STEVEN DEL DUCA– Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party
Finance Minister Rod Phillips has delivered an economic update containing measures that will help Ontarians weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Ontario Liberals supported these proposals because there is no time to waste – Ontario families, workers and small businesses need support now.
We also believe this is the time for partnership across party lines. This is an important moment during which all political leaders must work collaboratively and constructively. Because we are all in this together.
While I applaud the initial steps taken, I suggest the gravity of the situation demands bolder action.
Highlighted are four areas where the Ford government can take further action to protect Ontario residents and to bolster our economic survival:
— Increase support for frontline health-care workers: We know that during the SARS pandemic approximately half of infections in Ontario were among frontline health-care staff. That’s why I’m asking Premier Doug Ford to at least double the amount of additional resources allocated for making sure our doctors, nurses and personal support workers can be as safe as possible.
— Increase investment in mental health support: This is a time of great uncertainty for Ontarians and many are grappling with serious mental health challenges because of the demands of social distancing and isolation. The government should dramatically ramp up its investment in mental health care and support.
— Suspend payments — don’t defer — for small and medium-sized businesses: Almost all of the financial support in Ontario’s economic update comes in the form of deferrals. While this is helpful for a few, it means that entrepreneurs and small business owners will face a significant repayment by September, during a time when many will be rebuilding what was lost.
The government’s revenue projections make it clear that they expect this money to be paid. This is unattainable for so many small businesses and simply defers the problem rather than solving it.
I believe a far more effective approach would be a six-month suspension of payroll charges (like WSIB premiums) for those running businesses with up to 300 employees, and I strongly encourage this relief to be made retroactive to Jan. 1.
— Protect tenants via emergency rent program: Residential and commercial rents are due this coming Wednesday. Ford and his team need to be abundantly clear to all types of tenants on their rights for appropriate protection.
Previously, the Ontario government has said that no evictions will occur at this time, and while that’s important, the province should to go further with support by providing funding to small business owners, low-income earners and those who have already been laid off as a result of COVID-19, in the form of rent assistance. This will ensure that the entirety of the rent supply chain does not suffer.
I believe that Ontario can draw on the example of what was announced in British Columbia recently and introduce an emergency rent supplement program.
This would provide direct financial payouts to landlords and could be targeted at supporting low-and-middle-income tenants. In Ontario’s case, this program could also include support to help pay at least a portion of commercial leases for businesses employing up to 300 people.
Ontarians are resilient and we have successfully confronted many challenges throughout our history. I am completely confident that we will do so again and I will keep working hard to do my part to help make that happen.