Ontario finance minister hints at support to fight inflation
Ontario is allocating millions more to help parents hire guardians for children who have struggled during the pandemic and hints at financial supports to lessen the sting of rapidly rising prices after posting an unexpected budget surplus of $2.1 billion.
And in a symbolic move, a pay rise of nearly $26,000 a year for MLAs triggered by windfall under 2009 legislation will be scrapped.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy pledged on Friday as the province’s public accounts revealed the same inflation that is making life harder for people has boosted government revenue by 20% to $185 billion in during the fiscal year ended March 31.
“With workers and families grappling with rising costs, now is not the time for politicians to be handed raises,” he said at a press conference. Bethlenfalvy’s April budget — reintroduced in August after the election — said the province faced a $13.5 billion deficit, not a surplus, for the year ending March 31.
Inflation eased slightly to an annual rate of 7% in August, although food prices rose 10.8% from the same month last year, their biggest rise in four decades.
Bethlenfalvy said he would introduce legislation to reverse the MP’s pay hike that would have raised his base salary to $142,125 from $116,550, where it has been frozen for 13 years.
Critics said the surplus should be earmarked for better wages for healthcare workers who are in short supply due to high attrition due to unsafe working conditions amid COVID-19. Staff shortages led to the closure of dozens of hospital emergency rooms over the summer.
“It’s devastating for Ontarians who don’t have access to the health care they need,” said NDP MP Catherine Fife (Waterloo).
“Government touting $2.1 billion surplus at a time when our health care system is in crisis, Bill 124 caps (public sector) wages and some education workers earn $30,000 per year is a slap in the face to hard-working people for caring. for our loved ones,” Green Leader Mike Schreiner added in a statement.
Bethlenfalvy said the surplus will be used to reduce the province’s net debt by $380.4 billion.
The tutoring plan first announced in August will receive an additional $140 million, bringing it to $365 million, Education Minister Steven Lecce said during the press conference with Bethlenfalvy and the chairman of the Council of the Treasure Prabmeet Sarkaria.
While the province has yet to provide details on the tutoring fund, Lecce noted that applications will open in October before direct payments are made to families.
It wouldn’t say how much they can expect per child or issue any criteria, such as whether receipts will be required. The money can also be used by parents for the purchase of school supplies and equipment.
“We look forward to releasing details shortly,” Lecce added, reiterating a promise to release details made when the plan was unveiled as part of an updated provincial budget early last month. “Parents need more support…we owe it to our parents.”
With 200 million students in Ontario, the money won’t go far, Fife said. Some estimates indicated that the initial fund of $225 million would amount to about $100 per child.
“They certainly don’t make that very clear to parents,” Fife added, calling on the government to invest money in more supports for pupils in schools so that busy mums and dads don’t have to ” navigate” through the process of hiring tutors.
“This government has moved away from strengthening the public education system to really … handing that responsibility over to the private sector and to parents.”
Ontario students learned online for about 27 months of the pandemic, more than children elsewhere in North America and much of Europe. Since the start of the pandemic, the province has sent two payments to parents to help cover education-related expenses – a first payment of $200 per elementary student, then a $400 payment for elementary students and from high school.
Fife said New Democrats would not oppose cut pay rises for MPs because $116,550 is “good pay” and added that the $2.1 billion surplus is a signal that There is money in government coffers as education and other unions negotiate new contracts.
Bethlenfalvy warned against such assumptions given the risk of a recession that could be caused by rising interest rates aimed at stemming inflation and other threats to global economic stability from the invasion Russian from Ukraine.
“These are difficult times, there are uncertainties there,” he said.
Asked about more support for Ontarians, as high inflation has made groceries and other goods more expensive, the Minister of Finance replied, “What people can continue to expect from this government is that we will continue to act.
He will present the government’s annual fall economic statement by November 15.
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