Remarks on the Ontario 2020 Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19

Below are my remarks, delivered in the Ontario Legislature on March 25th, 2020 during debate on the Government's one-year economic statement and the Ontario 2020 Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19. Check against delivery.

You can find the full economic statement here: https://budget.ontario.ca/2020/marchupdate/contents.html

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Our world has changed in the last two weeks. No one can deny that we face - our province and our country face - an immense challenge.

In his inaugural speech, at the height of the great depression Franklin Roosevelt spoke to a fearful nation, “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” He said, “Yet compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for.”

We too should be thankful, Mr. Speaker.

Thankful for our brave and unceasing healthcare workers. Our doctors and nurses, hospital administrators and cleaning staff.

Thankful for our heroic emergency responders: our police, firefighters, and paramedics and their families.

For undaunted everyday heroes, stocking grocery store shelves, manufacturing hand sanitizer, running food banks, bringing supplies to seniors, pitching-in.

I also want to thank you, Mr. Speaker for your continued service to this House. Thank you to our dedicated clerks, the sergeant-at-arms, security officers, translators and Hansard. To our staff, and bureaucrats who have worked around the clock to ensure the government can act and act now.

To the media who have helped keep Ontarians informed and educated, in this time when information is the most important weapon we have. And thank you to my colleagues on all sides of the House for your presence here today and to those who cannot be here. For serving in this time of great uncertainty, for putting differences and politics aside to protect Ontarians. And for defending, even in this time of crisis the democracy we cherish as Canadians.

Thank you.

Like everyone Mr. Speaker, I have struggled over the past days. I have felt anxious about the future. I have worried for loved ones, about the health of my elderly parents, the livelihoods of friends losing jobs and going out of business, about finances, and food. And I have felt helpless, Mr. Speaker. Watching the endless news of new cases and economic uncertainty.

While we cannot deny these are challenging times. We cannot forget that we face them together. That no one is alone.

We face these challenges together, with our families, and our communities - as Team Ontario. It will be hard, but we will get through this time together.

Ontarians are strong. And your government will do everything necessary to protect you.

From the beginning of this crisis, Mr. Speaker this government has taken swift action. We have worked tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of Ontarians.

On March 17th, the government declared a State of Emergency and announced an initial investment of $304 Million to respond immediately to the COVID-19 pandemic. An investment to increase hospital capacity, provide more testing, protect front-line workers, vulnerable seniors, and indigenous communities.

In the 8 days since then, our government has continued to act to ensure the health and safety of every Ontarian. We have worked to limit the spread of the virus and flatten the curve by closing non-essential businesses, closing schools, and public spaces. Last week, with the help of members of all parties, this House passed emergency legislation ensuring no worker would lose their job for self-isolating, taking care of their children, or looking after a loved-one.

We are working with businesses across the province to produce much needed medical supplies, working with municipalities and food-producers to keep deliveries of food and essential products reaching store shelves around the clock, and working to ensure our children can continue their education from the safety of their home.

This pandemic has moved quickly, and the situation has changed by the hour. But thanks to the dedication of Ontario’s health officials, our public service, and leaders at all three levels of government we have acted just as quickly: providing childcare to frontline healthcare workers, enhancing screening measures, and providing immediate electricity rate relief for families and small business.

Today, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has taken another critical step, by tabling the Ontario 2020 Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, to safeguard the health of Ontarians, and to provide support to people and businesses as we face the economic symptoms of this unprecedented health emergency.

The health and safety of our people is this government’s number one priority. And today’s economic statement lays out a first phase response to ensure hospitals and public health officials have the resources they need to protect us.

The government will invest an additional $3.3 Billion in the health sector in 2020-21. Including $1.2 Billion in new spending to meet the increased demand in the health and long-term care sector and $2.1 Billion in new measures to fight COVID-19. This investment will help us increase our hospital capacity, create over 70 additional assessment centers, increase lab testing capacity, more funding for public health units, and surge capacity in long-term care. It will also include $75 Million in new spending for Personal Protective Equipment and critical supplies for our courageous frontline workers. We will do everything we can to protect them, so that they can continue to protect us.

Ontarians are stepping up, Mr. Speaker. They are also doing their part to protect our frontline workers, their families and neighbours, by simply staying home.

Physical distancing and the closing of non-essential businesses has been hard on people, on businesses and our economy. But it is a vital step in stemming the spread of COVID-19.

Today, our government is proposing a multitude of responsible and responsive measures to protect individuals, families, communities, businesses, industries, and our provincial economy during this crisis. The $17 Billion in support proposed today reflect how seriously the government takes the threat posed by this global pandemic.

In addition to the $3.3 Billion in new healthcare spending, our government is proposing $3.7 Billion in direct supports for people and businesses, and an additional $10 Billion through tax and other deferrals to leave more money in people’s pockets and improve cash flow for businesses over the coming months.

Our government, Mr. Speaker, will always protect those most vulnerable in our communities. I know, in my community of Willowdale, our seniors and especially low-income seniors are grappling to cope with the side-effects of physical distancing.

This generation, that worked hard to provide a better Ontario for their children and grandchildren are particularly at risk of infection and severe illness. Many live alone, and struggle even under normal circumstances to safely complete daily tasks like shopping for groceries, traveling to see a doctor, or visiting family.

If passed, the Ontario 2020 Action Plan would provide an additional $75 Million for low-income seniors by doubling the Guaranteed Annual Income System payments. This increase would provide eligible seniors with additional funds to stock up on necessary supplies, pay for delivery of groceries for example, or pay for internet so they can video-call their grandkids.

Our government is also working with our partners in the municipal and not-for-profit sectors to coordinate subsidized deliveries of meals, medicines, and other essentials for seniors. We’re working with municipalities to add funding where it will matter most, providing additional funding to Direct Social Services Administration Boards and service providers so that they can respond quickly on the ground to local needs.

For Ontarians with student debt we are proposing a six-month suspension on OSAP loan repayments and interest, leaving more money in the pockets of young Ontarians starting out in their careers.

These measures and other new investments in our social services sector will build on the work this government has been undertaking for the past year to make life more affordable for all Ontarians. We’ve lowered income tax on the lowest income earners, provided support for childcare and dental care to low-income families and seniors respectively. And we will build on the emergency measures taken this week like lowering electricity costs and expanding eligibility for the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program.

No matter where in Ontario you live – Windsor or Kenora – no matter how much money you make, whether you are a senior or teenager, living in affordable housing, a condo, a house or on a farm – we have your back.

Today, our government is also proposing important measures that will support businesses and buttress Ontario’s economy through the global economic uncertainty ahead.

Over the past week I have been on the phone with businesses of all sizes in my riding of Willowdale and across the province. From restaurant owners, cleaning companies, and accountants, to manufacturers, duty free stores, and farmers. I have heard one thing consistently from every entrepreneur and business owner I’ve spoken to. They’ve all asked: what can I do to help the government? What can I do to help our communities? This is the Ontario Spirit the Premier talks about.

And it doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Growing up in a small business family, I know first-hand that business owners are often the last to get paid. They often go without a paycheck so they can pay their employees and keep the doors open. And so, in a time of crisis, the first question business owners often ask is: “are the people that rely on me going to be okay?”

The threat to our economy and especially to our small businesses in unprecedented and we know that this threat will have monumental consequences for real people, for families. To help businesses across Ontario, our government is proposing to provide $10 Billion in tax and other deferrals to free up much need cash flow to help businesses bridge to better days ahead and to keep their employees in their jobs and on the payroll.

Our government is proposing to double the Employer Health Tax exemption in 2020. This change, if passed, would reduce the Employer Health Tax for 57,000 private-sector job creators, and eliminate the tax altogether for 30,000 businesses, adding $350 Million into our economy.

We are taking bold and necessary action to ensure jobs are protected. By providing interest and penalty relief of five months for businesses to file and make payments for most provincially administered taxes, businesses can redirect cash to maintaining payroll, covering rent payments, and staying afloat.

These measures will provide businesses in Ontario with $6 Billion in needed cash flow and financial flexibility. As Ontario’s businesses are shifting to help in our fight against COVID-19 - from retooling auto manufacturing plants to make ventilators and producing hand sanitizer in craft distilleries, to restaurants offering “contact-less food deliveries” and seniors-only shopping hours at pharmacies - we, in turn, must do everything we can to fight for businesses.

Building a business is hard in the best of economic times. In the challenging times ahead, we must remember that behind every small business is a small business family. Fighting to survive, to improve their community. Responsible for the livelihoods of their employees and their families, working long hours.

These measures and the measures being taken by our partners in the Federal Government will help them weather the storm. Growing up, my parents always told me and my siblings to “save for rainy day”.

When times were good, and their convenience store was doing well, they would save every penny they could. They knew that when times were tough - when the store was robbed, or the basement flooded, and they were forced to close - they would still need to put food on the table for our family.

Our government too has been saving for a rainy day.

Over the past year and half, we have been working diligently toward fiscal prudence and financial stability. So that when the storm came, we would have the resources to act - the fiscal flexibility to take extraordinary measures to help Ontarians.

The storm has come, Mr. Speaker. And our government will spare no expense to protect the people we serve.

Despite our physical isolation, this pandemic has brought us all closer together. Our communities and our province have come together to help and encourage one another. In this House, we have set aside our partisan difference, and united in the thing we have always shared: the desire to better our communities and our province.

It’s why I am hopeful that this bill, the Ontario 2020 Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19 will be supported by all members of this house. And I am hopeful that this spirit of cooperation and multi-partisanship will last beyond our current crisis.

Our government will continue to act, Mr. Speaker. We will spare no cost in protecting the health and safety of Ontarians and we will do everything necessary to support individuals, families, communities, businesses and industries in the trying times ahead.

We cannot deny the dark realities of the moment, but we must have hope. We must take solace in the Ontario Spirit and see the good in those around us. We will get through this together. Know that your government is in your corner, fighting alongside you, making sure no one is left behind. Know that you are not alone.

Our great province will endure. We will endure, we will recover, and we will prosper.

Thank you.