The Ontario government delivered its second budget of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the third of Premier Doug Ford’s term of office. The budget is a spending smorgasbord. It is an attempt to address the needs of the province as it digs out from the social and economic mess that the pandemic has wrought.
Spending money in a time of crisis is appropriate, and there are some positive notes with this budget. While Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy addressed many overall needs in Ontario, and many needs of specific regions, there is one area that sees nothing addressed that has not already been addressed, SDG Counties.
Included in the budget is mentions of money already announced under last year’s spending plan for health care. Expansions and redevelopments like Woodland Villa, Dundas Manor, and Maxville Manor are appreciated. But this budget does not address affordable housing, or access to home care – both of which are critical needs in this riding. Given the aging population in SDG, addressing these health care needs is crucial, but lacking from this budget.
Education spending is flat. The government will continue to spend on capital projects, but not on operations. In fact, the Ministry of Education said in a memo to school boards that the $1.6 billion in extra spending for COVID-19 supports is not being continued for the 2021-22 school year. Over the next four years, spending does not keep pace with inflation. The government’s move to include permanent remote learning after the pandemic is worrisome, as is the lack of any redress for rural school transportation costs. All these have real implications to rural schools in SDG where enrollment is already a challenge for survival.
The government plans to spend more than $20 billion over 10 years for highway projects in the province. Not one of those projects is in Eastern Ontario despite the need for improvements on Highways 401 and 138, and numerous transportation infrastructure deficiencies.
We don’t know if local MPP Jim McDonell asked for specific projects or any projects for this riding. Nor do we know if he advocated for rural education or health care. His recent “public” pre-budget consultations were not open to the media. Perhaps he did advocate for his riding, which covers most of SDG, and it fell on deaf ears?
SDG Counties has a slogan used in its tourism marketing – Where Ontario Began. It would be nice, when the government is spending the province’s money that it would remember this area is still part of Ontario. Having a long-serving MPP as member of government, one would think it would be remembered.