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Inside the 198-page plan to 'Build Ontario'
In this edition: an email Q+A with Peter Bethlenfalvy on the mini-budget, the Green Party's next steps, Batters ejected from caucus
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In this 10 minute read, a look inside Ontario’s 198-page fall economic statement. Ontario’s treasurer speaks on the province’s post-pandemic recovery. Plus, the Green Party’s next steps and a petition to review Erin O’Toole’s leadership leaves a Saskatchewan senator out of the Conservative caucus.
Two new highways, an increased minimum wage, a new tax credit, and a growing deficit — these were the highlights of the 198-page fall economic statement tabled by Premier Doug Ford’s government, detailing how it will “build the foundation” for Ontario’s post-pandemic recovery and protect the province’s progress in the fight against COVID-19.
The government projects a deficit of $21.5 billion in this fiscal year, over $11 billion below what was projected in the yearly budget. The improvement is attributed to a "stronger economic growth outlook," as well as updated information on the financial impact of COVID-19, according to the province. In the next fiscal year, the deficit is expected to be $19.6 billion — followed by annual deficits of $12.9 billion, $8.1 billion, and $7.2 billion.
The provincial net debt-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio is projected to be 43.4 per cent, 5.4 points lower than the 48.8 per cent projected in the previous budget. Ontario is forecast to pay $13.0 billion in interest costs in this fiscal year — down from the $13.1 billion projected in the previous budget. Government spending will increase to $189.1 billion.
Two new highways are coming to Ontario
$1.6 billion over six years will be invested to “support large bridge rehabilitation projects and the advancement of highway expansion projects,” including the controversial Bradford Bypass and Highway 413.
The Bradford Bypass is a new 16.2-kilometre four-lane freeway that will link Highway 400 and Highway 404 in Simcoe County and York Region. The highway has been embroiled in controversy — the government rerouted the highway to avoid cutting across the edge of a golf course owned by the father of Stan Cho, the province’s Associate Minister of Transportation.
Highway 413 would link the Highway 401 and 407 junction to Highway 400, according to the province. The government says the province will fully fund the highways but has yet to provide detailed costing of the projects.
Increased minimum wage, no tax cuts
The province will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour effective January. The plan would eliminate the special minimum wage rate for liquor servers by raising it to the general minimum wage.
“Workers on the frontlines of our retail, wholesale, gaming, warehousing, and broader service sectors who are paid a fraction of their worth will see this increase directly. I’m glad this government has reversed course and has now decided to raise workers’ wages,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president
While the update did not include any tax cuts, the province unveiled a temporary Ontario Staycation Tax Credit for the upcoming tax year. The new credit would provide Ontarians with support of 20% of eligible accommodation expenses of up to $1,000 for an individual and $2,000 for a family. The province will also extend the temporary Seniors’ Home Safety Tax Credit by one year.
Education and healthcare spending
According to the update, education base funding is $30.8 billion — down from the $31.26 billion projected in the government’s budget. However, the province says an additional $760 million in time-limited pandemic funding was added to the education budget, which amounts to a total of $31.56 million in spending.
On healthcare, the province is adding an additional $549 million over three years to expand home-care services. The funding would support 28,000 post-acute surgical patients and 21,000 patients with complex health conditions every year, per the province. Over 5,000 registered nurses and practical nurses, and 8,000 personal support workers will be trained with $342 million in funding. In addition, the province will add 3,100 new hospital beds by investing $1.8 billion.
‘A mirage of a plan’ — Opposition parties react to the mini-budget
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the “budget update has none of what Ontarians need now.” If the NDP were in government, Horwath said the budget would be “overhauled to invest in people.” Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said the mini-budget “failed on vaccine mandates, childcare, education, support for small business, and so much more.” He called the statement proof that only his party can lead Ontario’s post-COVID recovery.
“Anti-climate and anti-affordability” is how Green leader Mike Schreiner described the statement. Schreiner said Ford “has his head buried in the concrete” on climate change. “The entire 200-page budget update mentions climate change just four times but highways 58 times,” Schreiner added.
‘A plan that will build the foundation for Ontario’s economic recovery’ — Q+A with Ontario’s treasurer
In an email exchange with newsBeyond, Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy spoke on the Ontario’s fall economic statement, the province’s two new highways, the price of gas, and more. Here are the highlights of what Bethlenfalvy had to say:
What are the highlights of your government's plan to “Build Ontario?”
“This is a plan that will build the foundation for Ontario’s economic recovery and prosperity by getting shovels in the ground on critical infrastructure, attracting increased investment and restoring leadership in auto manufacturing and other industries. Ontario’s plan is based on three pillars: Building Ontario by getting shovels in the ground for highways, hospitals, housing, and high-speed internet. Protecting Ontario’s progress and the hard-fought gains Ontario has made in fighting COVID-19 by continuing to build a health and long-term care system that delivers the quality of care that our loved ones deserve, while continuing to protect communities and families. Working for Workers by focusing on the workers of Ontario, because Ontario workers should be in a race to the top, not a race to the bottom.”
On economic uncertainty related to the pandemic: “Acknowledging the continued uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government plans to provide an updated fiscal recovery plan in the 2022 Budget.”
The government will proceed with the building of two new controversial highways — the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413. The cost of these two projects were not outlined. How much will they cost the province?
“The Bradford Bypass and Highway 413 are provincial assets which will be funded. The expense associated with these highway projects would only be recorded in future years after they have reached substantial completion, and do not factor into the current year’s expense figures. The full costing of these projects is also commercially sensitive information and could undermine the bidding process when it gets underway.”
Is the government banking on these two highways to win re-election in June?
“We must be very cognizant of the realities of our transportation infrastructure. We need our roads and infrastructure to keep up with the times. The Greater Golden Horseshoe is expected to grow by one million people every five years, reaching nearly 15 million people by 2051. Addressing transportation needs here is critical to address population growth and to add to the competitiveness of the economy.”
Highways were mentioned sixteen times in the statement. The price of gas was not mentioned once. What message does this send to commuters, and can Ontarians expect action on the rising gas prices in the province?
“The government recognizes the significant impact of rising gas prices on affordability for people and businesses in Ontario. Since taking office, our government has cut the gas tax by 4.6 cents. As the Premier has committed to, we will match any reduction in federal gas taxes.”
Education base funding decreased to $30.8 billion in this month’s economic statement. However, the province added $760 million in time-limited funding. Can you explain why the education base funding went down?
“Due to spending money for schools for COVID-19 relief, the government filed these expenses under COVID-19 supports rather than general education to differentiate between direct COVID-19 supports and other spending. Overall funding for education is increasing in 2021-22. In the previous budget, total education spending for 2021-22 was projected at $32,953.2 million. In the Fall Economic Statement, total spending is projected to be $33,186.9M. As well, year-over-year spending in Education has increased from $32,881M to $33,186.9M. The Ministry of Education had an actual spending of $32.9 billion in 2020-21 and a current outlook of $33.2 billion in 2021-22, an increase of over $300 million.”
Three years ago, the government froze a proposed wage increase by the Wynne government. What led to the decision to increase the minimum wage?
“As Ontario continues to adapt to the challenges posed by the global pandemic, the government is ensuring that the province remains open for business so the economy can grow and continue providing incomes for workers. For too long wages for many have not kept up with the cost of living, which is why Ontario is proposing to increase the general minimum wage to $15 per hour effective January 1, 2022, representing a 4.5 per cent increase over the current minimum wage. Annual increases indexed based on the Ontario Consumer Price Index would resume on October 1, 2022. Ontario would continue to work to raise the minimum wage with a gradual progressive approach which will help employers adjust without having to lay off employees or close.”
If there is one message your government is trying to send to Ontarians from this mini budget, what would it be?
“Our government has and will continue to do what is necessary to protect our progress against COVID-19. Yet we are also looking to the future. Tomorrow’s prosperity depends on getting shovels in the ground today. We are laying the foundation for Ontario’s economic recovery by building highways, hospitals, housing and high-speed internet. Very simply: This is our plan for jobs, our plan for opportunities and our plan to Build Ontario.”
Some answers were edited for length and clarity.
Annamie Paul resigns, ends party membership — what’s next for the Green Party
Annamie Paul has formally resigned as leader of the Green Party, following the end of a legal conflict with the party on compensation for legal costs — as CBC News first reported. Paul says she will also end her membership in the party. “It was an honour to work for the people of Canada and I look forward to serving in new ways,” said Paul in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon.
In a letter to members, obtained by newsBeyond, party president Lorraine Rekmans thanked Paul for her leadership over the past year, citing her performance during the leaders’ debate. “Highlights include her outstanding performance during the 2021 Leaders’ Debate and her dedication to diversity, one of our six core values,” said Rekmans.
“Annamie has rightly pointed out that much work remains to be done to turn our diversity values into practice. I know that Greens will be dedicated to that work over the coming months and years.”
As party members begin the search for a new leader, newsBeyond has learned that the party’s federal council met on Sunday to discuss the party’s next steps and the recruitment of an interim leader. The party’s governing members decided to cancel the review of Annamie Paul’s leadership review, newsBeyond has also learned. Paul’s 30-day notice of resignation was accepted by the party, as the Star’s Alex Ballingall first reported.
According to Rekmans’ email to members, the federal council will be “encouraging candidates from equity-seeking groups and persons from all parts of Canada to apply” for the interim leadership of the party. An interim leader is expected to be named before November 24.
In late 2020, Paul became the first Jewish woman and Black person to lead a major federal party, defeating lawyer and activist Dimitri Lascaris.
Senator Denise Batters has been ejected from the Conservative caucus after launching a petition to review Erin O’Toole’s leadership. “I will not tolerate an individual discrediting and showing a clear lack of respect towards the efforts of the entire Conservative caucus,” O’Toole said in a statement on Tuesday evening. Batters says she raised her concerns “with Mr. O'Toole directly. He did not respond and he did not act. I then asked publicly that our members have a voice. His response now is to kick me out.” Reaction from Gerard Deltell, Michelle Rempel, Marilyn Gladu, and a “hopping mad” unnamed Conservative member.
Toronto District School Board has placed 100 permanent staff and 693 occasional staff on a non-disciplinary unpaid leave of absence after failing to attest to their vaccination status, as newsBeyond first reported. A board spokesperson said the “vast majority” of employees placed on leave have not worked with the board during this school year and warned that numbers will change over the coming days with more staff attesting.
As one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccines begin to arrive in Canada, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos’s office tells newsBeyond that requests for the vaccine have primarily come from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. “It should be noted that any amount of coverage is better than none, and we will always support ways to reach the vaccine hesitant,” his office added.
Days after Ontario paused the lifting of capacity limits in remaining higher-risk settings, new provincial modelling shows “a real rise” in cases of COVID-19, given flat testing rates, but rising positivity in several regions. The province's Science Table concludes that "a deliberate pause on re-opening is the right decision at this time.” Read the modelling here.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has unveiled the party's new shadow cabinet. Candice Bergen and Gerard Deltell will remain in party leadership. Pierre Polievere will take the Finance gig, Michelle Rempel moves to Natural Resources and Luc Berthold takes the Health portfolio. MPs who raised concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines did not receive a portfolios. The full list of shadow ministers here.
WHAT WE’RE READING
CBC NEWS: “Departing officials complain Commons clerk was partial to Liberals, fell asleep during question period” by Ashley Burke
CTV NEWS: “Ontario will start immunizing children against COVID-19 this month: Moore” by Michael Woods
TORONTO STAR: “Ontario has 3.5 billion reasons not to sign on to Ottawa’s daycare plan — for now” by Robert Benzie and Tonda MacCharles
GLOBAL NEWS: “O’Toole facing open revolt as Saskatchewan senator pushes leadership review” by Alex Boutilier
CNN: “Exasperation and dysfunction: Inside Kamala Harris' frustrating start as vice president” by Edward-Isaac Dovere and Jasmine Wright
Last week’s, we asked for the date of the border closure between the United States and Canada. If you guessed March 21, 2020, you’re correct. Throwback to this tweet from CBC News’ Katie Simpson on details of the border closure.
ANSWER THIS: Who was the youngest person ever elected to the House of Commons? Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org.