More can be done to relieve pressure on Ontario’s health care system, Premier Doug Ford acknowledged in Tuesday’s throne speech, but offered no new solutions to a problem that has led to temporary emergency room closures across the province.
Lt. Kuber. Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered Ford’s Speech from the Throne, marking the start of a new legislative session. The speech said the Progressive Conservative government is working with stakeholders in the health care system to come up with ideas to solve the problem.
Ford has been prime minister since 2018 and the speech outlined what he has already done for health, including adding thousands of hospital beds and nurses, investing in home and community care, introducing a bursary to attract health workers to rural and remote areas, and planning. build 30,000 new long-term care beds.
“While these historic investments have helped support the province’s health care system through the most challenging period in its modern history, there is no doubt that, like Canadian health care systems, it continues to experience significant pressures, including a depleted workforce and increasingly stressed emergency departments,” Dowdeswell said.
“More can be done. Your government is actively engaging with partners in the health system to find urgent and actionable solutions, and is taking all necessary measures to help alleviate the immediate pressures while ensuring the province is prepared to remain open during any winter storm.”
Emergency departments in Ontario have been closed for hours or days at a time this summer, which stakeholders and advocates say is due to a nursing staffing crisis.
Opposition parties and nursing groups have called on Ford to repeal the pay cap laws, which they say will harm efforts to recruit and retain more nurses, who are leaving the sector in droves after more than two years on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
“We need giant steps”: RNAO
Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), said she would like to see more immediate action.
“What has been done is baby steps and we need giant steps,” he said after the throne speech.
“We need big steps to get us out of this massive nursing shortage.”
Cathryn Hoy, president of the Ontario Nurses Association, said Ford has ignored solutions the organization is calling for, including repealing the salary cap legislation known as Bill 124 and improving nurses’ working conditions.
“The Throne Call and this government are pretending that the crisis is a short-term problem and saying that the measures needed to solve the health crisis have not yet been determined,” Hoy said in a statement.
“The crisis is anything but temporary and the government needs to wake up to that fact and listen to the solutions we have been telling them.”
SEE | Lt. Kuber. Elizabeth Dowdeswell discusses healthcare issues in the Throne Speech:
Ford indicated in the speech that his government is working to address “short-term stressors” in health, but is also making long-term investments, such as how the government previously created Ontario Health Teams to integrate care and implement the “Journey to Wellness.” mental health and addictions care plan.
The throne speech also said that, as promised during the election, the government would increase disability benefit payments by five per cent and link future increases to inflation, and offered a new pledge to give parents an extra $225 million in direct payments to help. their children will catch up.”
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy would not say what amounts parents would receive, if it was directly linked to tutoring or if it was means-tested. Details will be revealed later, he said.
The government announced that both measures will be financed from budget contingencies.
The budget is criticized by the opposition
Bethlenfalvy restored the budget immediately after the throne call.
The actual legislation is largely the same as it was introduced but not passed until the spring election. But forecasts have since changed, with the government now projecting a deficit of $18.8 billion for this year, down from the $19.9 billion the Tories expected in the spring due to higher-than-forecast tax revenues.
Individual income tax receipts are projected to increase by $941 million, sales tax by $597 million and corporate income tax by $417 million. However, land transfer tax revenue is projected to decline by $787 million due to a slower housing market.
Bethlenfalvy said that given the global economic uncertainty, it makes sense to use the $1.1 billion to reduce the budget deficit rather than spend on the program.
The only change in the budget since it was first introduced in April is the five per cent increase in disability benefit rates that Ford promised during the election. However, lawyers say this is too low and the payments need to be doubled.
Speaking to reporters, Bethlenfalvy dismissed concerns about raising disability benefits, instead pointing out a series of tax breaks for the province’s vulnerable population.
Asked if she could live on $1,169 a month — the amount given to Ontarians with disabilities — Bethlenfalvy said the Disability Allowance is just “a step in the right direction.”
SEE | The finance minister is asked if he would live on $1,169 a month:
The budget drew criticism from opposition leaders, who said it should have been adjusted since it was first presented in April to match current inflation rates.
“The government had an opportunity to come up with a new budget to deal with these crises and Doug Ford chose not to,” said NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns.
“This budget did nothing to alleviate the punishing cost of inflation or restore and repair our health care system.”
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner agrees, calling the throne speech and budget a “tired mix of band-aids and big schemes” that fail to tackle affordability and climate change.
Prepare for a short-term slowdown: speech
The throne speech opened by acknowledging a global “growing sense of uncertainty” amid COVID-19, high inflation and the war in Ukraine, particularly its impact on supply chains.
In the speech, Ford promised to design a path forward based on economic growth, “not painful tax increases or spending cuts.”
The speech largely addressed key parts of Ford’s agenda, including building highways and other infrastructure, attracting investment in electric vehicle manufacturing and a skilled trade strategy aimed at addressing labor shortages.
The speech also noted interest rate hikes in response to high inflation and warned that Ontario, like the rest of the country, must be prepared for the possibility of a near-term slowdown in economic growth.
Ford has also hinted that a so-called “strong mayor” bill is coming, giving Toronto and Ottawa leaders more power. The speech suggested that these powers would help build housing more quickly.