By: Surjit Singh Flora
Welcome to the “roaring” 20s. With an eye towards supporting infrastructure, long-term care, hospitals and local businesses, the province put its foot on the gas pedal Wednesday afternoon as they unveiled a sprawling $186-billion-dollar budget. “We are going to defeat this virus, and we are going to come back stronger,” Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said Wednesday afternoon during a press conference after the budgetary reveal — unveiled as the province grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The budget, which includes an assortment of infrastructure upgrades, economic supports and funding injections, is counting on economic growth within the province — and projects a solid decade of red ink, with deficits expected through the 2029-2030 fiscal period. For the coming fiscal year, the province will run a $33.1-billion-dollar deficit. Peel was highlighted as a key focus in the province’s budget summary — with a new inpatient wing at Peel Memorial Centre set to be built, addressing concerns over the “health care emergency” at local hospitals in Brampton due to overcrowding and a lack of beds.
While the exact price tag for the new inpatient wing wasn’t revealed as of Wednesday evening, the expansion is part of a $30 billion investment by the province to expand capacity for health systems in key areas. Both Trillium Health Partners and William Osler Health System will also benefit from “expansion projects” at sites in Mississauga and neighbouring Etobicoke.
“It’s because of the advocacy of the residents of Brampton… (that) we’re finally going to see a second hospital built in Brampton,” said Mayor Patrick Brown Wednesday afternoon, speaking of the past campaigns to highlight the challenges in the city’s hospitals and urging the province to commit funding to address overcrowding concerns.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am today that we finally got this provincial commitment and this great news for our community.” The provincial budget also lays out a number of initiatives designed to combat the pandemic, including an additional $1.8 billion in 2021-2022 to continue providing care for COVID-19 patients and address surgery backlogs; $2.6 billion over the next four years to build an additional 30,000 long-term care beds (with two sites planned for Brampton and one in Orangeville) and a $3.8-billion dollar investment over the coming decade to boost mental health and addictions support throughout the province.
In Brampton, plans were also announced for a new medical school, operated by Ryerson University and supported by the province, that would add a boost to the city’s burgeoning postsecondary hub. In his speech Wednesday, Bethlenfalvy also highlighted additional supports for skilled trade workers and small businesses, along with a bid to boost regional transit and a pledge to create a task force that would examine the impact of the pandemic on women in the workforce.
“Today’s news about investment at Peel Memorial and better regional transit made our day,” said Brampton Board of Trade chair Michelle McCollum, citing that the budget promises will provide a “big relief” to struggling small businesses.
“Thank you, Premier Ford and Minister (Prabmeet) Sarkaria, for championing investment in key infrastructure, which is crucial to restoring Brampton’s economic prosperity and competitiveness.” Other groups say the budget doesn’t go far enough with regards to local healthcare concerns. Representatives from the Ontario NDP, including leader Andrea Horwath, who was in Brampton last week urging the province to implement a paid sick leave program to help curb the spread of the virus, said that Bethlenfalvy’ s budget has left Bramptonians “out in the cold” after years of voting down motions that would have provided key supports.
“Time and again, (residents) have told the Ford government and its Peel members how important these health care investments are for the health of our rapidly growing community,” said Brampton North MP Kevin Yarde. “But the Ford government has repeatedly voted down NDP solutions that would invest in a new Brampton hospital, an ER in Peel Memorial and COVID-19 supports Brampton needs.”
Similar sentiments were conveyed by Liberal leader Steven Del Duca, who indicated to Global News Wednesday evening that while the announcement to further support healthcare was welcomed, the budget didn’t go far enough for Brampton, citing that its healthcare system has been “hard hit for years.” While the province is expected to face a half-trillion dollars in debt by 2024, Bethlenfalvy said that he would make sure the province uses “every resource available” to combat the virus, and that he was convinced that the province would “recover stronger” as a result.