Earlier today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Ministers Christine Elliott (Deputy Premier and Minister of Health) Rod Phillips (Minister of Finance), and Monte McNaughton (Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development) held a press conference to provide the Government of Ontario’s latest steps in relation to COVID-19.
Following the decision to close all publicly-funded schools from March 14 through to April 5 and with many private businesses making the decision to suspend operations, the Ford Government announced they will introduce legislation to protect workers from losing their jobs as a result of COVID-19. The legislation will:
- provide job protection to anyone in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19, including those who need to be away from work to care for children because of school or day-care closures, and
- remove the requirement for a doctor’s note for those in isolation at home due to COVID-19 symptoms.
The government intends to table the legislation as part of an emergency session of the Legislature and are currently negotiating with Opposition parties on timeline. Specific details can be found here.
Ontario Budget 2020 now an Economic and Fiscal Update
Finance Minister Rod Phillips had originally planned to present Ontario’s 2020 Budget on March 25, but today announced that he will table a shorter economic and fiscal update instead. This update will be focused on increased resources available for the province’s health care system, and further actions to protect the economy and workers. Minister Phillips also indicated that he has convened regular meetings of ministers within the Ford Government who share economic responsibilities. He also indicated that the full budget will likely be tabled by the fall of this year. This means those who rely on government funding will be given some certainty around fiscal transfers for the next year, but anyone looking to the corresponding Budget legislation for changes to government acts will have to wait until a future date.
Flattening the Curve
Today’s announcement followed a number of announcements from the government in recent days to contain the virus, including $100 million in contingency funding, $10 million for a public awareness campaign, an online self-assessment tool for COVID-19, the immediate suspension of all gatherings over 250 people, and additional investments in the province’s health care system that help keep people at home, including the expansion of services through Telehealth Ontario and the approval of new physician billing codes.
In response to questions about a further lock-down of the province, such as closing non-essential services including bars and restaurants, Premier Ford indicated that Ontario would not be ordering them to close but is also taking advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and if his advice changes, they would act.
Premier Ford was also asked about visitors to Ontario and Canada, and in response he said “I’d be okay with closing the border to visitors (not citizens or residents) but not closing it to commerce”, reinforcing the need for business and commerce to continue during this challenging time. He also noted his continued engagement with the federal government, specifically noting the efforts of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Today’s announcement by Ontario is in advance of other announcements expected today by the federal government. The current situation is extremely fluid as cases of COVID-19 in Ontario continue to increase. As Premier Ford stated in his remarks, “no option is off the table”.
Given Ontario’s importance to the Canadian economy and the unsteadiness of markets, other actions at the provincial level may occur in the coming hours and days as the Premier and Finance Minister indicated the government would do whatever it takes to deal with the situation. StrategyCorp will continue to monitor these actions and possible impacts for clients.