Ontario government to present first pandemic budget

TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is set to unveil its first pandemic-era budget today.

The province has said the budget will lay out the details of the next stage of its COVID-19 response.

That includes the new standard for long-term care announced earlier this week, which would see nursing home residents receive an average of four hours of direct care every day.

The Tories put off delivering a full fiscal plan earlier this year, citing the economic uncertainty caused by the global health crisis.

The fiscal update it gave in March instead initially included $17 billion in COVID-19 relief, though that projection was updated to $30 billion by the end of 2020-21.

The province also originally predicted a deficit of $20.5 billion, which was later raised to $38.5 billion because of the added spending.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips says the document released today will be a three-year budget that aims to “protect,” “support” and “recover.”

“As COVID-19 continues to cause uncertainty in the global economy, we need to position Ontario for a strong recovery, even while being focused on the urgent needs of today,” Phillips said.

Premier Doug Ford also promised in October that he would spend $9 billion in program spending that had not been allocated.

That unspent money was flagged by the Financial Accountability Office, which noted that the cash could be used to bring down a projected $37.2-billion deficit for 2020-21.

The Ford government has also said the financial demands of the pandemic mean it won’t balance the books by 2023-24 as promised.