‘No easy solutions’ to Ontario’s health and inflation challenges, Ford government warns

Faced with the twin challenges of skyrocketing inflation and an overstretched healthcare system due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Doug Ford’s government is warning that “there are no easy solutions.”

In Tuesday’s speech from the throne, read in the legislature by Lt-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell: Ford’s re-elected Progressive Conservatives called for unity at a difficult time for the province.

“Now is not the time for partisanship and ideology to trump the virtues of partnership and collaboration,” Dowdeswell told a packed legislature.

“The people of Ontario rightly expect their government to work with others in common cause and in the service of delivering real solutions,” he said in the speech.

“Amid growing uncertainty, the road ahead will not always be easy, but Ontarians can rest assured that their government is and will continue to be relentlessly focused on protecting the strength of the province’s economy.”

With the ongoing crisis in hospital emergency rooms, which have temporary closures across the province due to staff shortages, the Tories admitted “more can still be done” despite record levels of spending on care. medical.

“While these historic investments have helped support the province’s health system during the most challenging period in modern history, there is no question that, like health systems across Canada, they continue to experience significant pressures, including a depleted workforce and increasingly stressed emergency departments.” Dowdeswell said.

It was a significant change in tone from Ford’s 2018 government throne speech, which was a fiercely partisan speech titled “A Government for the People,” marked by bluster and delivered only in English without any recognition of indigenous land.

In contrast, Tuesday’s 20-page speech began “by acknowledging that we are on land traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples: they continue to care for this land, they continue to shape Ontario today, and I want to pay my respects.”

While the Conservatives touted spending cuts four years ago, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy reintroduced the largest budget in Ontario history on Tuesday.

Dowdeswell noted that “inflation has reached levels not seen in nearly four decades, with no broad consensus on the speed with which it will return to normal levels.

“People are now paying more for everyday goods like groceries and gasoline, putting more pressure on household budgets, particularly for low-income families,” the lieutenant governor said.

“Companies of all sizes are struggling to find the skilled women and men they need to grow, or the parts they need to get more orders. In the midst of these shortages, the rising cost of labor and supplies can, in turn, increase the cost of goods sold to consumers.

“Taken together, these looming fiscal and economic challenges cannot be underestimated or ignored. They must be confronted head-on. And there are no easy solutions.

Despite the uncertainty ahead, and massive deficits projected for years, the Conservatives insisted they would not cut their way back to balance.

“His government is steadfast in its commitment to a path forward centered on economic growth, not painful tax hikes or spending cuts,” Dowdeswell said.

Still, there was a sign that the belt will have to be tightened.

“Unprecedented spending during the pandemic has created new fiscal challenges here in Ontario and across Canada that will require prudent economic management in the months and years to come,” he said.

Amid ongoing emergency room problems, the Tories maintained that they are on the case.

“His government has removed requirements for Canadian work experience that disadvantaged internationally trained healthcare professionals and continues to work with regulatory colleges to ensure the most qualified newcomers to Ontario help care for patients, without waiting in line. limbo for years,” Dowdeswell said. .

“Rural and remote regions have struggled for years to attract healthcare professionals. That’s why Ontario introduced the new Apprenticeship and Stay Grant, which pays the full cost of tuition and supplies for high-priority health professionals like nurses in exchange for a commitment to practice in an underserved community after graduate,” said the lieutenant governor.

“In the midst of these pressures, Ontario’s health system continues to provide care to those who need it. Nine out of 10 high urgency patients are finishing their emergency visit within the target times. Surgeries are being performed at nearly 90 percent of pre-pandemic levels,” she said.

“His government is actively engaging with health system partners to identify urgent and workable solutions and will implement the necessary measures to help alleviate immediate pressures, while ensuring the province is ready to stay open during any winter surge.”

Bethlenfalvy’s reintroduced budget includes a new two-year $225 million children’s benefit “to provide direct payments to parents to help their children catch up.”

“This funding, which will put money directly into the pockets of parents, adds to the more than $26.6 billion the province is spending on public education, the most in Ontario history,” the lieutenant governor said.

The revived budget also promises income tax cuts for hundreds of thousands of Ontarians earning less than $50,000 a year and touts two controversial new highways in the Greater Toronto Area.

Both the proposed 60-kilometre Highway 413 from Milton to Vaughan and the 16.2-kilometre Bradford bypass, linking the 400 and 404 highways, were key Tory campaign promises in the June 2 election.

They also commit to widen Highway 401 in GTA and Eastern Ontario, widen Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph, and build a new twin bridge over the Welland Canal at Queen Elizabeth Way between St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake. .

Robert Benzie is the bureau chief for Star’s Queen’s Park and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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