The Ontario government has unveiled a $17-billion aid package aimed at helping residents, businesses and the health care sector in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
Finance Minister Rod Phillips made the announcement in Ontario’s economic and fiscal update, which provides a one-year outlook on the province’s finances based on current predictions, during an emergency sitting at Queen’s Park Wednesday afternoon.
“COVID‑19 is an extraordinary threat to the health and economy of Ontario — the greatest we’ve faced in my lifetime,” he said in a statement.
“It demands an extraordinary response from all levels of government and civil society because we’re all in this together.”
The package, which Phillips has called a “first step,” was split into two parts: $7 billion in direct support and $10 billion in business tax and other tax-related deferrals. The increased spending combined with other factors is estimated to result in a provincial deficit of $20.5 billion for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
Subject to approval in the legislature, the health care sector will receive $3.3 billion in assistance — a majority of that funding is in direct response to COVID-19. Some of the funding was previously announced under a $304-million COVID-19 immediate response plan.
Among the health care-related measures is a $1-billion contingency fund to respond to emerging issues related to fighting the virus, $935 million for hospitals (increasing capacity, adding critical care beds, creating more COVID-19 assessment centres), $124 million for transitional projects (spaces to house less serious hospital patients in order to free up hospital beds), $243 million to provide emergency long-term care beds and virus containment measures at facilities, $80 million for paramedic services, $100 million in funding for public health units and $75 million for personal protective equipment for frontline workers.
Residents and businesses are receiving a total of $3.7 billion in direct support, including targeted initiatives aimed at different populations.
For parents of children 12 and under, a $336-million program was announced that will see a one-time payment of $200 per child and $250 for a child with special needs as schools across the province remain shutdown. This applies to students in public and private schools. Parents will be able to apply for assistance under a portal that will soon be launched.
Low-income seniors who receive Guaranteed Annual Income System payments will see their benefits double (maximum of $332 a month and up from $166).
Students will see OSAP payments loan payments suspended for six months.
Meanwhile, there were numerous supports aimed at businesses. Corporations see $6 billion in provincial business tax interest and penalty relief for five months. For companies that pay less than $1 million in payroll, the province is spending $355 million for a temporary increase in the Employer Health Tax exemption. There will be a 10 per cent corporate tax credit for regions where there’s lagging employment growth. Also, $1.9 billion is being spent in order to allow for a deferral of WSIB premiums for up to six months.
The Ontario government is also deferring required property tax payments municipalities make to school boards for three months, noting it will represent $1.8 billion in savings. Municipalities were urged to provide deferrals to municipal taxpayers.
The aid package will now be considered by the Ontario legislature. However, Ontario’s opposition parties have indicated support for the bill despite calls for more action.
“The NDP will vote in favour of the financial statement bill and allow it to pass immediately,” a statement from the party issued Wednesday afternoon said.
“But (NDP Leader Andrea) Horwath said the province needs to do better to stop some people from finding themselves in dire financial straits, and preventing some businesses from going under.”
Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca said his party will back the measures, adding he wants to see more funding for personal protective equipment.