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Coronavirus: Government pitches 2021 as ‘year of the Ontario staycation’ during budget

Click to play video 'Queen’s Park unveils new Ontario budget amid pandemic' Queen’s Park unveils new Ontario budget amid pandemic
The Ontario government will spend a record $187 billion this year. The government unveiled a budget on Thursday with billions aimed at responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Travis Dhanraj reports. – Nov 5, 2020

Most residents have had to adjust or cancel their vacation plans this year due to the coronavirus, but the provincial government is hoping residents will keep any potential travel in 2021 inside Ontario’s borders.

“Fewer small business owners have been harder hit than our tourism operators,” Finance Minister Rod Phillips told the Ontario legislature during his budget speech on Thursday.

“We expect that travelling within Ontario will be safe sooner than travelling beyond our borders.”

Government officials announced $150 million in the budget, under a section dubbed 2021 — Year of the Ontario Staycation, is being set aside as they contemplate providing a tax credit to residents for up to 20 per cent of “eligible Ontario tourism expenses.”

Read more: Canadian tourism sector needs help through ‘very, very dire’ straits: industry heads

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As for what expenses will be eligible, Phillips told reporters it’s dependent on consultation with the tourism industry. He also said the second wave means the rollout timing isn’t clear yet.

The government said the tax credit will not be permanent.

As COVID-19-related vaccines and treatments continue to be developed in Canada and around the world, it’s unclear how that will affect the travel market in 2021.

Between February and May, officials said Ontario’s tourism-related industries (food services, accommodations, culture and recreation) experienced a 37-per-cent drop in jobs — a net reduction of approximately 282,000 jobs.

The announcement comes after months of calls for increased supports for the sector.

“It is, across the board, a very, very dire situation,” Charlotte Bell, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said during a federal committee hearing in August.

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Read more: How the coronavirus pandemic has put Canadian tourism in ‘survival mode’

Tourism association partners reported a revenue drop by between 61 and 100 per cent as a result of the public health-related restrictions, which for a period of time included limiting travel outside of the home just for essential needs. During the hearings, they said hotels saw a drop of between 70 and 90 per cent since March.

On top of public health-related orders, the land border crossings between Canada and the United States have been restricted to “essential” travel only.

The Ontario government reported, to date, 80,690 people in the province tested positive for coronavirus while 3,195 people have died. So far, 69,137 recovered from the virus.