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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Provincial government tables 2021 Budget, MPP Natyshak sees room for improvement

by Sylene Argent

Last week, the Provincial Government released its 2021 Budget, which brings total investments to $16.3 billion to protect people’s health and $23.3 billion to protect the economy. It also notes Ontario’s total response to COVID‑19 is now at $51 billion.

  The budget document, titled “Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy,” focuses on protecting people’s health and fixing long-term care, protecting the economy, and supporting workers and families.

  Essex MPP Taras Natyshak said in analyzing the recently tabled budget, the NDP sees it as a missed opportunity to invest in the health and safety of those essential workers, who have kept the economy going.

  One of the omissions he noticed, but would have liked to see included, would have involved paid sick leave for every essential worker, who does not have sick time benefits. “Ultimately, we are never going to get out of this pandemic when people can’t afford to take time off if they are feeling sick or have symptoms of COVID,” Natyshak said.   

  He said there are federal resources available, but noted they are not adequate.

  Natyshak said PSWs have been on the frontlines of supporting the most vulnerable during the pandemic, seniors and individuals in long-term care. They were given a bump in pay during the pandemic, but it appears that will expire. He would have liked this added to the budget to make it permanent.

  In the budget, it notes the government is extending the wage enhancement for over 147,000 workers, who deliver personal support services. This wage enhancement will continue for eligible workers until June 30, 2021 and it will continue to be reviewed. 

  “We think again that is a missed opportunity to support the people who have supported us the most, our healthcare heroes, who, for a couple of extra dollars an hour, showed up to work provided that care, that support, and love for residents, who physically could not have anyone else, because they were in quarantined conditions,” Natyshak said.

  PSWs, he added, have a hard enough job and were already underpaid before the pandemic started.

  The budget includes an investment of $4.9 billion over four-years to increase the average direct daily care to four-hours a day in long-term care and the hiring of more than 27,000 new positions, including PSWs and nurses, however, Natyshak said this is slated to begin down the road, and it is needed now.

  In the Budget, it notes an intent to increase average daily direct care per resident in long-term care to four-hours. Over the next four-years, the average hours of daily direct care will increase to four hours, from the current 2.75 hours. To support this plan, the government will invest up to $1.9 billion annually by 2024–25, or $4.9 billion over the next four years. In addition, this funding will support a 20 percent increase in direct care time by allied health professionals, including physiotherapists and social workers.

  The NDP has been advocating four-hours of hands-on care for around four-years now.

  “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we are only as safe as the most vulnerable among us,” Natyshak said, adding people with disabilities, or those on ODSP or Ontario Works, they still have not seen any type on enhancements with benefits since 2018, even though the cost of living has gone up. “Your economic status is an indicator of your health status; those things are correlated. When we don’t help the poorest among us, then that certainty does not bode well in general going forward.”

  The Budget also highlights an investment of an additional $933 million over four-years, for a total of $2.6 billion, to support building 30,000 new long-term care beds. Ontario will also invest $246 million over the next four-years to improve living conditions in existing homes, including ensuring that homes have air conditioning for residents.

  As far as small business supports, one of the good things in the budget the NDP noticed included the business supports unveiled in January have been automatically renewed for any business who had qualified for provincial support before, through the Ontario Business Support Program. The problem, Natyshak said, is that the NDP and business associations have ben asking the criteria for small businesses to qualify for this program to be expanded.

  Small businesses are the cornerstones for local and regional economies. If they go out of business, it can be hard to jumpstart the economy, Natyshak commented.

  There was a billion dollars placed in the budget for vaccine rollout, in addition to $2.3 billion for testing and contact tracing. The NDP has been pushing for vaccine support, to ensure enough funds were put behind public health agencies that are doing the vaccine rollout. The NDP welcomes that addition. He said public health funding was cut in the previous budget, “So, we were at a disadvantage coming to the pandemic.”

The Budget also includes $1.4 billion for personal protective equipment, including more than 315 million masks and more than 1.2 billion gloves. In addition, $5.1 billion will be invested to support hospitals since the pandemic began, creating more than 3,100 additional hospital beds. This includes $1.8 billion in 2021–22 to continue providing care for COVID-19 patients, address surgical backlogs, and keep pace with patient needs.

The disruption in education has rocked the entire schooling system, Natyshak added. He said cuts to education, “is going to leave a very big mark and going to make local schoolboard and individual schools even more challenged to get back to some sort of normal and to provide the quality education kids need, he said, adding it has been difficult for youths to grasp online education.

  Natyshak added data shows women, people of colour, and those marginalized have been hit the hardest during the pandemic, because they have had challenges with childcare and other matters.

  “We know childcare spaces were dismal to begin with, prior to the pandemic, there has been no real new investment in childcare spaces,” Natyshak said, adding it is noticed the Child Tax Credit was bumped $250 per child, but try to find a childcare space with that amount of dollars.

  There was an announcement of $9.8m to move the regional hospital system to the design phase. “That is certainly welcome, and I point to massive efforts on behalf of an entre community, both Windsor and Essex County, and elected officials at all levels, who have really lobbied this government and the previous government hard on moving us forward,” Natyshak said, also giving credit to local health officials for their efforts.

  He added lose to $2 billion is needed to build the hospital, adding those dollars still need to be identified.

  Natyshak is continuing to talk to stakeholders about the budget, and a lot of analysis needs to be done going forward, but the NDP’s job is to hold the government accountable and ensure transparency in its spending and actions.

  More information about the items included in the 2021 Budget can be found online, at


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