Monday, November 14, 2022 – Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy delivered the province’s Fall Economic Statement this afternoon, with a focus on addressing the high cost of living. The government announced no new health spending, with the focus instead on responding to a year of record inflation rates through the extension of the gas and fuel tax cut for an additional year, as well as support for seniors by doubling Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payments.
Health mentions in the Fall Economic Statement were limited to a previously announced 5% increase to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and a reiteration of the government’s investment of $40 billion in health capital spending over the next 10 years, their plan to build 30,000 new long-term care beds, and ongoing or pre-planned investments in health human resources programs.
Today’s statement included government commitments to:
- Extend the gas and fuel tax cut until December 31, 2023;
- Increase the ODSP monthly earnings exemption to $1,000/month (from $200), while “improving the disability eligibility determination processes”;
- Expand the number of small businesses eligible for small business tax relief;
- Invest an additional $40 million in the Skills Development Fund; and,
- Double payments for recipients of GAINS.
The Impact on Health Care
Recent headlines have placed the health system back at the forefront of provincial politics. Ongoing health human resource (HHR) challenges, combined with a resurgence in COVID-19 cases and a spike in flu and other respiratory illnesses, are placing new pressures on already overwhelmed hospitals. Earlier this morning, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, also recommended Ontarians return to wearing masks indoors.
Throughout the lead up to this year’s provincial election and since, the government has attempted to turn the page from COVID-19 and develop its credentials as an economic manager through a relentless focus on job creation, eye-catching infrastructure development announcements and targeted tax cuts. Nevertheless, with a surge in this new trifecta of virus cases, the government faces another winter of front-page headlines about a health system in crisis which will distract from their economic messaging.
The government is touting their progress in adding over 10,000 new health workers to the system since early 2020, but this will do little to satisfy health stakeholders who feel that the system is in crisis and needs far more capacity now. There is an expectation the government will launch a comprehensive health human resources plan in the not-too-distant future, but there were no signals in today’s economic statement. This long-awaited plan will be critical to ensuring Ontario has the workforce to support an aging population with increasingly complex health needs. The Premier and Minister of Health, Sylvia Jones, will need to reassure health stakeholders that despite the lack of new spending announced today, they have a plan to address the challenges facing the health system.