Ontario boosts health spending, plans to phase out COVID-19 supports

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TORONTO — Ontario is boosting health spending, including to add thousands more nurses, as well as investing more in roads and bridges and phasing out COVID-19 supports as it charts a path out of the pandemic.

The province released its fall economic statement Thursday, and it projects a deficit this fiscal year of $21.5 billion, under the $33.1 billion projection from the budget, largely due to higher-than-expected tax revenues and stronger economic growth.

Ontario is putting an additional $549 million over three years into home and community care to expand home-care services, funding an estimated 28,000 post-acute surgical patients and up to 21,000 patients with complex health conditions. It will help in providing nursing and therapy visits and personal support services, the government says.

As well, the province is set to spend $342 million to add and upgrade the skills of more than 5,000 registered nurses and registered practical nurses and 8,000 personal support workers. Another $57.6 million will go toward hiring 225 more nurse practitioners in long-term care, starting next year.

Ontario is also planning to spend $22 million over three years to integrate clinical information between hospitals and long-term care homes in order to streamline re-admissions and give information to families.

The government is allocating $2.6 billion for this year to expand and repair highways and bridges, as well as committing funding to advance the controversial Bradford Bypass and Highway 413 projects, though it hasn't said how much those roads will cost.

Opposition critics have questioned the value of those projects, including whether the routes were planned to benefit allies of Premier Doug Ford, how much time they will save commuters and the impacts to the environment.

The government has said Highway 413 would help alleviate congestion across the York, Peel and Halton regions. The Bradford Bypass would connect Highway 400 and Highway 404.

After putting $10.7 billion toward Ontario's COVID-19 time-limited funding this year, including school supports, the province plans to reduce it to $3.4 billion next year, and end it by 2023-24. Without including the COVID-19 time-limited funding, program spending is set to jump from $165.5 billion this year to $173 billion next year.

There are no tax cuts in the document, though the province is introducing a "staycation" tax credit and enhancing or extending several existing tax credits, including the Ontario Seniors' Home Safety tax credit.

A $15 minimum wage, announced Tuesday by Premier Doug Ford, is in the legislation as part of the fall economic statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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