Health Highlights from the 2022 Ontario Budget

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy today released the Ford Government’s final budget of its first term. Forming the foundation for the Ontario PC Party’s re-election pitch, the budget includes a record $198.6 billion in total spending, $11 billion higher than 2021-22, including a record $75.2 billion in health spending.

Ontario’s Plan to Build focuses on five major themes, Working for Workers, Rebuilding Ontario’s Economy, Building Highways and Key Infrastructure, Keeping Costs Down and a Plan to Stay Open.

Many of today’s promises were previously rolled out over the past few months, with few additional major announcements in the budget. From a health care perspective, the government remains laser focused on infrastructure, with significant commitments to expand hospitals and to develop new and upgraded long-term care beds. Today’s budget also included previously unannounced funding for community support services, commitments to increase emergency health capacity and specialized mental health support for front line workers.

Emphasized in today’s budget document and previous Fall Economic Statements, the province continues to call on the federal government for sustainable and increased funding through the Canada Health Transfer.

A full breakdown of the health commitments in Budget 2022 can be found below.

Analysis: A Post-COVID, Pre-Election Budget

With the June 2 election fast approaching, today’s budget offered something for everyone as the Progressive Conservatives seek to solidify their lead in polls. While the COVID-19 pandemic remains an issue for voters, it has quickly become overshadowed by the rising cost of living amid record inflation levels. The government is seeking to turn the page on the pandemic by delivering the first budget since 2019 without a focus on COVID-19.

The budget returned to traditional conservative ground of the economy and pocketbook issues, combined with major infrastructure promises particularly in health and transportation. The Ford Government has also continued to make overtures to working class Ontarians through their “Working for Workers” policies. This continued in the budget with a commitment to cut taxes for Ontarians earning less than $50,000 a year and a previously announced commitment to raise the minimum wage to $15.50 by October 1, 2022.

While health care was not the central focus it once was in the past two provincial budgets, there were major investments in the broader health system, reflecting the continued importance of health care to voters. Increasing system capacity through expanding hospitals, building and upgrading long-term care homes, and investments in home and community care are critical in preparing for a rapidly aging population.

Even as the government builds capacity through infrastructure spending, staffing shortages remain a clear concern. As new hospitals and long-term care homes are built and as home and community care expands, the need for more doctors, nurses and personal support workers (PSWs) will only grow. The major parties are beginning to tackle these challenges. The NDP, for example, outlined an ambitious plan in their platform to hire 10,000 PSWs and 30,000 nurses, expedite the nursing credentials of 15,000 internationally trained nurses, raise PSW wages and scrap Bill 124. While the Liberals haven’t released a full health platform yet, they have signaled they will also eliminate Bill 124 and raise PSW wages should they form government.

In today’s budget, the Progressive Conservatives expanded on their plan outlined in the 2021 Fall Economic Statement to hire 5,000 new and upskilled nurses and 8,000 PSWs. Today’s budget also included investments to expand medical school programs, recruit and retain nurses, make the PSW wage increase permanent and grow the critical care workforce. The follow through on these commitments from whoever wins the June election will be critical to ensuring the sustainability of Ontario’s health system over the next decade.

Ultimately, no matter which party takes the reins of government in June, there are still significant challenges to address in Ontario’s health care system. Today’s budget offered the Progressive Conservative’s vision to tackle these problems over the next four years. The legislature, however, rises today and will not sit again until after the election. Today’s commitments will only be implemented should the Progressive Conservatives be re-elected, with Minister Bethlenfalvy stating “the people will make a decision on whether we pass this budget or not.”

Health Care Commitments 

Hospitals and Surgical Backlog:

The budget contains a previously announced $300 million commitment to reduce the surgical backlog and diagnostic imaging backlog as part of the Surgical Recovery strategy, including 150,000 additional MRI and CT scan hours.

The government today announced a commitment to spend more than $40 billion on health infrastructure over the next 10 years to increase hospital capacity by 3,000 new beds through more than 50 major projects, up from $30.2 billion committed last year. In addition, the government is committing $1.5 billion for the operation of more than 3,000 acute and post-acute beds, $827 million for public hospitals and $250 million for health human resources.

As part of the $40 billion health infrastructure plan, the government has already funded two projects, committing:

  • $1 billion to expand Unity Health’s St. Joseph’s Health Centre with a new patient care tower and to renovate the existing hospital.
  • More than $1 billion in expansion and redevelopment projects at the Scarborough Health Network.

The government has also laid the groundwork for future capital spending with funding commitments to plan future expansions, including previously announced projects:

  • $38.8 million for University Health Network, including $34 million for a new patient tower at Toronto Western Hospital, with an additional $17.1 million for planning for Canada’s first-ever hospital-based proton therapy beam facility.

  • $21 million for planning to redevelop Peel Memorial and expand cancer care at Brampton Civic Hospital, both part of William Osler Health System.

  • $20 million for planning to redevelop Hamilton’s Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre and expand Hamilton General Hospital’s Emergency Department.

  • $14 million to support planning for the phased redevelopment of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare’s two hospital sites, Huntsville District Memorial and South Muskoka Memorial.

  • $10 million for planning to build a new health facility for Centre de Santé Communautaire de Timmins.

  • $5 million for planning to expand Grand River Hospital and St Mary’s General Hospital in the Region of Waterloo.

  • $5 million for planning to expand Southlake Regional Health Centre in York Region and Simcoe County.

  • $5 million to redevelop St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton psychiatric emergency service into two patient care areas.

  • $2.5 million for planning to expand Oak Valley Health’s Uxbridge site.

  • $2.5 million to support the redevelopment of Brantford General Hospital and Willett Hospital.

  • $2.5 million to support early planning for Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre’s new South Campus Health Hub in Innisfil.

  • $3 million for planning to redevelop North York General Hospital and build a new emergency department.

Long-Term Care:

The government continued its investment in long-term care infrastructure, today outlining its progress towards achieving its stated goal of 30,000 net new long-term care beds by 2030.

New investments in long-term care include:

  • $8.3 million over three years for 40 additional Behavioural Specialized Unit beds in Ajax and Mississauga long-term care homes.

  • $60 million over two years to expand the Community Paramedicine for Long-Term Care program.

Home Care and Community Support Services:

The home care sector received a second significant boost in six months this week with the government committing an additional $1 billion over the next three years to expand home care. This adds to the $548.5 million over three years announced in the 2021 Fall Economic Statement.

The government also committed $15 million over three years to expand Community Support services as part of the government’s dementia strategy. Additionally, the government is investing $5.5 million to extend the Ontario Community Support Program.

Other commitments supporting home care and community support services and their clients include:

  • Extending the Senior’s Home Safety Tax Credit through 2022, which covers up to 25% of eligible expenses to support home renovations to make them more accessible.

  • $110 million to create a new Seniors Care at Home Tax Credit, an income-tested credit which covers 25% out-of-pocket expenses for home care up to $6,000, with a maximum credit of $1,500.

  • Additional $15 million to expand the Home and Vehicle Modification Program.

Health Human Resources:

With staffing shortages across the health sector, the government has rolled out several announcements over the past two years aimed at growing the workforce. Previously announced commitments captured in the 2022 Budget include:

  • $2.8 billion to make the Personal Support Worker (PSW) and Developmental Services Worker (DSW) temporary wage enhancements permanent.

  • $764 million in retention incentives for nurses, up to $5,000 per person.

  • $230 million to increase health care capacity.

  • $124 million to provide clinical education opportunities for nurses at colleges and universities.

  • $61 million for a new “Learn and Stay” grant to provide tuition reimbursement to up to 1,500 nurse graduates who agree to practice in an underserved community.

  • $42.5 million over two years to expand medical school spaces.

  • $49 million over three years for training, recruitment and retention of critical care workers.

COVID-19 & Pandemic Preparedness:

While the budget contains no new investments in public health, the government has previously outlined its commitments in this area through A Plan to Stay Open and the recently passed Pandemic and Emergency Preparedness Act.

The budget contains $3.5 million to improve emergency readiness in Ontario through increased coordination across government services and a robust commitment to develop domestic production and maintain a supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The government has also re-announced plans to commit $25 million to increase testing and improve vaccination rates in 17 communities in Ontario which have lagged the rest of the province in these key COVID-19 metrics.

Mental Health and Addiction Services:

In 2020, the government announced an investment of $3.8 billion over ten years to support the Roadmap to Wellness: A Plan to Build Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions System. This year’s budget provides $204 million for mental health and addiction services.

Additionally, the Government committed $1 million to support planning for a new First Responders Post Traumatic Stress Injury Rehabilitation Centre at Runnymede Healthcare Centre.

Life Sciences:

In March 2022 the government announced its new life sciences strategy, Taking Life Sciences to the Next Level. The strategy includes a commitment to increase the number of jobs in Ontario’s life sciences sector by 25% to 85,000 by 2030. Today’s budget includes $15 million over three years for the Life Sciences Innovation Program as part of this broader strategic commitment.

What’s Next? 

With the legislature rising today, the countdown is on to Election Day on June 2. It is expected the writ will drop on May 4, officially launching the campaign period.

The NDP platform was released on Monday, which means the Liberals are the only remaining major party not to release a full list of policy commitments. This will likely occur over the coming weeks following a rollout of major policies, such as their Elder Care policy covering long-term care and home care earlier this week.

To learn more about the budget and party positions on health issues, watch a recording of our webinar from Monday, May 2. Our team of experts shared their insights on how the next government can shape Ontario’s health sector over the next four years. Watch here.

Additional Reading 

To read the 2022 Budget, click here.

To read the official news release, click here.

To read the NDP platform, click here.

To view the Santis Election Tracker, click here.