All of the emergency COVID-19 money will be spent by March, Ontario bureaucrats insist
Published Wednesday, February 10, 2021 11:06AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 10, 2021 1:22PM EST
All of the $13.3 billion the federal government and province put up to help Ontario get through the COVID-19 pandemic will be spent by the end of March, provincial officials say.
However, there are still $4.5 billion in several reserve funds that could be used to reduce the $38.5 billion provincial deficit if they are not spent by the end of March.
A ministry of finance spokesperson told CP24 the government intends to spend the reserve funds by March.
All of Ontario’s major opposition parties, labour groups, and other advocacy groups have slammed the Ford government in recent months, accusing them of refusing to fund a paid sick leave and self-isolation program even though they have the funds to do so.
“They’ve claimed that we haven’t spent the money, these claims are incorrect,” Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy told reporters Wednesday.
Medical officers of health in the GTA and elsewhere have cited workers being unable to afford to miss work as a major cause of transmission of COVID-19.
In Peel Region, contact tracers documented more than 2,000 examples of infected workers heading into work instead of staying home during the last four months.
Provincial officials have said that it would not make sense for them to duplicate a federal program, The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, but critics say that program is inadequate because it forces workers to go unpaid and then claim money after the fact, it only pays $1,000 for two weeks and can only be used once.
Ontario Labour Minister Monte McNaughton has asked the federal government to adjust the program.
Bethlenfalvy said that there have been ongoing discussions with the federal government to make the program better.
“I know that the Premier has discussed that with the PM, I have with Chrystia Freeland and our minister of Labour Monte McNaughton with Carla Qualtrough,” he said. “That that program which is over $1 billion, which is there for our most needy who are requiring to be tested in order to access.”
The program as it stands also requires people to seek a test in order to access the money.
“We want to incentivize people to get tested – we’ve talked to the federal government to make the awareness go up, because there’s much funding available, it isn’t a question of money, to make it simpler and to make it faster.”
But provincial officials speaking on background said Wednesday that there has been no attempt to develop or even estimate costs for a made-in-Ontario sick and isolation leave program.
In the third quarter fiscal update on Wednesday morning, provincial officials released that the 2020/2021 budget deficit is still on track to be $38.5 billion.
Some increases in sales tax revenue and federal help was offset by increased spending on hospitals, vaccine distribution and $1.4 billion for grants to small businesses forced to close due to the provincial state of emergency in January.
Officials said by Wednesday that 80,000 applications for the grants have been made so far, representing $1 billion.