On March 24, Minister of Finance and President of the Treasury Board Peter Bethlenfalvy released Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy.
The 2021 budget is the next phase of Ontario’s response to COVID-19 and is the second budget the government has delivered during the pandemic. It builds on the government’s investments in response to the pandemic.
The province is committing $51 billion over four years in the Ontario 2021 Budget. Funding is allocated to multiple sectors, from business to COVID-19 relief and tourism.
Nature and Outdoor Tourism Ontario (NOTO) have been advocating for more funding for the tourism industry since the beginning of the pandemic last year and were happy to see that the budget included just that.
The 2021 Budget states that it will allocate $400 million for the tourism sector over the next four years with $100 million in one-time grants of between $10,000 and $20,000 to eligible tourism and hospitality small businesses, $100 million toward the Ontario Tourism Recovery Program to help “historically successful businesses” get back on their feet and $150 million for a tax credit to encourage Ontarians to explore the province once public health experts say it is safe to travel.
Tabatha Bull, President and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) was also pleased with the budget, issuing a statement outlining more opportunities to support Indigenous businesses through the budget.
Bull also said CCAB appreciates the province’s commitment to provide every household in Ontario with broadband internet by 2025, adding that through CCAB’s research, they found that 14 per cent either have no internet connection and 26 per cent do not have a connection on which they can fully rely on.
These issues are more common for Indigenous businesses located on reserve and in remote areas.
Some additional funding in the budget includes: $1 billion for ongoing vaccination campaigns, up to $5 million for a one-year extension for AgriRecovery initiatives, including those related to livestock processing capacity, such as beef and pork set aside programs and $4.5 million over three years to connect youth and adults with disabilities to employment opportunities
While there was some excitement, many were not as impressed.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed what happens when public services are chronically underfunded,” said Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President in a press release.
Coates said the budget fails to keep education spending in line with the rate of inflation, and that once again that the education of Ontarians, or the safety of education workers, students and their families is not a priority.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario is calling the government of Ontario’s Spring Budget ‘yet another missed opportunity.’
Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario said the budget is a re-hashing of measure that have not gone far enough to protect people and have only extended the burden put on marginalized communities.
Official opposition NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, said in a press release that Ontario’s 2021 budget was an opportunity to give people help to make it through the pandemic and hope for the future, but it did not do that.
Horwath said the budget does not add any new supports for long-term care residents, paid sick days and paid time off for people to get vaccines.
Laura Mae Lindo, official opposition NDP critic for colleges and universities, said in a press release the budget put Ontario’s colleges and universities and students, on even shakier ground. “Between the impact of the pandemic and chronic underfunding for decades under Liberal and Conservative governments, universities and colleges have seen their funds plummet and their costs rise. Jobs, courses and programs are at risk,” said Lindo.
Due to the tightening of restrictions as COVID-19 case numbers rise in the province and northwestern Ontario, there is no indication of when business sectors will be able to to survive without government loans or grants.
Natali Trivuncic, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times