As the government prepares to release its 2020 budget later this month, Ontario’s finance minister says the province is ready to weather the storm of COVID-19’s economic impact.
“It is clear that COVID-19 is having an economic impact. How deep and significant that impact will be, will be unclear until we know the true scope of the issue and how long it is going to persist,” Rod Phillips said Tuesday at the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto.
Global stocks are tanking as the novel coronavirus outbreak spreads.
The budget is based on past economic assumptions, which are now changing, but the province has a reserve of more than $1 billion, Phillips said.
“We are entering into this period of economic uncertainty in a position of strength.”
Last year, Ontario accounted for 76 per cent of the country’s job growth. Phillips said since Premier Doug Ford’s government came into office, more than 300,000 net new jobs have been created, 85 per cent of them in the private sector.
In question period Tuesday morning, opposition leader Andrea Horwath asked where the province’s plan was and said it was “not good enough to monitor” the issue of COVID-19.
“Sadly, when people look at this government for a plan they see a premier who is moving in the wrong direction — moving ahead with cuts and forced amalgamation of public health units in the midst of a public health crisis; taking away legislative protection of sick days at exactly the moment when health experts are urging people to stay away from work when they’re ill; plowing ahead with an agenda of cuts that will put a drag on the economy at a time when we need to boost it,” she said.
In response, Phillips said the government will work co-operatively with all members of the legislature but called Horwath’s remarks “alarmism.”
Phillips will join the premier at the first ministers’ meeting in Ottawa on Friday along with Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others to discuss COVID-19 and other issues.
Ford “will be calling for further federal action and national co-ordination to address COVID-19,” according to Phillips.
“In the long run, one of the most important things that governments need to do is ensure they have the fiscal flexibility to deal with unforeseen circumstances,” Phillips said.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott will also be in Ottawa to work with the federal government on COVID-19-related issues where they have taken the lead, such as the government’s response to quarantine and border screening.
In an interview on CP24 after his speech Tuesday, Phillips said there is a lot of contingency preparation needed. The ability of businesses to react to the outbreak is critical, he said, citing reports that employees from an RBC office in Mississauga, Ont., are in self-quarantine after a worker tested positive for COVID-19.
The Ontario government’s 2019 budget left the health-care system billions short, and included cuts to municipal public health funding.