Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are pushing back against accusations the governing party is not doing enough to bankroll health care in Ontario.
“We are seeing a wave of respiratory illness in young children, with limited capacity to properly treat patients, and yet there is no new funding for health care in the fall economic statement,” NDP MPP Catherine Fife (Waterloo) said Tuesday.
“How can the government justify this, after everything that children and parents have endured during this pandemic?” Fife chided Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy.
“Why will you not acknowledge that six months past their first budget, additional funding is needed to address this crisis, because the crisis is real?” the New Democrat said.
Bethlenfalvy emphasized his two most recent budgets have increased health funding by billions of dollars.
“Our opposition said, ‘Where’s all the money for health care?’ If they were here in August when I tabled the budget — which was voted on ‘yes’ by this side and ‘no’ on that side — they’d recognize that there was $5.6 billion of new investments for health care,” he said.
Bethlenfalvy’s comments came the day after his fall fiscal update revealed the government has slid back into deficit with a projected $12.9-billion shortfall this fiscal year after a surprise $2.1-billion surplus in 2021-22.
That change is mostly due to sputtering economic growth that has stoked fears of a global recession.
The cornerstone pledge of the economic statement was an extension of a 5.7 cents a litre cut to the gasoline tax through the end of next year, which will cost the treasury $1.2 billion.
Ford’s Tories touted their gas-tax pledge before the June 2 election.
Liberal MPP Stephen Blais (Orléans) said the system doesn’t “have sufficient resources because this government is fixated on election gimmicks instead of investing in our health care.”
“The hospitals don’t have sufficient resources because this government doesn’t have their back. What is this government going to do today to fix the health-care crisis in our hospitals, in particular our children’s hospitals?” said Blais.
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That prompted Health Minister Sylvia Jones to blast the Liberals for not supporting a budget that increased funding.
“In August, less than three months ago, we were preparing for what we anticipated was a fall surge: fall and winter COVID, potentially flu and, of course, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus),” said Jones.
“We’re making those investments. We’ve had hospital CEOs and presidents say this is not a money problem; this is a health human resources challenge, and we are working through that, with investments that we are making with colleges and universities, to expand the number of health systems,” she said.
Treasury Board President Prabmeet Sarkaria, who oversees where government money is allocated, said that year over year, there was an increase of more than $6.2 billion in health-care spending in 2022-23.
“That is the largest increase in health-care spending on record for this province and, I might add, the members opposite voted against each one of those dollars being added to our health-care system,” he said.
Sarkaria pointed out that some 11,700 new health-care workers have been hired in Ontario since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
“Every single one of those workers, the members opposite voted against,” he said.
Still, Liberal MPP Stephanie Bowman (Don Valley West) criticized the government for not tapping into its $1-billion cash reserves.
“With children’s hospitals overflowing across the province and surgeries being cancelled, bigger backlogs are building. The economic outlook says the government is holding on to contingency funds in case of unforeseen risk,” said Bowman.
NDP MPP Jessica Bell (University-Rosedale) noted the Hospital for Sick Children is at a “breaking point.”
“The average wait time in the emergency room at SickKids is now 12 hours — that is triple what it was in 2019,” said Bell.
After this year’s $12.9-billion deficit, Bethlenfalvy is forecasting an $8.1-billion deficit in 2023-24, before dropping to an expected $700 million the following year.
That suggests the books should be balanced in time for the Tories’ re-election campaign in June 2026.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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