed out, it goes to pay the deficit. Is that what the people of this province want? I ask you this in seriousness, because I can see that it’s a very sensitive issue. The government feels that they have spent all that federal money—94% of the COVID-19 response was from the federal government. The people of this province have recognized that there’s a pattern and a gap in direct support to address COVID-19 and strategic investing. This also doesn’t mean that the province spent enough at the right time, quickly enough or wisely.

The Premier has said consistently that his government will spare no expense. All of that unearned media every single day—that’s what he says each and every time. He also says everything is on the table. Well, it’s a pretty small table. In fact, it’s a bit of a card table, I would say. Do you see what I did there? It’s like a house of cards sort of thing. I’m here all week. That’s okay.

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Everything is on the table, but apparently it isn’t on the table, because we just had a very painful debate on a made-in-Ontario sick leave plan—particularly our members from Brampton and Peel and Mississauga and downtown Toronto. There is a very compelling case here to ensure that people do not go to work sick. The argument that this government pushed the federal government to do these four weeks, where it is completely—it’s a narrative that doesn’t sell across the province, because that federal program has not been accessed to the degree that it should be in a pandemic, which is an indicator that it is an unsuccessful program, much like the CECRA program, the rent support.

You’ll remember, Madam Speaker, when the provincial government refused to bring in direct commercial rent support for businesses—businesses that stood up for us in the province of Ontario, that did everything the government asked them to do. What did the government do? They passed the buck to the federal government, to a program that did not work, that was landlord-driven, and that was insufficient from a funding perspective.

The gaps in the way that this government has responded to this pandemic are real, they are documented and they cause concern across this province. There are many examples of where money went and where money shouldn’t be going.

The $4.5 million for security guards in long-term-care homes—I don’t know who was trying to get in or who was trying to get out, but that was not a wise expenditure that flowed out there to the people of this province.

The Premier stands up every day and says to the people of this province, “Listen, folks, we’ve got your back.” But they haven’t put in the investment to ensure that people actually see it in a very tangible way. That compromises everything that we’ve been fighting for in this House.

Just think about last May, Madam Speaker. You and I are former school board trustees. Kids had been learning remotely, and there were huge challenges with that, huge inequities across boards and across neighbourhoods. Just think of our northern members who don’t have access to the kind of broadband that those students needed. We had some folks out in rural communities who were trying to go to the Tim Hortons to access the WiFi. This is a real example, especially in some rural communities.

The broadband bill that they introduced last Thursday, as I pointed out in my question this morning, has very little to do with expanding broadband. We would fully support a huge investment in broadband infrastructure, because it will be the great equalizer on a go-forward basis. It won’t double down on the inequities that we are seeing across this province.

But when you think about last May, experts at that point were already talking about what needed to be done to make schools safe for kids to return to school in September. There was a good chunk of time there, and if you sat on SCOFEA, as I did, for those four months, you heard again and again the solutions that needed to be put in place to ensure that we were mitigating all risk around COVID-19—better ventilation, smaller class sizes. The government was not proactive on this.

My sister teaches in Peel. She started off with a full class, but as students and families started to feel that the school was not as safe as it could be and that community transmission of COVID-19 was so apparent, her class of 29 dropped down to 28 online, and she has one student in her class. She goes in every day because, of course, that’s her job and she’s an amazing teacher. But at one point, the vice-principal asked her for a seating plan—it got to a point of being comical—for one student in a class.


Mr. Gilles Bisson: You’ve got to be kidding me.

Ms. Catherine Fife: I wish I was kidding. I’m not kidding.

We all want to support the education system, and we come from that system. It drew us into politics. But there has to be some strategic common-sense investment that happens.

On the issue of ventilation, across the education sector, the four publicly funded education systems across this province—there is an infrastructure capital deficit that has been well documented by Fix our Schools. I believe we’re up to $16.1 billion. Investing in schools during a pandemic to keep students and staff safe because of working conditions, our learning conditions, would have been an amazing investment. It would have corrected a systemic wrong that was left over—a Liberal hangover leftover. Yet the companies that came to us at SCOFEA also made the point that ventilation—the HVAC sector put forward a very strong proposal for investment that not only would correct some of the infrastructure deficits that we see in our system, but also create good jobs. Doesn’t that sound like a win-win solution—create good jobs in a pandemic, when many are suffering, and then also correct a long-standing systemic issue in our education system?

During the first wave, also, when we saw the devastating impacts that COVID-19 was having on long-term-care homes and congregate settings—and we knew that a second wave was coming. Experts told us, “A second wave is coming. Prepare for that wave.” The Premier promised to put this iron ring around long-term care, but there were no solid measures that were actually put in place. Clearly, what a missed opportunity to once again correct a long-standing systemic issue that the Liberals left us with. You would have had full public support for that investment.

Right now, in Lambton county, there are a number of long-term-care facilities that have been inspected—because this has been a long-standing issue around inspections—but there are no consequences from the inspections. Homes are found not to be compliant, but there are no consequences, and so there’s no corrective behaviour.

These are two issues that you could have invested in; you still could. You still have 23 days.

During the first wave, we also saw countless businesses struggle. We proposed some quick financial support programs to get them through the first wave. This was our Save Main Street strategy. We listened to businesses, based on the consultation. We determined how much the rent support was going to cost, the PPE, the retraining, the upscaling and the pivoting that needed to happen in order for businesses to survive through this pandemic—because if they didn’t survive, it obviously would impact our economic recovery. The government refused to listen and relied heavily on the federal programs.

I was very proud of our Save Main Street strategy that we put forward in April. All of our caucus members took it out to our respective downtown BIAs. The CFIB supported it and the chamber of commerce supported it, because they recognized that you just can’t add more debt to businesses during a pandemic. They can’t recover.

Up until two weeks ago, I was working with a company in Ottawa that took the tax deferral—as they will, because they have no choice—but then the payment on the tax deferral came due, and, of course, they still didn’t have any revenue because we were in a second lockdown. These are high consequences, these are high stakes for businesses. That business owner found that the finance ministry was going to put a lien on the business and also charge 7% interest on the deferred taxes, which is debt—7%.

The Ministry of Finance, in the middle of the pandemic, should not be making money off of businesses that have been in a great deal of pain and stress. I hope we can all agree on that.

During the first wave, we also saw $1.6 million spent, in the early weeks of the pandemic, to have a consulting company set up a convoluted command structure to respond to COVID-19. You’ll remember that—$1.6 million to consultants to tell the system, which was already designed to deal with a pandemic and a vaccination protocol, how to do that and try to make sense of it.

Remember, though, if Public Health Ontario had not been gutted pre-pandemic, this type of spending wouldn’t have had to happen and we would have had experts who, for all of their careers, had vaccinated folks and had ensured that best protocols were in place. I’m thinking of the medical officer in Kingston who, as soon as the pandemic happened, took all of their food inspectors and brought them to long-term-care homes. That’s a tangible strategy that public health units applied that actually saved lives. You would agree with that, the member from Kingston and the Islands? Yes.

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There have been countless missed opportunities to allocate money at more appropriate times. The government has missed some big opportunities to be proactive and to take the lead of other successful jurisdictions. It is interesting to see how Ontario has weathered this storm. Certainly, we now know for a fact that we have not weathered it equally across this province.

Just as it is International Women’s Day, it is a fitting time, I think, Madam Speaker, to raise these issues, because we’ve been talking about the she-cession and the need for a she-covery strategy in this province since last April. We saw very early, based on the job numbers, who was being disproportionately affected by this and that impact it was having on specific communities.

To this date, there has not been a solid response from the government on the she-cession, but it is clear from countless reports that if women are not deliberately and intentionally included in the economic recovery, the province will suffer for it. You cannot leave 51% of the population out of the equation if you are planning on a full economic recovery in Ontario.

I have to say, given that today is International Women’s Day, it is only fair and just for me to give a shout-out to Farrah Khan and Pamela Cross, who wrote an op-ed today in the Toronto Star. It’s entitled “This International Women’s Day Ensure That Women’s Expert Voices Are Centred in COVID-19 Recovery Plans.” They go on to say, and they’re not wrong, “This International Women’s Day we can expect to hear the usual platitudes from government, business and institutions about women’s empowerment and how far we have come. What we deserve to hear are concrete commitments to address the gender-based impacts of the pandemic. We cannot go back on decades of progress on women’s gender equity.

“It’s been almost a full year since the pandemic hit. During that time, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, while important for controlling the spread of the virus, have exacerbated violence in the home.” This is something that we don’t talk about with great honesty in this place, Madam Speaker.

“Women are living in precarious situations faced with a limited reprieve from violence. Family courts have only been able to manage the most urgent issues, which has left some women and children in unsafe situations. Criminal courts are releasing higher numbers of accused people on bail to try to control the spread of COVID-19 in jails.” This is very true of my community of Kitchener-Waterloo. You would be shocked about the nature of the crimes and the people who were in, say, Maplehurst and who are now in the community because of the outbreaks that are happening in our jail system.

“Court services, such as duty counsel, have been available only remotely. Supervised access centres have not been in operation for much of the past year. Violence-against-women shelters have had to reduce their capacity to meet physical distancing requirements.

“On top of that, women have been left with primary responsibility for managing children, including overseeing their school work, through much of the pandemic.” I cannot be the only MPP in this chamber who had very stressful, tension-filled conversations with mothers who were trying to balance work, caring for their elderly parents and children. They were genuinely squeezed during this pandemic, and to the breaking point.

“The impacts of the pandemic on women’s economic and employment situations have been immense. RBC’s July 2020 Economics Report noted that the pandemic ‘knocked women’s participation in the labour force down from a historic high to its lowest level in over 30 years’”—30 years. If we do not have a strategic investment strategy to get women back into the workforce, we will not recover. There will be no economic recovery without a she-covery.

“Women were the first to lose their jobs and, for those who remained employed, they have had some of the highest-risk work, serving on the front lines in the food service industry as well as providing personal care services to vulnerable populations. Many of the workers who provide care for children, sick or elderly adults or people with disabilities are women who are racialized, new to Canada or working here temporarily.” And still, under the Employment Standards Act for the province of Ontario, which is our responsibility collectively as a Legislature, they still do not have paid sick days.

“Young women between the ages of 20 and 24”—this is my daughter now—“are exiting the labour force the most quickly due to the pandemic. These are also the women most likely to be targeted for intimate partner and sexual violence. The loss of economic independence due to job loss makes these women even more vulnerable to being victimized in acts of gender-based violence.... Furthermore, harassment has not stopped just because work has gone online; in fact, it has increased for women working from home.”

The federal government, to their credit, has brought in some places—today, they just announced an expert committee of women who have the expertise and education to sit down and stay focused on this one task, and that is ensuring that women see an economic recovery happen in this country.

“For meaningful COVID recovery, we need to centre women, especially those on the margins including but not limited to Black, Indigenous and women of colour. Our voices must be at the leadership tables or it’s not recovery at all. We cannot go back to where we were 30 years ago. We need more, not fewer options for women.”

One of the biggest issues that we have heard during this pandemic is the need for child care. For some of us, we’ve been fighting for child care for years now, especially child care around schools, which we started back in 2008-09. For instance, for child care, for every dollar that’s invested in early learning and care—preferably in a not-for-profit, quality, accessible, affordable model, which most not-for-profits try to be—there’s a return on investment to the economy of $7. So if the government is looking for an economic strategy, as you enter into budget 2021-22, there has never been a stronger case for investing in early learning and care—never. And if women are left behind, which they will be if there is no affordable child care on the radar for this government—and I’m not talking about the big box corporate child care, Madam Speaker; I’m talking about the not-for-profit model, which ensures that every dollar that goes into that system actually goes to the quality of care of the children. If you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck in this budget, then early learning and care, preferably the not-for-profit model, needs to be part of that equation.

The RBC Economics report came out on March 4. It also highlights why governments of all stripes across this entire country must be focused on women for economic recovery. It goes on to say, “COVID Further Clouded the Outlook for Canadian Women at Risk of Disruption.

“Almost half a million Canadian women who lost their jobs during the pandemic hadn’t returned to work as of January. More than 200,000 had slipped into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, a threefold increase over last year.

“Before the crisis, these women held a wide variety of jobs, but there was a common thread. Many worked, for modest pay, in the low-skilled service jobs that helped keep the broader Canadian economy humming along. They may have lacked the economic clout of some other Canadian workers, but they were highly visible, in food courts, salons, pubs and elsewhere—places that didn’t allow for safe physical distancing when the pandemic hit. Because women represented the majority in industries most affected by virus-containment measures, they bore the brunt of the job losses.” And this is very true for the province of Ontario.

“Widespread vaccinations will bring back many service jobs.” There is a lack of confidence, I would say. Although I still remain hopeful, Madam Speaker, that my parents, who are 74 and 72, in Peterborough, may get a vaccine. They need it very quickly, I think, just for their own mental health.

“Widespread vaccinations will bring back many service jobs. But firms have repositioned themselves to require fewer workers.” This is an interesting economic trend that will impact how we navigate through the next few months of this pandemic. “And the year-long pandemic may have cemented new consumer habits around online shopping, at-home workouts and other digitally enabled activities.

“In this way, the pandemic accelerated structural economic changes that were in motion pre-COVID. Canadian women were already at higher risk of disruption because they held more than half of the 35% of Canadian jobs susceptible to automation. The COVID crisis made them even more vulnerable, by forcing many firms to adopt contactless and other digital technologies far sooner than they might have otherwise.

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“Post-COVID, the work future for these Canadian women looks very uncertain,” but there is hope. There are programs out there that actually work. I was having a conversation earlier today with the Minister of Finance—I was thankful that he’d reached out—and we talked about priorities. I believe we have similar goals but perhaps different avenues to get to those goals.

But on early learning and care and partnering with the not-for-profit sector, you simply cannot go wrong. For communities across this province in all of our ridings, there are not-for-profit agencies in that sector who are ready to help, be it on housing, be it on health care, be it on education, and there’s no additional red tape. I know you’re very fascinated with red tape. There’s no additional red tape; there’s no additional bureaucracy; there’s no additional administrative overhead. They’re ready to get to work, and so if you’re looking for a good return on that investment and partnering with the not-for-profit sector, it is there.

One such program, particularly as I’m talking about the double jeopardy for women—and that’s what this analysis from RBC is called. The double jeopardy piece is that women obviously worked in these high-risk areas. Automation was already coming down the line and so they’re further disenfranchised from an economic perspective.

One of these program is called In Her Shoes. It’s a social enterprise of the Kitchener-Waterloo YWCA. It’s an employment and entrepreneurship training program that uses the YW Kitchener-Waterloo’s Bricks and Clicks stores as a training lab. This is something that’s ready to go. I have to tell you, when I look at where the government has spent some money, making a case for $530,000 over two years to create over 100-plus new jobs in KW for women by retraining, by upscaling, this is a smart investment.

Fundamentally, I think where we see the difference between the government and how we see investing in people and public services is that if you have a coordinated approach, you don’t have to leave people behind. You can have an inclusive model that ensures that when the skills are there and the opportunities are there, and when women are supported through this educational program, such as In Her Shoes, then self-sufficiency happens as well, and then you don’t have the large numbers of 200,000-plus women who are now on some form of assistance. Those women don’t want to be on assistance. They want to be financially independent. They want to have their independence because when they do have that financial independence, they can’t be victimized. There’s a direct correlation between financial security and the risk that women are put at in their homes and in their communities.

This program, in and of itself, has a curriculum, topics like business plans, product posts, inventory, shipping, communication, customer service, accounting, budgets. They focus, for the first year, which will be online—but they have a plan to transition to moving off-line at some point. These are the digital literacy and business skills that we need in the province of Ontario.

This proposal came to the Minister of Finance this morning with some enthusiasm on my part. It’s not just because it’s a local program for me in Kitchener-Waterloo, but these programs are all across our province. As I said, in the grand scheme of things, $530,000 to create 10 long-term, sustainable jobs in communities specifically for at-risk populations like BIPOC women makes a lot of sense. It shouldn’t have to take a huge amount of convincing, quite honestly, to do this.

We have seen the province of Ontario sort of weather through a very difficult time. I think that is something that we can all agree on, but there has never been a stronger case for specific, strategic investment to close that gap, from an equity perspective, but also for keeping people safe. If you ignore the health and safety component, we will shut down again. We will see what happened in the second phase as well.

Now, when you look across the country and you see how Ontario has weathered the storm, there are some provinces who quite honestly have done a fairly good job. Ontario’s economy has faced an even tougher slog than most provinces through the course of the pandemic, in part because we were facing the auto sector shutdowns earlier in the year and a lagged reopening after the first wave of industry closures, so because we didn’t do our due diligence in the first wave, we were disproportionately affected and delayed in reopening again.

We know what to do. We know how to support businesses: You’ve got to spend the money. You’ve got to put it into play. You’ve got to get that card table out, and add a couple more card tables, so that you can actually ensure that when you say that everything is on the table, everything is, including a paid sick day model for the province of Ontario, which ensures that people don’t have to make that very difficult decision.

Earlier, when we were talking about education—I have to say, there’s a reason why the asymptomatic testing off-site in communities has not had a huge uptake. The Minister of Education was musing about why that might be. Well, it’s a very simple answer, Madam Speaker: Parents who don’t have sick days are not going to send their kids to an asymptomatic testing place, because if their kid tests positive, they have to isolate and they don’t get paid. It really isn’t rocket science. And the federal program, regardless of what the Minister of Labour has said, is very clearly a delayed program. When you are living paycheque to paycheque to paycheque, and hour by hour as an hourly worker, you don’t have the liberty of making that kind of a decision. That is why I believe that asymptomatic testing has not had a huge uptake: because it comes with risk, and of course that risk plays itself out in the broader community as a whole. We need to correct that, and we need to build that safety net in for all workers in the province of Ontario.

The RBC report is pretty shocking for women, and I have to say, the OFL right now is having a session on International Women’s Day. Our critics are speaking at it, and they’re talking about the very real and risky place that women are in right now from a financial independence perspective in Ontario.

With that, Madam Speaker: My goal as the finance critic is to really connect the numbers—where the numbers are; where the numbers aren’t; where the investment is happening; where it is not—into what we see out in the community. I would urge every member to have a look at the RBC report and to look at what’s at stake, because if this budget comes out and it doesn’t have some structural changes to address an uneven recovery, which we are facing in Ontario, then we are doomed to make the same mistakes that we have in the second wave. I have to say, what a missed opportunity for that, Madam Speaker.

From a long-term issue, there has to be, as I said, tangible resources allocated in the budget. We have to see where that funding is going. We have to be able to measure it, because the government throws out a lot of numbers and says that they have targets, but if there’s no transparency in how those numbers are playing themselves out in Ontario, then we really don’t know. We really don’t know if it’s making a difference.

With that, I have to say, I’m going to end my commentary on the estimates.

But I will just once more say that I really believe that estimates and public accounts and government appointments—the legislative committees that are chaired by opposition members—should be able to meet outside of the legislative calendar. We should be able to continue to work when the House is not sitting. We’re willing to do that work. We’re willing to show up and work with our colleagues to make sure that there is transparency in where the funding is going.

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It was very frustrating for me, as the former Chair of public accounts, to see that the Auditor General was reviewing expenditures and finding gaps in those expenditures and yet we weren’t able to review them and hold the ministries and hold the bureaucrats to account. People depend on us to do that. Given the numbers that we are facing and the lack of investment in some key areas, I think that we could be doing a better job. But you have to let us meet. You have to let the committees do their work.

You also have to stop bringing forward legislation that ensures bringing big money back into politics. How is that a priority for those families who are still waiting for justice in long-term care? How is ensuring that taxpayer dollars go to us, by way of a subsidy, a priority for the parents who were beside themselves when schools had to close down—and this is still happening. We have an outbreak at Sunnyside in Kitchener that was in the paper today.

I would urge the government, as sincerely as I possibly can, to get your priorities straight. Put the people first. Invest in the people. Invest in the services to keep them safe so that we see the economy not have to shut down again and we can have an inclusive she-covery for all citizens in the province of Ontario. You would have our full support if you did such a thing.

We will obviously be following the funding in the next budget very carefully. As I said, budgets are moral documents. They tell us the story and the priorities of the government. Those priorities should match the priorities of the people we serve.


The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Further debate?

Mr. Michael Parsa: I’m pleased to rise today in my role as parliamentary assistant to the President of the Treasury Board and member of the Standing Committee on Estimates, as well as a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, to discuss the procedural process specific to concurrence as it relates to the government’s estimates for the 2021 fiscal year. I will begin by explaining what concurrence is, and then I will explain the estimates process.

While concurrence is perhaps not the most glamorous process in the Ontario Legislature, I would argue that it is of utmost importance that all members, moreover all Ontarians, understand how the Legislative Assembly authorizes the spending of money.

Speaker, it’s important to hear and to keep in mind that every dollar spent comes from the province’s hard-working taxpayers, who, over the past year, have faced incredible economic, health and mental hardships in the face of an unprecedented global pandemic and corresponding public health crisis.

I’d like to begin by providing a refresher on the government’s fiscal cycle. The government tabled their 2021 expenditure estimates on May 12. The expenditure estimates provide details of the operating and capital spending needs of ministries and legislative offices for the fiscal year. This constitutes the government’s annual formal request to the Legislature to approve spending requirements. Should they pass, the estimates provide each ministry with the legal authority to spend their operating and capital budgets.

Once expenditure estimates are introduced, the Standing Committee on Estimates is convened and chaired by a member of the official opposition. The Standing Committee on Estimates selects between six and 12 ministries to appear before the committee itself to answer questions specific to their respective expenditure estimates. Those ministries whose expenditure estimates are not selected are considered passed by the committee, reported back to the House and approved by the House via deemed concurrence. Committee members then review specific allocations, called votes, within a select ministry’s expenditure estimates. This, in turn, provides invaluable oversight of the government’s spending.

Then, in accordance with the standing orders, the committee must complete its work by the third Thursday in November of each year. When that process wraps up, the estimates are brought back to this assembly for concurrence, which also explains why I present before my fellow members here today.

Concurrence and the subsequent review of a supply bill together represent the last step towards the Legislature’s approval of the spending for a fiscal year. Should the Supply Act pass, it signifies the final approval by this House of expenditures proposed by the government in the expenditure estimates and supplementary estimates that have been tabled during the fiscal year.

It’s important to highlight that today our government is not proposing any new spending but is simply looking to approve the spending outlined in the 2020-21 estimates.

To close today’s impromptu civics lesson, I should add that following the order for concurrence in the estimates, the government then introduces a Supply Act to provide the final statutory authority for this government’s and this assembly’s spending. Today’s discussion and subsequent vote are both important steps in approving the government’s spending for the current fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2021.

I think it’s fair to say that the recent fiscal year is truly one for the history books. But despite the many challenges we’ve collectively faced as a province and will continue to face until COVID-19 vaccines are distributed en masse to Ontarians, this government has maintained a laser-like focus to meet its most important priority, and that’s to continue to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians.

Despite the pandemic, this government has not wavered in rising to meet the needs of Ontarians. The creation of the Office of the Comptroller General in February 2020 is one way we’re accomplishing this. This office, the first among Canadian provinces to be led by a deputy minister, who in turn follows the principles of enterprise risk management, works with ministries and provincial agencies to anticipate financial risks and other proactive guidance to ministries and public sector agencies to mitigate potential risks. In doing so, we not only provide increased value for the people of Ontario but, equally important, we ensure Ontarians, whom this Legislature dutifully serves, are the centre of everything we do. Now more than ever, we need to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are directed to the vital front-line programs and services the people of Ontario rely on every single day. This is one way we’re working to modernize government operations and build a government that truly works for the people.

Our rigorous focus on improving efficiency and value has allowed us to make prudent and historic investments in critical health care and front-line services while expanding the government’s fiscal capacity to weather future challenges.

Enterprise risk management is also a long-standing best practice in the private sector and was recommended in EY Canada’s line-by-line review of government spending over the past 15 years released in September 2018, as well as the 2019 Ontario budget. With the help of enterprise risk management, we hope to build a government culture whereby public resources are managed responsibly, respectfully and rightfully. In response to the continued economic uncertainty posed by COVID-19, enterprise risk management will empower government to take timely and effective actions to address potential problems in both the short and long term and, equally important, ensure our people, businesses and government are well positioned to recover and thrive in Ontario’s post-pandemic economy. By embracing enterprise risk management, we’re bringing the rigour of business to the business of government.

Speaker, this leveraging of new and improved ways to strengthen government brings me to my final topic of the day: this government’s recent success in leveraging leading-edge, innovative technologies to combat COVID-19. A good example of this is the COVID-19 Web portal at ontario.ca/covid19. This one-stop-shop dashboard provides all the latest data and information about the virus’s presence in Ontario. Since July 2020, the COVID-19 Web portal has been visited over 49.3 million times, with 119.7 million total page views.

Another example of Ontario’s leveraging of technology is the COVID Alert app. Developed in partnership between the Ontario Digital Service, Ottawa-based Shopify and the federal government, the app gives Ontarians a digital defence against COVID-19. It’s free, easy to use and private. The app notifies you if you’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. With over 6.3 million downloads to date, the COVID Alert app is a bona fide made-in-Ontario success story.

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I’d like to close my remarks by thanking all the members who are here today, who have been here either in person, following the health guidelines of our medical professionals, or been here virtually. Their unwavering commitment to public service is a testament to the steely-eyed resolve of Ontario’s parliamentary system. Despite a year-long global pandemic, we met and will continue to meet as members of provincial Parliament to conduct vital government business and keep the wheels of government in motion. That is the embodiment of the Ontario spirit, which truly makes me proud to serve as an Ontario member of provincial Parliament.

I’d like to turn the floor over to my colleague the MPP for Willowdale, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance, and member of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.


The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Further debate?

Mr. Wayne Gates: It’s my pleasure to rise and speak to my time sitting on the estimates committee today.

For those of you watching at home, estimates is one of our committees here at Queen’s Park where we discuss government spending decisions.

Since my time on this committee, we’ve seen the same thing over and over again—that has been this government’s drive to cut public services. Whether in the chamber or in the committee, this government uses its power to cut education, cut our infrastructure and, worst of all, cut our health care.

It may seem like a long time ago now, but here’s what this government was cutting before the pandemic. Let’s not forget what the Financial Accountability Officer said about the Premier’s 2019 budget: It cut the public health budget by $49 million a year. If you can imagine, it shortchanged long-term care by $65 million. It spent $314 million less on hospital infrastructure projects. They cut $69 million from children and youth mental health services. Overall—and it’s not me saying it; it was the Financial Accountability Officer—it showed a $2.7-billion cut in funding for Ontario health care.

I’ve said this since the beginning: COVID-19 did not create a crisis in long-term care, and it did not create a crisis in health care. But it did shine a light on what families have been telling us for years. This pandemic did shine a light on a number of failings of this government. It also had a very serious impact on some of the important industries in our province.

One industry in particular was the tourism industry here in Ontario, a very, very important industry in my riding of Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake—an industry that supports 40,000 jobs in our community. Almost all of those people experienced layoffs or fully lost their jobs. With the border closed and many people staying at home through the last tourism season, hotels and tourist operators struggled. However, they have been proactive and have worked hard to speak to government and come up with solutions—solutions that were presented to this government in a number of ways, including the finance committee hearings that took place through the summer, which I participated in, and also in the form of direct letters to this government.

I’m going to speak really quickly on my Bill 199, where I said to the government, “Give everybody a tax credit of $1,000 if they tour domestically.” The government did listen a bit. I say “a bit” because what they did is, they said that if you spend up to $5,000, they’ll give you 20%.

What I’m saying to the government—and I’ve said it before: Most people don’t have $5,000 right now to spend on domestic tourism, whether it’s up north, whether it’s in Toronto or down in the beautiful riding of Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie. They don’t have that kind of money. Can you imagine everybody saying that if we’re going to survive and get out of COVID-19 in the tourist sector, we need people in Ontario to make sure they’re taking their vacations right here in beautiful Ontario? The easiest way to do that is with Bill 199, with a tax credit for $1,000. I think everybody can agree with that. I have no idea why you want to say, “You have to spend $5,000 to get 20% of it back.” It makes no sense.

I have one of those letters here with me today. It outlines the concerns the tourist industry has had with tangible solutions.

Liquidity remains the main issue for hotels—and providing low-interest-rate loans, which I’ve raised here a number of times over the last year. That’s what they need. They have to have that. Unfortunately, this government has not provided that support—and relief on their property taxes and insurance, by the way. Some of their insurance has gone from $200,000 to $1 million in a place that’s closed or 90% empty. I’ve talked to this government over and over and over. I don’t know what riding he’s from, but the last finance minister said there were going to be solutions; I haven’t heard a word. But insurance rates in the province of Ontario for small and medium-sized businesses and hotels should be addressed by your government. It’s absolutely a disgrace.

On the property taxes, another financial burden for hotel owners right now: They have seen nearly a 70% reduction in revenue, yet their insurance rates have gone up 200% and 300%.

Think about it, Speaker—you’re from Windsor, so you know about this. Our casinos have been closed for a year. Some 4,000 people work in our casinos in Niagara Falls; I have no idea how many work in Windsor, but I know it’s a few thousand. What people don’t talk about is the spinoff jobs through that casino—which is six or seven times, all the spinoff jobs—so now you’re talking about over 20,000 jobs that have been lost because the casino is closed. We have to address that, without a doubt.

When we are discussing this government’s estimates, we are truly discussing this government’s priorities, and quite frankly, it seems that this government has not made supporting our entire tourism sector a priority. When this government announced a small business grant, they decided to exclude hotels from applying—an industry that has been crushed by COVID-19 through no fault of their own, and this government decided to exclude them. It really shows their support of the tourist sector.

You have to get your heads around it: You’ve got to support the entire tourist sector, not just a section of it. If we want to make sure that we come out of COVID-19 and our economy starts to boom—the tourist sector was hit first, it was hit the hardest, and if we don’t support it, it’s going to be the last one to come back. We can bring it back within a year, or we can take three or four or five years. You guys have to make that decision in your budget.

As I said, COVID-19 has shone a light on many of the failings of this government. Estimates continues to be a prime example. In this committee, we go over the estimates and the expenses of important ministries like the Ministry of Health. There is where we can really see how badly the Conservative government has failed the people of the province of Ontario, when it comes to health care.

Let’s not forget that in 2019, a year into the government’s term, for six months, the Greater Niagara General Hospital was at 104% capacity. The average time a patient waited—I know you guys are all busy on that side, but listen to this: The average time a patient waited in the emergency room before they could get a room was 46 hours. That was the state of health care that the Conservatives left in Niagara as the pandemic hit. You can never really be ready for a pandemic, so I’m not saying you guys should have been ready, but the government should have seen that alarm bell even way before the pandemic.

Never in the estimates did you see money to get this hospital built. What is the holdup? The pandemic has shown that we need a new Niagara Falls hospital now more than ever. We need it because of our population growth. You may be surprised, as people from Toronto and Peel and those areas—guess where they’re going as they move out of those communities? They’re coming to Niagara Falls. They’re going to Fort Erie. There was a big article in the paper just the other day about how Fort Erie can’t keep up with the demand for housing. They’re coming to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We need a new hospital.

One of the things that we can do with our new hospital is—we talk about the number of people who are unemployed today, and there are lots in Niagara. Why would we not start the infrastructure project and build our new hospital in Niagara Falls? Guess what we could do? I’m asking all the Conservatives. You guys can yell it out, if you want; you usually yell at me when I’m talking. We could actually use local workers. Think about that. We could use local businesses. We could use local tradespeople. We could add apprenticeships as we build that hospital, because it takes four or four and a half—if it gets built; it’s a very big hospital.

Why wouldn’t we do that and support local workers? Let’s get the hospital built as quickly as possible. To this day, they have not allocated the money to that hospital in that committee.

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Speaker—I’m going to run out of time—health care is in crisis now. Yet time and again, they’re passing budget bills that don’t address the crisis, especially in long-term care. I’ve got a minute left, but the Canadian military blew the whistle on what was happening in long-term care. We actually called in the military because of what was happening there. And think about this, in my last minute or whatever it is: In long-term care, there were 3,759 people who died. In Niagara, 369 people died. They were our moms, our dads, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles. I’m going to say to this government—and I’ve said it before—they were collateral damage of this second wave of COVID-19. We knew; we all knew. You were told, we were told—we all knew that if we did not do something about what happened after the first wave, they were going to die in those facilities. That’s exactly what happened: 369 people died in Niagara.

I want to finish, because I’ve only got 13 seconds left. You promised us the Moderna vaccine, 5,500 doses. We didn’t get them, and because we didn’t get them, people died in Niagara, and that’s not fair. I’m saying to this government, give us our vaccines that we’re owed so people in Niagara can live—


The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Thank you.

Further debate?


Mr. Rudy Cuzzetto: I’m very pleased to rise here today in my role as parliamentary assistant to the President of the Treasury Board to speak with respect to concurrence in supply. I’d like to build on the remarks of my colleague and elaborate on this government’s unwavering and unparalleled support to protect individuals, families and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ll do so by discussing the additional support recently outlined in the provincial 2020-21 third quarter finances.

Speaker, as my colleague has explained today, our government’s priority from day one of this pandemic has not wavered. We will do whatever it takes and whatever is necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of Ontarians and defeat this virus, which has brought so much pain and suffering to the people of this province.

As the provincial 2020-21 third quarter outlines, this government has made considerable additional investments since the release of the 2020 Ontario budget on November 5, which the member elaborated on earlier. These additional investments outlined in the 2020-21 third quarter finances include $1.4 billion to launch the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. This program is helping small businesses that have been required to close or significantly restrict their services under the province-wide shut down. With grants starting at $10,000 and up to $20,000, I understand we have already approved over $60 million in grants for small business in Mississauga alone.

We have provided $869 million in additional investment for Ontario hospitals to purchase supplies and equipment to help address the surge of COVID-19 cases. This brings our total increase in funding to hospitals since 2019-20 to $3.4 billion.

In November, I was proud to announce an investment of $22 million for 141 new hospital beds in Mississauga, including up to 70 in the pandemic response unit at the Mississauga Hospital in Mississauga–Lakeshore. Speaker, we have done everything in our power to expand on our hospital capacity during the second wave of COVID-19. We also provided $609 million to support procurement of additional personal protective equipment for our front-line workers. We invested $309 million in additional support to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on Ontario’s long-term-care sector, including new provisions and containment measures and more funding to implement testing guidelines. Finally, we provided $235 million in additional support to protect children and staff in child care and early years settings.

But that’s not all. Our government has also made available an additional $2.1 billion to spend before the end of the year. Providing this added contingency funding not only ensures that we have the flexibility we need to continue a response to the COVID-19 crisis but, most importantly, to ensure that we are able to fight and overcome the new variants of concern.

I’d like to highlight something else which is also very important. Despite the extraordinary uncertainty that we are experiencing together as a province over the past year, this government, through each financial quarter, has delivered on our core commitment to restore trust, transparency and accountability to Ontario’s finances and to spend Ontario’s money smarter.

Madam Speaker, I’d like to close my remarks today by briefly highlighting our government’s continued effort to manage risk in these uncertain times and to make smarter decisions through enterprise risk management. As you know, Speaker, this is the practice of identifying, assessing, prioritizing and managing the unknown in an organization. It helps us to forecast and manage risks by enhancing internal oversight, improving conditions between departments and ensuring robust decision-making processes across the entire organization. In other words, this process helps us to develop limited resources to the greatest effect, and at the same time, identify problems before they can take root.

In doing so, we can help ensure that we have the necessary financial resources to invest in what matters most, both during COVID-19 and in the recovery to come. Enterprise risk management is recognized as best practice in the private sector. In the 2019 budget, it was recognized as an important enabler in our government’s effort to ensure improved services and better outcomes for Ontario. This was reinforced by EY Canada in its 2019 line-by-line review, which called for a commitment to evidence-based decision-making, including the consideration of business risk and the implementation of enterprise risk management across ministries and provincial agencies.

My colleague the member from Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill has already discussed the office of the comptroller general, but I just want to reiterate that this is the first comptroller general in Canada to be a deputy-minister-level position. As well, our government has created the enterprise risk office. Together, these two offices, both created by the government, will align and streamline practices all across the government to ensure a more effective and more coordinated risk management landscape while also helping to coordinate risk functions across the government, to protect the core programs and essential services that Ontarians have relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, these offices ensure that risk is properly identified and managed before public money is spent, providing better value and greater accountability to the people of Ontario.

But Madam Speaker, that is not all we are doing to manage risk. In my role as parliamentary assistant for internal audit to the President of the Treasury Board, risk management is one of our core functions. We not only monitor risks throughout the fiscal year and beyond; we also use risk management tools to closely track the implementation of the initiatives that my colleague and I have highlighted here today.

Another important new initiative is the creation of the audit and accountability committee to direct internal audits in priority areas across the government. This committee, which I am proud to serve on, is the only one of its kind in Canada, and it is already helping to bring a new level of accountability to help ensure that we receive the best value for our money.

Proactively, we are working to identify emerging program and policy-related risks. Collectively, this comprehensive analysis not only informs our fiscal planning process, which also includes developing plans to mitigate and manage financial and other risks, but in doing so, we are ensuring that Ontarians’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars are treated with respect and are invested in core services, including health care and education and all the other programs that the Ontario people depend on. This in turn will help to ensure that we have the financial firepower to be ready for anything at any time.

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I stand before this Legislature to reaffirm that our government will do whatever is necessary to protect the lives and the livelihoods of the people of Ontario, and to finally conquer COVID-19. This is what the Premier has called the Ontario spirit. Speaker, once again, I’m confident that the collective spirit will get us through this crisis and beyond.


The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Further debate?

Mr. Stan Cho: Thank you to my friends and colleagues the member for Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill and Mississauga–Lakeshore for their very vibrant remarks this afternoon.

Well, Speaker, this is the second year that I’ve had the privilege to rise in this House to speak in favour of the concurrence on estimates. But speaking to the importance of the government spending this past year is entirely different than last. Over the last year, our government has been wholly focused on piloting our province through a perfect storm. We’ve provided unprecedented, historic levels of funding to protect Ontarians, and we’ve set partisan differences aside and worked collaboratively with all levels of government to wage war against this deadly virus.

Today I want to look back at this extraordinary year and the government’s response. But before I do, I want to speak for a brief moment about something which has not changed this year, and that is this government’s unyielding commitment to responsible fiscal stewardship, accountability and transparency.

In 2019, I spoke at great length about the importance of returning the province to a position of fiscal sustainability after years of neglect and mismanagement by the former government. Though we were mocked by members opposite for our focus on reducing Ontario’s debt and structural deficit, we knew then what we know today: that balancing the budget was never an end in itself; it was a means to protect the vital programs and services that Ontarians rely on. It was the understanding that, like any responsible family budget, you have to save for a rainy day. And so, Speaker, against the strong objections from the members opposite, this government, in its first two years, took the necessary steps to cut a planned Liberal deficit of $15 billion in half. It was that prudence that has given us the flexibility and the fiscal power to spend today. We saved for a rainy day, and when it started to pour, we were ready.

Madam Speaker, despite the COVID-19 global pandemic, despite the devastating health emergency and global economic crisis, our government always has and always will be responsible managers of the public’s money. During this crisis our government did not hesitate and will not hesitate to spend every dollar necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people of Ontario. We have provided the unprecedented levels of support that Ontarians and Ontario businesses need to get through this challenging time.

No government is perfect, and there is no government in the world that has responded perfectly to this pandemic. There is no playbook on COVID-19. But from day one, and for every day over the past year, this government has been there for Ontarians. We’ve had their backs, and our actions speak loud and clear.

On March 25, 2020, two weeks into the global pandemic, when governments around the world were struggling to respond, when the federal government and governments across Canada were trying to figure out a plan, Ontario led the way and released our economic and fiscal update. It included $17 billion in immediate support to ensure Ontario’s world-class public health care system was prepared for the worst, to support individuals, families and communities across the province as we asked them to sacrifice so much to protect their neighbours and to position Ontario’s economy to weather the challenges that lay ahead.

For Ontario’s long-term-care sector, funding went to address surge capacity, provide more staffing to support infection control, implement testing and screening in all homes and purchase the necessary supplies and equipment to tackle COVID-19 outbreaks. For hospitals, funding went to address capacity issues—issues created by years of inaction and neglect from the previous government, exacerbated by a once-in-a-century health emergency. We created 1,000 additional acute care beds and 500 critical care beds, as well as an additional COVID-19 assessment centre. We provided five months of interest and penalty relief for Ontario businesses to file and make payments for provincially administered taxes, thereby immediately injecting $10 billion into the provincial economy and freeing up cash flow for businesses big and small.

We also deferred the quarterly municipal remittance of school boards’ education property tax, providing municipalities with the flexibility to give tax deferrals to residents, businesses and communities across the province, while ensuring that school boards continue to receive their funding. When Ontarians and Ontario businesses asked for the government’s help, we responded quickly to protect jobs and household budgets.

On September 30, we released our plan to better prepare the province for the second wave of the pandemic, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19. It included $1.3 billion to expand and enhance efforts to test, trace and isolate new COVID-19 cases. It provided $1.07 billion to expand lab capacity, reduce testing backups, support existing assessment centres and add more testing locations. It provided $52.5 million to recruit, retain and support over 3,700 more front-line health care workers and caregivers, to ensure the health care system could meet any surge in demand, while continuing to provide safe and high-quality care to patients and long-term-care residents. We provided $1.3 billion in funding to reopen schools safely and securely by hiring more teachers, deploying public health nurses directly into schools and keeping class sizes small.

Then, Speaker, at the height of the pandemic’s second wave, we tabled a multi-year budget on November 5, 2020. This not only allowed the government to continue providing Ontarians with support and to make more investments to protect their lives and livelihoods, but also to continue to be transparent, open and honest with Ontarians about the province’s finances, to be accountable and to put forward a long-term outlook with the most recent and the most reliable data.

From the beginning of the pandemic, Premier Ford has said that Ontarians would see the data he sees, and it is a guiding principle we have followed with health data and with financial reporting. Ontarians deserve nothing less. Unlike previous governments, from the beginning of our mandate, this government has delivered on its promise of financial transparency. That’s regular reporting and responsible fiscal management. It’s a promise we kept before the pandemic and during.

The 2020 budget, entitled Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover, provided $45 billion in additional support for individuals, families and job creators. We announced a nation-leading commitment to provide an average of four hours of daily direct care from a nurse or PSW to every resident in a long-term-care home, making Ontario the leader among Canadian provinces in protecting seniors.

We made significant investments in broadband infrastructure and cellular access, to ensure communities across Ontario are connected. Ontarians in northern and rural Ontario, traditionally underserved communities, will be able to do more professional online training, purchase goods and services online to avoid going to the store in person, or register a new business and sell goods online. By working to provide high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved communities, we’re also laying the groundwork for a robust post-pandemic economic recovery, an economic recovery in which a rising tide lifts all boats and returns Ontario to its rightful place as Canada’s economic engine.

Our action plan also provided immediate relief to businesses by lowering the Employer Health Tax, the EHT, a tax on jobs; the provincial portion of property taxes, saving businesses up to 30% on their property taxes; and commercial hydro rates, giving struggling businesses relief today, while making Ontario even more competitive for the future. After all, Speaker, when this pandemic is behind us—and it will, one day soon, be behind us—every jurisdiction in the world will be competing for investment, for consumer demand and for jobs, and Ontario can no longer afford to be second-best.

On top of all those investments, the government recognized early on that in order to beat this virus, we would have to act quickly; that with so much uncertainty, we would need to be able to react to rapidly changing circumstances on the ground, to be able to deploy resources where they were needed most, to be able to move faster than governments were built to move. To accomplish this, we acted prudently in March and again in November by setting aside $13.3 billion in dedicated COVID-19 contingency funds. If we know anything for sure, it’s that we needed to be ready for anything.

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For a year now, the members opposite have accused this government of hoarding money, despite financial report after financial report showing that this money was being used. The government’s third quarter financial report shows that all of the $13.3 billion for 2020-21 has been allocated, but still, members opposite have chosen to play politics.

These contingency funds have allowed this government to act quickly to adapt, to provide emergency PPE to our front-line workers, to partner with the federal government on a rent relief program and to provide $1.2 billion and growing to over 80,000 businesses—actually, as of Friday morning, that figure is closer to 84,000 in non-repayable grants of up to $20,000.

When faced with a once-in-a-century pandemic, a global emergency, a dual health and economic crisis, this government acted and acted quickly. We acted responsibly. COVID-19 has impacted Ontarians from all walks of life and from all parts of this province. In rural southern Ontario or downtown Toronto, in fly-in communities in the north or the 905, COVID-19 has shown us one fundamental truth: We are all part of Team Ontario. When faced with these immense challenges, one thing is certain: Ontarians come together to support each other, to protect their neighbours, to look out for their communities, and their government will continue to be there to support them, too.

This past year, the government has made historic, unprecedented investments. We’ve done anything and everything that’s necessary to protect the people we serve, and after the most difficult year in our lifetime, there is finally hope on the horizon. Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to travel our province virtually and speak with Ontarians from all walks of life, and no matter where I am or who I speak to, I hear the same thing: Nobody has given up on Ontario. We will get through this, and we must continue to work together.

In closing, I urge all members of this House to support concurrence of estimates. It is critical work that is being done by the government, and the spending necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of Ontarians must continue.


The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Lisa Gretzky): Further debate? Further debate?

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Long-Term Care, including supplementaries. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed to the motion will say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

A recorded vote being required pursuant to the order of the House dated March 4, 2021, it will be deferred until after question period tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Education, including supplementaries. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

The vote will be deferred until tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, including supplementaries. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed to the motion will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

The vote will be deferred until tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

The vote will be deferred until tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Health, including supplementaries. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

The vote will be deferred until tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Infrastructure. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

A vote being required, it will happen tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

A recorded vote will happen tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, including supplementaries. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed to the motion will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

The vote will happen tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

A vote being required, it will happen tomorrow.

Mr. Calandra has moved concurrence in supply for the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, including supplementaries. Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion will please say “aye.”

All those opposed will please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the ayes have it.

A recorded vote being needed, it will happen tomorrow.

Votes deferred.

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