Batten down the fiscal hatches.
The Ford government will take the lid off the 2021 budget on Wednesday as the province continues to navigate a minefield littered with the ongoing pandemic and its continued fallout.
The 2020 budget projected a $38.5 billion deficit caused by the impact of COVID-19.
At a media briefing on Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford said the two aspects of the 2021 budget will be protecting lives and protecting livelihoods.
“Making sure that we think of the future when we open up the economy and get things moving and getting people back to work,” said Ford. “But I said from day one, I will not hesitate to spend whatever it takes to protect people’s lives.”
The premier has used the past two days to tee up a few things that will be in the budget. On Monday, the government said it is setting aside $1.2 billion in funding to help Ontario hospitals deal with financial hardships caused by the pandemic.
Doug Ford was joined at the news conference by finance minister Peter Bethlenfalvy to announce a $3.7 million investment as part of the budget to help seniors and people with disabilities get their COVID-19 vaccinations, where transportation is a barrier.
The government said the province will work with local communities and public health units to implement the service, and more details on how this program will work will be available in the coming days.
“The premier is 100 per cent right,” said Bethlenfalvy. “The best stimulus for reopening the economy is a vaccination and keeping people safe. So that job is not done yet. We’re going to be very focused on finishing the job and defeating this pandemic.”
Bethlenfalvy added that to accomplish this, the government will be investing in protecting people’s health such as hospitals, long-term care, mental health and addiction, and women.
He said the second piece is supporting jobs.
“Many small businesses have been hurt significantly. They’re the engine of the Ontario economy. They’re the identity of many of our communities.”
“We want to support businesses and we want to support jobs, as we get to a position where we can, as the premier said, reopen the economy even greater than ever before.”
Even with help from the federal government, Ontario faces the prospect of running up deficits worth $100 billion over the next three years.
The Financial Accountability Office said that as of Dec. 31, 2020, the province had about $4.7 billion in its contingency funds and reserves.
Bethlenfalvy said last month the government intends to spend all of that cash by the end of the 2020 fiscal year, which is Mar 31.
The premier told reporters that he has confidence in the economy and the people of Ontario.
” I am confident we will turn this economy the likes of which this province has never seen before. And not us, but the people, small business owners, medium-sized entrepreneurs will get the place rolling. I’ll guarantee you that.”