On November 4, 2021, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy tabled Ontario’s 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review, Build Ontario, in the Legislature. The Fall Economic Statement builds on Ontario’s Action Plan to respond to COVID-19, outlined in the 2021 Budget.
The primary focus of the 2021 Fall Economic Statement is to rebuild a post-pandemic Ontario, emphasizing investments in protecting Ontario’s progress during COVID-19, building infrastructure, and supporting workers.
The 2021 Fall Economic Statement stresses Ontario’s strong economic recovery and expectations for continued growth despite the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outlook emphasizes the government’s projection of a $21.5 billion deficit — $11.6 billion lower than the projections in Budget 2021 due to Ontario’s strong economic growth.
Overall, Ontario’s 2021 Fall Economic Statement serves as a precursor to the upcoming general election on June 2, 2022. With the pre-election season already underway, the Ford government is seeking to draw battle lines between other parties to secure another term in government. The emphasis on health care, infrastructure, and labour signals the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party’s upcoming election priorities.
We will continue to see high-profile commitments from government in the months to come, and increased resolve from opposition parties to develop a narrative for voters to consider, with emphasis on the gaps or limitations of what is on offer from the current PC government. Premier Ford’s biggest challenge will be to answer the question of “how do we rebuild Ontario?”
The Ford Government must address how Ontario’s economy, health system, and society will rebound from COVID-19 in the months and years to come. This Fall Economic Statement, divided into three pillars, sets the stage on how the Premier intends to secure another term: Protecting our Progress, Building Ontario, and Working for Workers.
Protecting our Progress
This pillar acknowledges the cracks that COVID-19 revealed in the provincial health and long-term care systems and outlines a plan to preserve gains made during the pandemic and deliver a high quality of care.
Key investments under this pillar include:
- An additional $1.8 billion dollars to hospitals in 2021-22. This includes support for 3,100 new beds since the beginning of the pandemic, enhanced critical care capacity, increased access to care, additional support for larger hospitals, and funding to reduce the surgical and diagnostic backlog.
- $548.5 million will be spent from 2021 to 2023 to expand home and community care services and support more home care staff.
- $342 million to increase the nursing workforce, in acknowledgement of staffing issues in hospitals, long-term care, and home and community care. With the support of stakeholders and new career laddering programs this investment will create 5,000 new and upskilled registered nurses and registered practical nurses, and 8,000 new personal support workers – including supports for nurses and PSWs looking to further their education in the home and community and long-term care sectors.
- $7.3 million over three years to increase enforcement capacity in long-term care homes by doubling the number of long-term care home inspectors.
- $1.6 billion for personal protective equipment and supplies, school-focused nurses in Public Health Units, and enhanced cleaning protocols in schools.
- $3.8 billion over 10 years to ensure rapid access to mental health supports for Ontarians. This includes $12.4 million in 2021-22 for front-line health and long-term care workers; an additional $8.7 million in 2021-22 for postsecondary institutions including new funding for Indigenous institutes; and $8.1 million in 2021-22 for children and youth with eating disorders.
- $10 million over two years to tackle systemic racism and protect Ontarians against hate.
- $20 million to support the identification, investigation, protection, and commemoration of Residential School burial sites across the province. Ontario will also ensure that there are culturally appropriate, trauma-informed mental health supports available to Residential School Survivors, their families, and Indigenous communities.
This pillar outlines a plan to build a post-pandemic and future-ready Ontario, spurring economic growth by investing in major infrastructure projects, including highways, housing, and high-speed internet.
Key investments under this pillar include:
- $2.6 billion over the next year to expand and repair highways and bridges and another $474 million over five years for bridge rehabilitation projects across Ontario. Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass are front and centre: these GTA projects are seen as a winning wedge issue.
- A $28.5 billion plan to build Toronto subways.
- Nearly $1 billion to support planning and construction of a road network into the Ring of Fire, supported by legislative amendments to allow for joint land-use planning with First Nations.
- A Housing Affordability Task Force, building on the earlier Housing Supply Action Plan.
- More than $30 billion over ten years for hospital infrastructure, as well as $3.7 billion beginning in 2024-25 for 10,000 new long-term care beds and 12,000 renewed beds.
- Doubling annual investment in the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund program with an additional $1 billion over five years for small, rural and remote communities, as well as investing nearly $4 billion by 2025 to increase access to high-speed internet across the province.
Working for Workers
This pillar outlines a plan to support workers and promote economic prosperity in a post-pandemic Ontario.
Key investments under this pillar include:
- Increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour starting from January 1, 2022.
- $5 million between 2021-22 to expand the Second Career Program to support newcomers, gig workers and people with disabilities.
- Extending the Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit until the end of 2022.
- Investing $40 million over the next two years to enhance the Digital Main Street project as well as $10 million to create the Small Business Digitization Competence Centre.
- Introducing the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit, investing $270 million to support accommodation and travel expenses within the province during 2022.
- Creating a $40 million-dollar Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Competitiveness stream in the Regional Development program to support the growth of skilled trade programs.
Today’s Fall Economic Statement outlines the Ford government’s priorities for the last six months of their mandate and provides a preview of their focus for the 2022 election.
While the Ford government is still polling ahead of opposition parties, they will be looking to increase their lead in the coming months to retain their majority government on election day. This means moving past the pandemic and convincing people they are the right party to rebuild Ontario. While the Fall Economic Statement reminds Ontarians of the government’s supports throughout COVID-19, there is a relative shift away from health care and toward regular bread-and-butter issues.
Earlier this fall, Finance Minister Bethlenfalvy stated he would work toward balancing the budget through increased economic activity rather than major cuts to government spending. Although today’s economic update includes an additional $3 billion in government spending, Bethlenfalvy remains committed to his promise, reducing the deficit forecast by over $11 billion.
In 2021-22 the Ontario government expects to spend $69.9 billion on base health sector expenditures. Additionally, they anticipate spending $5.2 billion on dedicated COVID-19 health response. This accounts for roughly 40% of Ontario’s budget and so it stands to reason they would point out where these dollars will continue to be spent.
Infrastructure building, including roads and transit, is one of the most visible ways provincial governments can impact people’s lives – so it is no surprise to see a special focus on this area in the lead-up to an election. Investments in Toronto and the GTA make sense given this region will be critical to the PCs’ electoral fortunes. Southwestern and Northern Ontario – both areas that are up for grabs – get some attention. Also, promises for small towns and rural communities help shore up the PCs’ traditional constituency.
Included are several measures aimed at garnering support in the GTA suburban ridings that are crucial to a PC victory. For example, infrastructure projects such as Highway 413 and the expansion of a new wing at the William Osler Health System will be well received in the vote-rich Peel Region. Overall, infrastructure projects are not just described as dollar investments but also in terms of the jobs they will create.
A focus on workers through the implementation of a $15 minimum wage and funding for job training provides a preview of the types of policies Ford and his team will be promising in the lead-up to and during the 2022 general election.
As the 2022 election nears, members of the PC Cabinet and caucus will be promoting these measures across the province. New members of Cabinet who represent swing ridings will be front and centre in subsequent reannouncements to raise their profile and demonstrate their ability to get results for their communities.
- Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath tweeted, “Doug Ford’s budget update ignores what Ontarians need now. Ford’s buddies get whatever they want, and you get none of what you need now. No help with sky-high costs and low wages. No urgent investment in health care and education. People need and deserve support now.”
- Ontario Liberal Party leader Steven Del Duca stated, “Instead of releasing the plan Ontario families were looking for, today’s Fall Economic Statement failed on vaccine mandates, childcare, education, support for small business, and so much more.”
- Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner tweeted, “We’re in a climate emergency, but Ford has his head buried in the concrete. The entire 200 pg mini-budget mentions #climate change just 4 times but highways 58 times! Ford fails to focus on building a livable & affordable future for Ontarians.”
Authored by: Stephanie Dunlop, Matt Boudreau, Alexandra Valcour, Isha Chaudhuri, Sarah Dickson and Heon Lee from H+K’s Toronto Public Affairs + Advocacy Team.