Gleaner

Serving Toronto's most liveable communities with the Annex Gleaner and Liberty Gleaner

FORUM: Mr. Ford cuts into the future of public services (Apr. 2021)

May 12th, 2021 · No Comments

Budget bright spots come with a grain of salt

By Jessica Bell

The Ford government released its 2021-2022 Budget on March 24. The government will spend $186 billion next year, a cut of $4.8 billion from the previous year.

As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to listen, consult and collaborate to make good decisions for the people of Ontario. This is not a part of Premier Ford’s playbook. Despite the significance of the budget, the government did not organize traditional pre-budget public consultations, and only allowed about 20 people to give testimony in committee.

Here’s a budget breakdown:

Education

The government is cutting $1.6 billion from education. There will be no replenishment of the $500 million in reserve funds that school boards spent to prepare for the pandemic, and which are now exhausted. There is no commitment to extend COVID-19 funding into next year.  Distressingly, school boards are already announcing there will be a reduction in teachers for next year.  

Childcare

The government is not increasing direct funding to childcare, even though child centres are in crisis. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that over 123 centres in Toronto have closed, and enrolment dropped by two thirds in the first wave alone. 

What the government is doing is increasing the one-off cash payment to parents to $500, and increasing the childcare tax credit for one year. Of course, that is a relief to parents who are struggling but it’s coming at the expense of deep cuts to public services. We should invest in affordable childcare and high-quality public education, not starve them of critical funds. 

Health Care

Health care spending will rise by $3 billion next year. Is this a step in the right direction? Yes. It is enough? No. The Ontario Hospitals Association is calling for an additional $82 million for base hospital funding, and we are calling for an additional $425 million to clear the massive surgery backlog, which is what other provinces have done. Our office has received many emails from residents whose surgery and treatments have been delayed or lengthened. They need help.

Long term care

COVID-19 has exposed the failure of Ontario’s broken and underfunded for-profit warehouse model of long-term care. The government has announced it will increase funding to long-term care to build new beds, improve living conditions, including ensuring homes have air-conditioning, increase the average daily care to four hours of staffing care per person per day, and pay tuition fees for new personal support workers to attend school. This wouldn’t have happened without all of us speaking up. We will continue to call for an end to for-profit care, a permanent increase in PSW wages, and more stringent and regular inspection of homes.

Affordable Housing

Toronto has an affordable housing crisis, and it’s getting worse. The agency that investigates the Ontario government’s finances, the Financial Accountability Office, estimates the number of people spending more than 30% of their income on housing or living in overcrowded housing is growing, yet the government has decided to cut funding for housing programs. If this was our budget, we would invest in building supportive housing and affordable housing, introduce real rent control to cap skyrocketing rents, and increase taxes on speculators and investors so first-time home buyers have a chance of bidding and buying their forever home.

Business 

Across University-Rosedale, small businesses are closing. The Ontario government has established a Small Business Support Grant program, and this budget permits eligible businesses to reapply and receive two grants.  That’s the good news. The bad news is the program is not working well. Our office is working with many businesses who have applied, been approved, but have never received any money, as well as many others who are not eligible, such as many working in the arts sector. We are calling for the program’s eligibility to be widened.  For those who want to personally help our business friends, we have launched an I Shop Local sign campaign to encourage our neighbours to shop locally. If you want a sign delivered to your lawn, please contact us.

Climate Change and the Environment

There’s no mention of climate change in the entire budget.  After significant cuts in the first year of the Ford government, Environment Ministry funding is flatlined compared to previous years.  It is very hard to watch this government squander the precious time we have to take provincial action on climate change. We are calling for a fully funded Green New Deal plan and a real commitment to reduce our emissions to net zero. 

These are the highlights and significant lowlights of the budget. If you have questions about these programs and more, please reach out to our office.

Jessica Bell is MPP for University–Rosedale.

READ MORE BY JESSICA BELL:

Tags: Annex · Opinion