Beaches-East York MP and MPP question province’s lack of spending on COVID-19 supports

Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown says the response of Premier Doug Ford's Ontario government to COVID-19 financial supports has been too little, too late.

By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As Ontario faces a second wave of COVID-19 infections, different levels of government are updating supports available for residents and businesses.

Premier Doug Ford announced Sept. 28 that the province had entered a second wave, and on Oct. 9 announced Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa were reverting back to a modified Stage 2 of its recovery plan. York Region joined in the province’s latest announcement on Oct. 16.

Also on Oct. 9, the federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland announced a newly updated rent relief program; the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, with the majority of support available until June 2021. Changes in rent relief include provisions allowing small business tenants to apply directly instead of through their landlords, and it was made easier to apply.

In addition, the federal supports have updated what was the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which ended Sept. 26. Eligible workers who stopped working or whose work hours were reduced resulting from COVID-19 can apply directly through Employment Insurance to receive the same benefit.

“We’ve reformed the EI system for the next six months for people who relied on CERB,” Beaches-East York MP Erskine-Smith said.

Businesses can access federal support through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Business Account loans.

Toronto-Danforth MP Julie Dabrusin said the changes and enhancements to federal COVID-19 relief came as a result of hearing from communities.

“This is an example of how the federal government has stepped up to support our communities,” she said. “We’ve seen programs evolve to what people are saying.”

During the announcement on Oct. 9 reverting Toronto and other regions back to Stage 2, Ford reassured small businesses saying he directed the Ontario Ministry of Finance to make $300 million available to support affected businesses. The funding is intended to help businesses with fixed costs for the next 28 days – the length of modified Stage 2.

Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips stated the same day that talks are ongoing with mayors to find solutions for property tax payments and with the Ministry of Energy to reduce energy costs.

But after several question period sessions with Premier Ford and his cabinet, Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown said it’s too little, too late.

“He [Ford] is sitting on billions of dollars of federal aid to help folks with COVID-19,” she said. “He wants to show his deficit isn’t bad, but it’s really bad economics.”

She added that the Ontario NDP heard no details about the $300 million announcement.

“You need to be open and transparent,” Berns-McGown said. “So people can understand the decisions you’re making, so people can adapt, and make sure it’s effective.”

Earlier this month, the province ended its moratorium on evictions, which had stopped evictions on or after June 3. As rent relief remains a critical support for many residents and businesses, both representatives from Beaches-East York are raising questions regarding the province’s relief strategy.

“To date, the federal government has delivered 95 per cent of total financial assistance,” Erskine-Smith said. “The province hasn’t even spent money we’ve given them, they’ve had federal commitments for months now.”

“If investments had been there in long term care, in testing and processing, in education, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Berns-McGown said.

Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer released a deficit projection of $37.2 billion for this year, which includes $9.6 billion consisting of $6.7 billion of the COVID-19 Health Sector Response Fund, and a standard contingency fund of $2.6 billion.

Berns-McGown said the Ontario NDP is concerned as to why Premier Ford has not allocated the money on COVID-19 services yet, while he is yet to provide details to the public of the $300 million support for businesses.

The province is aiming to increase testing to 50,000 per day by mid-October.

As Ontario and Canada continue to see record-breaking daily cases, Dabrusin suggests residents download the COVID Alert App to allow for effective contact tracing.

  • Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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