Ontario introduces $17B virus aid; more than doubles deficit

COVID aid doubles deficit

Ontario introduced a $17-billion package Wednesday to support the province through the COVID-19 outbreak, including an influx of cash for the health sector, direct payments to parents, and tax breaks for businesses.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the government is confident that every dollar invested through the plan that saves a life or a job is a dollar well spent.

"COVID-19 is an extraordinary threat to the health and economy of Ontario — the greatest we've faced in my lifetime — and it demands an extraordinary response from all levels of government and civil society because we're all in this together," he said while tabling an emergency one-year fiscal outlook.

All parties worked together to get the legislation passed in one afternoon.

The spending boost includes a $1-billion COVID-19 contingency fund, nearly $1 billion more for hospitals, and more personal protective equipment for front-line workers.

Measures also include a one-time payment for parents of $200 per child 12 years old and under, doubling payments for low-income seniors and suspending student loan payments for six months.

The plan includes both $7 billion in new spending and $10 billion in tax and other deferrals. The moves will contribute to a major hit to Ontario's bottom line, pushing the deficit from $9 billion to a projected $20.5 billion for 2020-21 — a level not seen since the aftermath of the 2008 recession.

More than $3 billion in funding is directed toward health care. In addition to the COVID-19 fund and the hospital spending boost — which includes money for 1,000 acute care and 500 critical care beds — the plan includes $243 million for surge capacity in the long-term care sector, $160 million for public health and $75 million for more personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

"There are certain moments that define a generation. COVID-19 is one of those moments," Phillips said while tabling an emergency one-year fiscal outlook Wednesday.

"The closed schools and quiet streets will be remembered. But eventually, their memory will become more distant. But I will never forget...hearing cheers from nearby porches and balconies along the street for the front-line health-care workers at Ajax-Pickering hospital. Long after we defeat COVID-19, the Ontario spirit, at home in Ajax and across Ontario, will remain."

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