So, Doug Ford is now demanding billions of dollars from the Federal government to help him fight Covid. Let’s take a look at a few facts.
When the Ontario Auditor General reported in May, 2021, that this government had mismanaged and failed to trace $4.4 billion in Covid-19 relief aid, the funds included money meant to boost the wages of frontline workers in health and long-term care. As the government wasn’t tracking this money, it couldn’t say who was, and who wasn’t, getting the promised wage top-ups. This was just another example of Ford’s government sitting on desperately needed relief funds for program spending while frontline workers, patients, and the public weathered the storm of social consequences caused by government inaction and negligence.
It gets worse. Those “unaccounted for” funds were in addition to $10.8 billion the provincial government simply chose not to spend on pandemic support. In July, 2021, the Financial Accountability Office, (FAO), in Ontario reported that the Ford government had planned to boost its pandemic support spending by $22.1 billion during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, yet actually spent $10.3 billion less than this. Among the monies not dispersed were $1 billion for healthcare, and $3.4 billion set aside for a contingency fund.
According to the FAO, these funds were used to pay down Ontario’s public debt, so money that should have gone to frontline workers and public services instead went to the holders of Ontario’s debt, the banks, insurance companies, and pension funds.
There’s more. After Ontario’s budget was already tabled, Ontario received another $1.9 billion in federal cash transfers, and that, coupled with an additional $1 billion in revenue as a result of economic expansion as public health restrictions eased in the summer of 2021, the Ford government had an additional $2.9 billion on hand to address pressing social needs. Again, they chose not to spend the majority of this money.
We’re in this position because Ford and his Conservative government remain committed to austerity, attacking workers, and the public that it is purported to serve, at every opportunity. Even at the height of the pandemic, this government chose to sit on already earmarked money, (or worse, pay the most wealthy holders of the provinces debt), instead of addressing issues that could have made this pandemic more manageable.
Instead of ventilation upgrades in schools, reducing class sizes to allow greater physical distancing, promoting greater vaccination among the student population, prioritizing booster shots for education workers, ensuring that N95 masks were available for all staff and students, implementing a better testing and tracing system, instead of more hospital and long-term care beds and permanent pay raises for childcare and elder care workers, we get yet another lockdown when workers have fewer supports than they did a year ago.
Reimposing public health restrictions is entirely necessary, but we have been here before, and again, it is too little, too late. This is what you get from a government that is reactive, instead of proactive. We have just a few short months to the next provincial election, and our chance to show this government if we think that they are actually “For the People”, and not just the wealthy among us.
Colin Creasey, Kemptville