Drop in provincial spending relative to inflation in healthcare, education criticized by Beaches-East York politicians

Michael Garron Hospital in East York opened its new Ken and Marilyn Thomson Patient Care Centre earlier this year.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ontario’s Finance Minister, Peter Bethlenfalvy, presented a record high $204 billion budget last Thursday (March 23), but many in the East Toronto community say they are far from happy with the way this money is being allocated.

With the Province of Ontario focussed on balancing the budget and steadily reducing its deficit, locals fear this is being accomplished at the expense of the individuals who most need government help during this economically inflated period.

Beaches-East York Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told Beach Metro Community News that although he welcomes the budget in some areas, it “mostly misses the mark”.

“The budget is long on rhetoric and short on the serious action needed to solve Ontario’s most pressing challenges,” said Erskine-Smith. “We deserve a government that acts with competence, compassion, and integrity in tackling the significant challenges we face in Ontario, And plainly, we aren’t getting what we deserve.”

Erskine-Smith, who was first elected as MP for Beaches-East York in the 2015 federal election, is seriously contemplating a bid to become the leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.

Although the fiscally-focussed provincial budget predicts that Ontario will end the 2024-2025 fiscal year with a $200 million surplus—a surplus that could increase to $4.4 billion the following year, balancing Ontario’s budget three years earlier than anticipated—this appears to be happening mostly due to a period of higher inflation.

“We see an increase in funding that is less than half of inflation,” said Erskine-Smith. “It will lead to cuts.”

Essential sectors have been increasingly underserved even though the level of funding appears to have increased. One of the biggest concerns is the lack of action in regards to Ontario’s struggling healthcare system, said Erskine-Smith.

“While the budget talks building hospitals, there’s no real plan to address staffing challenges or to solve the fact that two million Ontarians don’t have access to a family doctor,” he said.

Ontario’s 2023 budget looks to allocate $240.1 billion to the health sector which, compared to 2022’s budget, is a 3.89 per cent increase.

However, this increase does not match the current inflation rate of 5.2 per cent. Essentially, Ontario is cutting funding in certain areas as the proposed spending does keep up with inflation.

This comes after reports from the Financial Accountability Office (FAO) that the province will be unable to meet its current healthcare goals with a shortfall of $21.3 billion in spending by 2027-2028. The FAO forecasts that Ontario will be short 33,000 nurses in five years.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) also blasted the budget’s “modest investments in nursing”.

“Finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy announced $15 million to keep 100 mid-to-late career nurses working in the system and $22 million to support newly-graduated nurses working in hospitals,” said an RNAO press release. “While welcome, the measures and funding pale in comparison to the enormous need facing the profession”

The same issue of an inflationary-based funding increase can also be seen in the education sector where investments will increase by 1.47 per cent. Again that is below the 5.2 per cent rate of inflation.

“Education is even more neglected,” said Erskine-Smith. “We deserve excellence in public education for our kids. And that means the best facilities, teachers, and programs.”

With $71 billion set aside for transit and $28 billion allocated for highways over the next decade, the tabled budget does, however, attempt to secure Ontario’s financial future with an emphasis on infrastructure.

However, Erskine-Smith said “there’s entirely insufficient action to strengthen our social safety net to make sure no one is left behind” as the budget lacked a plan to tackle the province’s affordability crisis.

The Ontario budget predicts that there will be fewer housing starts next year than this, and shows signs the province is falling behind on plans to build 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years.

“There’s nothing meaningful in the budget to build more homes, deliver housing affordability, or resolve the chaos of slashing development charges,” said Erskine-Smith.

Beaches-East York MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon, who is also a Liberal, said the Ontario budget was lacking in appropriate spending.

She told Beach Metro Community News that the budget simply “doesn’t do enough”.

“It doesn’t provide Ontarians with relief for the struggles they are facing, and it failed to address the affordability crisis in a concrete way,” she said.

McMahon especially took issue with the lack of interest in climate action reflected in the budget.

“The climate emergency will not be solved with clean steel and electric vehicles alone,” said McMahon. “We need significant action to prevent further warming and I did not see this here. The government needs a bold approach to this province’s future and this budget was nothing but status quo.”

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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