TORONTO — In a sign of just how dramatically the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world, Premier Doug Ford’s government is expected to post a record-shattering $38.5-billion deficit in its budget Thursday.
Former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne left behind a $7.4-billion deficit, which Ford had vowed to eliminate.
The Progressive Conservative premier rode to power in 2018 on his promise to cut Wynne’s “reckless” and “wasteful” spending. He once compared Liberals to drunken sailors and then immediately offered an apology to sailors: “at least they spend their own money.”
But 2020 has been full of surprises. Nearly 80,000 Ontarians have been infected with COVID-19 and almost 3,200 have died from the disease. The pandemic has also forced the government to spend billions more than expected on health care and to support businesses hit hard by lockdowns, while collecting less in taxes.
“When this crisis hit, we had to act quickly,” Ford said last Monday. “The upcoming fall budget will be our road map. It will guide us during this period of tremendous uncertainty.”
He promised not to raise taxes to offset the huge deficit.
“I just don’t believe in taxes or increasing taxes as a solution to our problems.”
The government’s next budget after Thursday’s, which Finance Minister Rod Phillips says will be tabled by March 2021, will “outline a plan to return Ontario to a fiscally sustainable path,” the minister said.
Phillips was supposed to table a budget for 2020/21 in March but postponed, citing the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Much of that uncertainty remains, Phillips stressed last week.
“All of us have learned a great deal about life in a pandemic this year. It would be arrogant to ignore those lessons.”
The budget’s economic forecasts will rely on three different scenarios for Ontario’s economy, he said. It’ll also include supports for businesses and health-care providers.
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Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath says the government should seriously ramp up its pandemic response with Thursday’s budget.
“Hospitals are at risk of becoming overwhelmed and badly need funding. COVID-19 testing and contact tracing continues to fall short in the fight to stop the spread. Seniors in long-term care homes are more vulnerable than ever with fewer personal support workers on the ground now than in the first wave,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
“Classrooms are crammed with kids and the source of a number of COVID-19 outbreaks, small businesses and workers impacted by the pandemic are struggling without direct support, and too many people don’t have paid sick days if they need to take time off to get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate.”
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