The word “London” is mentioned five times in the provincial budget, which was tabled by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government on Thursday.
1. In an effort to improve the province’s correctional system, the government is promising to hire more correctional officers and enhance security at London’s troubled jail, Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre. It’s only been two weeks since an inmate died at the facility, bringing its death toll up to 14 since 2009.
2. The province is putting the brakes on capital funding for a high-speed rail project that would carry passengers between London and Toronto in 73 minutes. Instead, it’s looking at increasing train speeds and service on existing railway corridors, and inter-community bus service.
3. A stretch of highway dubbed “Carnage Alley” will see safety improvements as part of a promise to widen 128 kilometres of road from four to six lanes between London and Tilbury.
4. The province is touting an expansion at Masonville Public School in north London, which will allow it to serve another 253 students. The school was built to accommodate 363 students in 1952, and currently serves more than 600 students with the help of 14 portables on its property.
5. St. Bernadette Catholic Elementary School in southeast London is getting a similar, smaller expansion, which will help it support 69 more students.
Other commitments in the provincial budget will have local impact, such as a proposal to consolidate the province’s 35 public health units to 10 regional agencies by 2021.
That change will have to be done “very carefully,” said Middlesex-London medical officer of health, Dr. Chris Mackie.
“It would be a really different model, a different structure than we have right now. There’s a lot of work that happens with local communities right now, you’d have to be very creative how you’d try to maintain all that.”
Mackie suggests the regional agency would be larger than the South-West Local Health Integrated Network (LHIN), which is one of 14 LHINs across the province and reaches from the Bruce Peninsula all the way down to Elgin County.
“This would probably include an even larger area, maybe as far west as Windsor, so it’s a pretty big geography.”
The budget doesn’t mention London’s overdose prevention site. Mackie says public health officials have been told, separate from Thursday’s budget, the facility would continue to run and receive funding from the province.
The government plans to loosen rules around alcohol consumption by allowing bars, restaurants and golf courses to serve booze starting at 9 a.m., seven days a week. It’ll also allow municipalities to establish rules about drinking in public, like in parks.
“I haven’t had anyone contact my constituency office to say that the priority for them and their family is better access to alcohol,” said London West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler.
With increased access to alcohol comes increased law enforcement and health-care costs, she says. “None of those increased costs have been factored in,” she said.
Mackie, meanwhile, says alcohol has a social benefit but it’s also a carcinogen.
“With every drink consumed… there’s an increased cancer risk, there’s increased risk of heart disease, on top of alcoholism and the impact on your liver,” he explained.
“How will these changes effect the really problematic binge drinking? It’s not clear you’ll see a big impact there, on the health outcomes, but it may be part of a normalization that makes alcohol more present and puts more people at risk.”
The province also plans to cut $1 billion in social assistance funding by simplifying the rate structure, reducing administration, cutting unnecessary rules, and providing better employment opportunities for those who benefit from it.
The details of this promise, and how it will impact London, are unclear.