Eganville – An unprecedented additional $2.8 billion for broadband which will see an additional 700,000 homes in rural, Eastern and Northern Ontario connected is making Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP and Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski especially excited about the Ontario budget and investments the province is making in his riding.
“It is historic; it is beyond what anyone saw was coming,” he said. “I was so glad to see it. It is so needed.” The investment brings the provincial investment to $4 billion over six years, beginning with initial investments when their first budget was released in 2019.
“This is the biggest investment in broadband in Canada’s history,” he added. “This says we are serious about connecting the people of rural Ontario. We are not waiting on the federal government.”
Although the investment is now contingent on additional federal funding, Minister Yakabuski is hoping this will nudge the federal government to a similar investment.
“We expect the federal government to come to the table as a full partner,” he said. “They have not.”
The need for fast, reliable broadband has become highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rural migration from the cities, he noted.
“But it is not just the rural migration,” he said. “It is part of the pandemic. The pandemic has illustrated in box car letters, as my dad used to say, we need to move on this as expeditiously as possible.”
If people want to have equal opportunities in rural Ontario, then broadband is key, he said.
“This is the biggest game changer across the riding,” he said.
The province is investing in a combination of wired, wireless and low orbiting satellites to bring broadband to the area.
This budget has been very much impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and some funding is causally related to the pandemic. Minister Yakabuski pointed out the province has a $1 billion investment in vaccination in the budget.
“We know vaccinations are key to getting this pandemic in our rear-view mirror,” he said.
The budget also allocates $1.4 billion for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which includes masks and gloves and $1.8 billion in new funding for hospitals to provide care for COVID patients, address surgical backlogs and keep pace with patient needs as part of a $5.1 billion funding announcement.
Issues at long-term-care homes were highlighted during the COVID pandemic and the province is investing funding in new beds and to improve conditions in homes. Long-term care homes and retirement homes will see a commitment from the province in the form of a grant for Personal Support Workers who commit to six months at a home or $10,000 for nurses who commit to one year at a home, he said.
“We need to incentivize people to support the most vulnerable,” he said.
Minister Yakabuski noted the province is investing in more long-term care beds, adding he was in Deep River recently to make a major announcement about a new home and new beds.
“We need new additional modern homes to give people the dignity they need,” he said.
Long-term care homes will also see funding for approximately four hours per resident per day for care. He said this will create 27,000 new positions in the next four years and is part of $4.9 billion funding commitment. The four-hour commitment has been a request for the last 15 years, he added.
“We are the first government to act on it,” he said. “This is a commitment to our aging population.”
Minister Yakabuski acknowledged this is a huge local issue as well since the county population has a large percentage of elderly people and more are moving into that category.
“Every day we become closer to that need,” he said. “I’m part of the baby boom too.”
A Senior Home Safety Tax will help seniors be able to stay at home with accommodations made to their home, he said. There is $30 million allocated to make homes more livable, he said.
The budget is providing additional funding for mental health and additions issues of $175 million, which brings the total to $3.8 billion over 10 years.
Business Funding and COVID supports
The Ontario budget is investing $260 million in business training and re-training, Minister Yakabuski said. As well businesses affected by COVID continue to receive support from the government, he said.
“Small busines grants which were so vital to help businesses to keep their head above ground,” he said. “We are repeating the grants for businesses that are eligible.”
As well, there are regional tax credits of between $20,000 to $40,000 for businesses that had to make renovations or additions because of COVID-19.
Minister Yakabuski said the government is also investing in tourism and hospitality which is a vital industry in the riding.
“Renfrew County is a tourism mecca,” he said.
The province is investing $400 million in four years in this sector.
“We want to attract people to businesses and to help businesses,” he said.
Part of this support was announced last year with the 20 per cent tax credit for vacationing in Ontario.
Municipalities will also receive additional safe restart funding.
This is very much a pandemic budget and pre-pandemic budget projections of balanced budgets by the Conservatives have had to shift because of COVID-19 pressures. While there will be an end to the pandemic, it is important to support Ontario business and Ontarians, Minister Yakabuski pointed out. He said this is a priority in the budget and the province is also projecting growth when the pandemic comes to an end. In preparing the outlook for future years they are using lower projections for growth than many American states have but are anticipating a bright future.
“Once we put the pandemic behind us there will be a desire to create things and do things,” he said. “We are expecting our economy to grow.”
The Conservative Ford Government is anticipating balancing the budget by as early as 2029. Considering the challenges of the pandemic, Minister Yakabuski said it is a very responsible budget.
“There was no choice in the actions we took,” he said. “We think we have been responsible and have a plan to bring us back to balance in a prudent way. This banks on the ingenuity of the Ontario spirit.”
Minister Yakabuski said the province is investing $51 billion in total supports over four years to protect Ontarian’s health and the economy. This is divided into $16.3 billion directly to protect health and $23.3 billion to protect the economy. As well as $11.3 billion to improve cash flow for people and businnesses.
The province has also not forgotten the commitment to four-lane Highway 417 to Renfrew and this prior funding announcement is still budgeted for, Minister Yakabuski added.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader