September 14, 2020, today the Ontario government returned to the legislature following the summer recess and Premier Doug Ford provided an update on the government’s legislative priorities for the fall.
Premier Ford was joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, Minister of Finance, Rod Phillips, and Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce.
Earlier today, the government announced an investment of $175 million for critical upgrades in 129 hospitals across the province.
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Premier Ford and Minister Elliott responded to questions from media regarding Ontario’s ongoing response to COVID-19.
Fall Legislative Priorities
This afternoon, Premier Ford provided an overview of the Ontario government’s legislative priorities for the fall, adding that more information would follow in the coming days. The government will continue to focus on health preparedness and economic growth and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic. Specific priorities include:
- Investing in Ontario’s health care system to ensure that the province is prepared for a potential second wave of COVID-19 and for any future public health challenges;
- Building Ontario’s production capacity for personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators and other medical gear;
- Protecting families and vulnerable populations, and helping them get back on their feet as the province reopens;
- Helping young people and workers receive the skills training they need to join the modern workforce and contribute to the province’s recovery;
- Accelerating the construction of critical highway, transit and broadband infrastructure projects to create jobs and boost local economies;
- Providing relief to “Main street” Ontario and small business owners so they can recover from the impact of COVID-19;
- Expanding manufacturing by creating the conditions to bring investment and jobs to the province and Ontario-made products to consumers around the world.
Investment in Hospital Upgrades and Repairs
Earlier today, the government announced an investment of $175 million through the Health Infrastructure Renewal Fund, to address critical upgrades, repairs and maintenance in 129 hospitals across the province. This funding will include including $50 million for COVID-19-related and other urgent projects, such as updating HVAC systems to enhance patient and staff safety, creating additional isolation spaces and negative air pressure flow rooms, and enhancing infection prevention and control measures.
Questions from Media – Ongoing Response to COVID-19
Spike in COVID-19 Cases
Premier Ford addressed the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Ontario, with more than 200 daily new cases reported over the last several days and 313 new cases reported today.
Premier Ford called today’s numbers “a cause for concern” and reiterated that every option remains on the table to slow the spread of the virus, including re-imposing stricter public health measures on a regional basis where COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring, such as Ottawa and the Greater Toronto Area. He urged Ontarians to continue to adhere to public health guidelines and to avoid large social gatherings.
The Premier added that, while today’s numbers are concerning, the government has been preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 over the summer, and as a result Ontario is in much better shape to respond than when faced with the first wave of the virus in March. Strides have been made to significantly increase the province’s testing capacity and supply of PPE, and substantial investments have been made in the healthcare system.
When asked which metrics would be used to decide whether a return to stage two is necessary, Minister Elliott said that the COVID-19 Command Table is looking at criteria such as the number of cases, hospitalizations, and patients on ventilators. She emphasized that while Ontario is not yet at a point where a return to stage two is necessary, the steady increase is being monitored by the government and health officials.
Preparedness Plan for Second Wave
When asked of the government’s plan to deal with a potential second wave of COVID-19, Minister Elliott said that the government will release a “robust fall preparedness plan” shortly. She added that the plan takes into account new challenges associated with a second wave, including overlap with the fall flu season, ongoing hospital capacity issues, and an existing backlog of surgeries.