Our view: disturbing Ontario budget signals Ford government has surrendered COVID fight

Ford’s apparent decision to abandon the COVID fight is stunning and disturbing. But with a majority government, it’s unlikely to be reversed – unless a wave of public sentiment passes a firm judgement.

CNC EDITORIAL TEAM

Ontario’s budget, released Thursday, is more evidence a disturbing decision has quietly been made by the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Doug Ford.

In September, as Ontario’s test-trace-isolate program failed, COVID-19 cases began to rise again. After days of publicly resisting medical advice, Ontario shut down some workplaces that have often been sites of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Ontario is now at a COVID-19 peak, confirming about 1,000 new cases a day. Over 70 people have died in just the first week of November. But despite the upward trend, on Tuesday Premier Ford announced workplaces would reopen in a week.

The same day, the Premier raised thresholds for any future workplace closures – thresholds now being condemned by medical experts as “dangerously high” and based on measures that are “scientifically illiterate” and “gibberish.”

The Ontario budget adds to the evidence of a fateful decision. The 260 page document sprinkles businesses with new tax cuts and electricity subsidies, pushing Ontario’s deficit to historic levels. But there was no funding to fight the virus.

No new money was added to public health, despite a lab capacity that has caused test backlogs and a lack of callers for tracing and isolating. No new money was added to lower class sizes, which in some schools are above 30 students. And $100 million was cut to long-term care funding from estimates last March.

And despite the Premier’s evocations about the plight of workers and small businesses affected by workplace shutdowns, the budget provided no additional financial support to help them stay afloat.

Ontario’s Opposition Leader, Andrea Horwarth, has condemned the budget, accusing the Premier of “waving a white flag” instead of equipping public health to take on the fight. She’s right.

The PC government seems to believe it must choose between saving the economy and saving lives – and has decided to abandon the fight against the virus.

But until this virus is brought under control, not only will people get sick and many die, but jobs will continue to suffer. The right plan now is to make a powerful investment that hits the virus with something as close to a knock-out punch as possible. Only then will people feel safe and jobs return.

The Ontario budget could have invested in public health to raise an army of lab workers and case tracers to push back the virus and keep it back – without job-killing shutdowns. It could have invested in long-term care to end residents sleeping three or four to a room and to attract personal support workers. If could have invested in schools to cap class sizes. It could have helped those hurt by shutdowns. Ontario didn’t even try to land a punch.

Other countries have achieved this. Even other provinces. And Ontario can do it, but not without committing the resource to win.

Ford’s apparent decision to abandon the COVID fight is stunning and disturbing. But with a majority government, it’s unlikely to be reversed – unless a wave of public sentiment passes a firm judgement.

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