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Opposition parties and critics are calling on the Ontario government to provide more relief to tackle rising inflation while also expediting solutions for hospital staffing woes when the legislature returns and the provincial budget is tabled this week.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government will again table its 2022-23 budget on Tuesday, originally introduced in April and put to the test as a main plank of the PC platform during the June election.

After being re-elected, Mr. Ford said the budget would remain largely intact with the addition of a 5-per-cent increase to Ontario Disability Support Program rates that the party campaigned on, as well as a pledge to tie future annual increases to inflation. The budget promises $4-billion in additional spending for highways and roads and $10-billion for hospital infrastructure over 10 years.

But with the cost of living on the rise, inflation surging over 8 per cent and hospitals facing significant staffing shortages, critics say more measures need to be introduced to provide support for Ontarians.

Official Opposition NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns said Friday his party is calling for a new budget that increases spending for health care and education, as well as raises wages for public-sector workers. Mr. Tabuns said this would mean repealing Bill 124, introduced by the government in 2019, capping public-sector wage increases at 1 per cent for a three-year contract period.

Asked last Wednesday about ending Bill 124, Mr. Ford touted a $5,000 “retention bonus” given to nurses this year.

Health care unions and advocates say repealing the legislation should be a priority to retain overworked nurses. Staff shortages have led to emergency room closings in hospitals across the province in recent weeks.

“The Throne Speech and the budget are the opportunities to give people the hope and the relief they deserve,” Mr. Tabuns said. “We’re running out of time to take on this issue. People are simply paying too high a price right now.”

The first item of business for the legislature will be to select a speaker at the start of the summer session Monday. The budget will be retabled Tuesday afternoon after a Throne Speech outlining priorities for the term, to be delivered by Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

Opposition parties have said the government’s plan to increase ODSP rates doesn’t go far enough to support people unable to work. The NDP and Green parties are calling for a doubling of the rates, which both said they would do during the election campaign.

ODSP Action Coalition co-chair Trevor Manson said a 5-per-cent increase is “a drop in the bucket” and would result in a monthly increase of $58 per recipient. With up to 70 per cent of monthly incomes already going to rent and the increasing costs of groceries, Mr. Manson said, it isn’t enough to live on.

“People can only afford to eat one meal a day and every day is a struggle,” he said in an interview. “When you’re this far below the poverty line, you take on sort of the hunter-gatherer mindset. All you can think about is: Okay, how am I going to get through this?”

Government legislation on “strong mayor” powers is also expected to be introduced after Mr. Ford confirmed the plan to pilot the idea in Toronto and Ottawa. Full details on the powers haven’t been released, but Mr. Ford said it would include veto authority for the mayors, which could in turn be struck down by two-thirds of council.

The opposition NDP and Liberals will begin the session with interim leaders after both former heads resigned from their posts on election night.

Both parties are in the process of electing a new, permanent leader. The NDP has registered its March 2, 2023, leadership convention with Elections Ontario, but doesn’t yet have any confirmed candidates to replace long-time leader Andrea Horwath. Leadership hopefuls have until early December to enter the race with a $55,000 registration fee.

The Liberals aren’t moving as quickly to select a new leader to replace Steven Del Duca, instead holding an election campaign debrief throughout the fall to collect feedback from party members on challenges and next steps. The party increased its share of the popular vote by 4 per cent compared with 2018, but only garnered one additional seat.

In a statement, spokesman Carter Brownlee said further details on the leadership contest will be determined at a later date. The party will be holding an annual general meeting next March.

The eight-member Liberal caucus endorsed MPP John Fraser as interim leader for a second time. Mr. Fraser said he won’t be running for the permanent position, as has re-elected MPP Lucille Collard. Mitzie Hunter, currently the longest-serving member of the party, hasn’t ruled out a second leadership run after losing in the 2020 race.

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