On March 24, 2020, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, Greg Rickford, announced that the Government of Ontario will provide immediate electricity rate relief by suspending time-of-use rates for 45 days. This measure is intended to provide relief for Ontarians who are using more electricity at home as a result of staying home and self-isolating.
Premier Ford and Minister Rickford were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott; Associate Minister of Energy Bill Walker; and Minister of Finance Rod Phillips. In a media availability following the announcement, Premier Ford and Minister Phillips took questions about tomorrow’s fiscal update and possible additional measures in Ontario’s response to COVID-19.
In regard to the mechanics of the legislature, Government House Leader Paul Calandra has confirmed that MPPs will sit tomorrow in order to pass the government’s proposed economic measures. The Legislature would need to meet again in April if the state of emergency is extended.
Yesterday, the Ontario government also implemented enhanced measures to protect the safety of residents in long-term care homes.
Suspension of Time-of-Use Electricity Rates – Premier Doug Ford and Minister Greg Rickford
Premier Ford and Minister Rickford today announced that Ontario will provide electricity rate relief by suspending time-of-use rates while the province responds to COVID-19, acknowledging that there will be increased electricity usage by Ontarians staying home and self-isolating. Time-of-use electricity rates will be suspended for a 45-day period, beginning March 24th, 2020, and during this period, electricity prices will be held to the off-peak rate of 10.1 cents-per-kilowatt-hour. The reduced price will be available 24 hours per day, seven days a week.
By switching to a fixed off-peak rate, customers will see rate reductions of over 50 per cent compared to on-peak rates. This discount will be applied automatically to electricity bills with no required application or waiting period. In addition to residential customers, small business and farms who currently pay time-of-use rates will also be eligible to receive the discount.
According to Minister Rickford, today’s announcement constitutes a $160-million investment by the Government of Ontario. He assured reporters that Ontario has a strong electricity system and is equipped to continue to provide a reliable supply while Ontarians remain in self-isolation at home. Minister Rickford also confirmed that the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has extended the winter ban on disconnections from electricity or natural gas supplies to July 31st.
The 45-day timeline for the suspension of time-of-use electricity rates will enable the Government of Ontario to reassess the situation in early-to-mid-May and determine whether an extension will be required.
When asked, both Premier Ford and Minister Rickford expressed that they were hopeful landlords who pay tenant electricity bills would pass on these savings to tenants.
March 25th Fiscal Update – Minister Rod Phillips
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Minister Phillips confirmed to reporters that tomorrow’s fiscal update would be the first phase of the Ontario government’s response to COVID-19, leaving open the possibility of future updates as the situation evolves.
A significant focus of tomorrow’s fiscal update will be on the province’s response to COVID-19, particularly with regards to ensuring that the health care system gets the support it needs. Also included will be measures to support businesses and Ontarians that will be “complementary” to what the federal government is providing. The Ontario government does not have the same fiscal capacity as the federal government and is taking care not to duplicate where federal support has already been announced.
Tomorrow’s fiscal update will use the most accurate and up-to-date information available to the Government of Ontario to provide certainty regarding funding for school boards, municipalities and hospitals. The update will not contain any multi-year projections.
Minister Phillips also confirmed that the Ontario government has committed to releasing a full budget by mid-November.
Other COVID-19 Response Measures in Ontario – Premier Doug Ford
In response to questions about the list of essential services which will be permitted to remain open in Ontario, Premier Ford confirmed that this list can be edited, including the addition or removal of certain services, as deemed necessary. The list released yesterday evening was produced in consultation with retail associations, labour leaders, and the Ontario Public Service.
When asked about escalating Ontario’s response by closing provincial borders, Premier Ford confirmed that he and Quebec Premier François Legault had spoken on this matter. Given the vastness of the Ontario-Quebec border, Premier Ford expressed that a closure would be difficult to enforce. He instead expressed his hope that Ontarians listen to recommendations to avoid travel, including travel to other provinces.
Premier Ford also confirmed that reopening Ontario schools on April 6th is extremely unlikely. Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, will provide updates on this over the coming days.
Enhanced Measures to Protect the Safety of Residents in Long-Term Care Homes
Yesterday, the Ontario government also enacted a temporary order under the March 17, 2020 declaration of emergency to ensure that personnel are properly deployed and that staff, volunteers, and residents in long-term care homes are kept safe.
This order gives long-term care homes the ability to prevent and/or respond to a COVID-19 outbreak through measures such as:
- Redeploying staff within different locations in (or between) facilities of the health service provider;
- Changing the assignment of work, including assigning non-bargaining unit employees or contractors to perform bargaining unit work;
- Changing the scheduling of work or shift assignments;
- Deferring or cancelling vacations, absences or other leaves;
- Employing extra part-time or temporary staff or contractors;
- Using volunteers to perform work, and;
- Providing appropriate training or education as needed to staff and volunteers to achieve the purposes of a redeployment plan.
Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, has also issued a new directive for long-term care homes that restricts residents from leaving a home for short visits with family and friends. The aim of this directive is to ensure that residents do not inadvertently contract COVID-19 while out of the home and spread the virus upon their return.
In addition to the order enacted yesterday, Ontario is also increasing long-term care bed availability to ensure homes can provide isolation rooms when required, as well as to free-up hospital beds. Long-term care homes continue to restrict non-essential visits and actively screen essential visitors, staff, volunteers, and new and returning residents.
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