August 9, 2022
Ontario Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell today delivered the Speech from the Throne, outlining the Ontario government’s agenda for the new legislative session.
The government openly acknowledged the significant challenges they face due to economic pressures and health human resources shortages, however the speech focused on a “stay the course” message, recommitting to many of the programs and investments that have been announced over the past 12 months. The government reiterated their continued focus on cutting red tape, keeping taxes low and investing in health and highway infrastructure, manufacturing and skilled trades.
While acknowledging the recent challenges faced by the health and long-term care systems across the province, there were no specific announcements of new investments or health programs in the speech. The government committed to working with stakeholders to “identify urgent and actionable solutions” to ease immediate pressures, while remaining focused on long-term reforms such as Ontario Health Teams, digital and virtual care options for patients, and Community Paramedicine Teams.
Federal-provincial relations also remain a factor, with the government continuing to call for an increase to the federal government’s share of health budgets to 35% through the Canada Health Transfer, echoing repeated calls from the Council of the Federation. The government also confirmed plans to introduce a new “Strong-mayor” system in Toronto and Ottawa, enhancing the power of the mayors in an effort to streamline development decisions and increase the housing supply.
The government today also re-tabled the 2022 Ontario Budget, first introduced before the election in April. The re-tabled budget contains only minor changes including an additional 5% in Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments and a new $225 million child benefit payment. Despite record inflation levels and supply chain challenges affecting construction prices, the government has not yet updated their projections for health infrastructure costs and the current projections remain the same as in the April Budget.
Speech Highlights: Health and Long-Term Care Policy
Although today’s speech did not contain any new announcements for health policy, the government did highlight existing programs and policies and tout achievements from last term. The areas of focus in the speech signal areas the government plans to focus on over the coming term.
Health and long-term care policies and programs mentioned in the Speech from the Throne include:
- Investing in 3,500 new hospital beds.
- Building 30,000 new long-term care beds.
- Hiring 27,000 new staff for long-term care homes to provide an average of 4 hours of direct care per resident per day.
- Investing $1 billion over three years to expand home care services.
- Investing and promoting the Roadmap to Wellness, the government’s 10 year strategy for mental health and addiction services.
- Making the Personal Support Worker (PSW) and Developmental Services Worker (DSW) temporary wage enhancement permanent.
- Providing nursing retention bonuses of up to $5,000.
- Eliminating Canadian work experience requirements for nursing registration.
- Expanding medical school places.
- Investing in the training, recruitment and retention of critical care workers.
- Investing in clinical education opportunities for nurses at colleges and universities.
- Creating 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.
- Expanding the Community Paramedicine for Long-Term Care program.
- Investing in a new First Responders Post Traumatic Stress Injury Rehabilitation Centre at Runnymede Healthcare Centre.
Speaker Election – MPP Ted Arnott (Wellington-Halton Hills) was re-elected yesterday as Speaker in a secret ballot contest against the Premier’s favoured candidate MPP Nina Tangri (Mississauga-Streetsville). The rare dispute over the speaker election saw the opposition parties and several PC MPP’s back Mr. Arnott’s re-election over supporting the government’s candidate. Mr. Arnott is known for being scrupulously non-partisan and is widely respected across the aisle for his even-handedness.
NDP Leadership – Andrea Horwath also resigned as leader on election night and is set to resign her seat in the legislature on August 18 to run for Mayor of Hamilton in October’s municipal election. MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) has been named the NDP’s interim leader with a new permanent leader set to be elected in March 2023. The NDP have once again chosen MPP France Gélinas (Nickel Belt) to be Health critic, MPP Lisa Gretsky (Windsor West) as Mental Health and Addictions critic and MPP Wayne Gates (Niagara Falls) as Long-Term Care, Retirement Homes and Home Care critic. A full list of the NDP’s critic portfolios can be found here.
Liberal Leadership – Following the election night resignation of Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, John Fraser (Ottawa South) has been elected as interim leader, the second time he has held the role. There is currently no date set for electing a permanent leader, and no official candidates. Newly elected Don Valley East MPP Dr. Adil Shamji has been named Liberal Health critic while interim leader MPP John Fraser (Ottawa South) will be the critic for Long-Term Care. A full list of the Liberal’s critic portfolios can be found here.
The government did not shy away from acknowledging the ongoing challenges in the health system in today’s Speech from the Throne, with recent hospital and emergency room closures resulting from staffing shortages still dominating front pages across the province. In the past six months, major announcements have tended to focus less on health as the government sought to turn the page on COVID-19 and focus on economic issues, however today’s speech once again had the health system front and centre.
Although the speech largely contained re-announcements and recommitments to existing plans including investments in hospital and long-term care infrastructure, the Roadmap to Wellness and rollout of Ontario Health Teams, with the health human resources crisis expanding, the government is under tremendous pressure to take action to increase staffing capacity. Continuing work from their first mandate, the government also signaled its commitment to expanding scopes of practice for qualified healthcare professionals to help alleviate pressures in other parts of the health system.
In welcome news for health providers, the government today committed to working with stakeholders to “identify urgent and actionable solutions”, however no immediate action was announced.
Following a tough week of headlines, Minister of Health Sylvia Jones faced the media last week for the first time since taking on the portfolio, focusing on efforts the government was already taking, including investing in health education and training. Minister Jones has also called for the College of Nurses of Ontario and College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to present plans in the next two weeks to improve and expedite registration times for internationally trained professionals. Related to these efforts, Premier Ford and Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton continue to call for increases in skilled immigration caps for the province to address shortages, a call which was echoed in today’s speech from the throne.
It is clear the government is well aware of the scope of the challenge ahead and that there are no easy solutions. Stakeholder advocacy will play a key role in developing the policy response to the HHR crisis, with the government likely to invest in cost-effective and timely solutions.
Read the Speech from the Throne here.
Read Keeping Costs Down for Ontario Families Backgrounder here.
Read Budget 2022 here.