The Ford Government released the 2020 Ontario Budget on November 5th, outlining the fiscal path to recovery from COVID-19 and Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover. The Government is projecting a deficit of $38.5 billion for 2020-21. For the medium term, they are projecting a deficit of $33.1 billion for 2021-22 and $28.2 billion for 2022-23. The Action Plan provides an overview of the specific programs and funding opportunities for recovery from COVID-19 and ongoing service delivery.
The Action Plan is outlined by three overarching sections: Protect, Support and Recover. Within Protect, the Government is providing funds for Ontario’s COVID-19 health response. This includes support to hospitals and long-term care homes. Within Support, the Government is providing funding and direct assistance for organizations and citizens which consists of job creation and protections for seniors. Finally, within Recover, the Government is seeking to stimulate economic recovery through supporting job development.
The Government’s approach has been divided into two separate sections: (1) the urgent response to COVID-19 and (2) the longer-term tactics. The Government originally dedicated $7.7 billion to the COVID-19 response in the Action Plan laid out in March 2020. With the additional commitments outlined in the 2020 budget, the Government has allocated $8.3 billion towards the COVID-19 response throughout 2020-21. The funds have been used in various areas including increased direct support in long-term care homes, investments for additional support in hospitals, purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and temporary wage increases, etc. In addition, the Government is investing $2.8 billion towards a Fall Preparedness Plan in order to support the response to the second wave of COVID-19. This includes key investments in ramping up testing for COVID-19, case and contact management and resources to address the surgical backlog.
The Government is providing considerable support for job creation and support to families, businesses and municipal partners. In the Government’s March Action Plan, $11 billion was provided in direct support for people and jobs and the 2020 budget is adding an additional $2.4 billion to this commitment. The funds will be divided amongst various stakeholders, including: $100 million over two years for the Community Building Fund to support community tourism, cultural and sport organizations; an additional $1.8 billion in the Support for People and Jobs Fund over the next two years; investing up to $4 billion for municipalities and transit systems; and $241 million to provide urgent relief to roughly 64,000 small businesses and landlords.
The Ontario Government is using the 2020 Budget as an opportunity to lay the foundation for a road to recovery from COVID-19. The Budget provides $4.8 billion in new funding to assist with this. The investments are diverse and reach many sectors, some of them include: $680 million over the next 4 years in broadband infrastructure; proposing to provide municipalities with the ability to cut property tax for small businesses and a provincial commitment to consider matching these reductions; and providing $500 million over four years to make government services more reliable, convenient and accessible through the Ontario Onwards Acceleration Fund.
What has been made available for municipalities?
Some of the available opportunities for municipalities were outlined throughout the above three buckets, however, there is additional funding available for municipalities. The following is a comprehensive list of opportunities:
- The Government has committed to address the variation in Business Education Tax (BET) rates, which would reduce regional tax unfairness. They are committing to reduce high BET rates by $450 million in 2021.
- Investing $510 million through the Social Services Relief Fund to help municipal service managers and Indigenous housing partners to protect homeless shelter staff and residents.
- Proposing to provide municipalities with the ability to cut property tax for small businesses. This could provide as much as $385 million in total municipal and provincial property tax relief by 2022-23.
- Funding for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), which includes over $1 billion in federal and provincial funding under the COVID-19 Resilience stream to support health and safety of citizens and accelerate the delivery of priority municipal infrastructure projects.
- Investing up to $4 billion for municipalities and transit systems to provide one time assistance.
- Investing $2 million over two years to create a new Inclusive Community Grants program. This will fund the development of community supports that promote healthy and active aging.
- Investing $100 million over two years to develop a Community Building Fund that supports community tourism, cultural and sports organizations. The funding would be made available to municipalities through the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF).
- $9 million through the Reconnect Festival and Event Program to support municipalities and event organizers through COVID-19.
- $4 billion in one-time assistance through the Safe Restart Agreement, with up to $2 billion direct to municipalities.
- Through the Municipal Modernization Program and the Audit and Accountability Fund, the Government is providing up to $350 million by 2022–23 to help municipalities lower costs and improve services for local residents over the long term.
- Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) maintaining the same $500 million envelope, allowing for further support targeted at Northern and rural municipalities.
- $15 million in one-time funding over two years to support municipalities to improve the management of Lake Ontario wastewater and stormwater discharges.
- Ontario will continue its participation in the National Disaster Mitigation Program and make federal funding available to municipalities.
- $2 billion to help municipalities keep their transit systems running, and relieve financial pressures created by COVID-19 as part of the Safe Restart Agreement.