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Ontario Premier Doug Ford listens as Minister of Finance Rod Phillips answers questions at Queen's Park in Toronto on March 18, 2020.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The Ontario government will more than double the size of its current deficit to $20.5-billion in 2020-21 as it spends billions on health care, tax deferrals and payments to people in its battle with COVID-19.

With the Legislature quiet and nearly empty as MPPs practised social distancing, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips tabled an economic update at Queen’s Park on Wednesday in the place of the planned full-blown budget his government abandoned as the new coronavirus ravaged the world’s economies.

In remarks afterward to reporters, Premier Doug Ford vowed to stop at nothing in the fight against COVID-19.

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“These are unprecedented times. And I will tell the people of Ontario, we will do whatever it takes, we will spend whatever it takes, to make sure we protect the health and the economy of this province and the people in this province,” Mr. Ford said.

The Progressive Conservative government’s one-year economic plan, which passed quickly with the Opposition’s assent, includes $7-billion in new spending, including $3.3-billion for health care. It also has $10-billion in tax deferrals, plus $2.5-billion in a reserve fund, and another $1.3-billion in a contingency fund, in case the crisis worsens.

ESTIMATED revenue impact

of covid-19 outbreak

Change in revenue since the 2019 budget, billions $

$3

$2.6

Higher base

New tax

relief

2

1

0

$5.8-billion

impact due

to revised

economic

outlook

-1

-2

-3

-$3.5

-4

2019-20

2020-21

borrowing program

Deficit, in billions of dollars

2019 budget

$10.3

Interim 2019-20

$9.2

Plan 2020-21

$20.5

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: government of ontario

ESTIMATED revenue impact

of covid-19 outbreak

Change in revenue since the 2019 budget, in billions of dollars

$3

$2.6

Higher base

New tax

relief

2

1

0

$5.8-billion

impact due

to revised

economic

outlook

-1

-2

-3

-$3.5

-4

2019-20

2020-21

borrowing program

Deficit, in billions of dollars

2019 budget

$10.3

Interim 2019-20

$9.2

Plan 2020-21

$20.5

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: government of ontario

ESTIMATED revenue impact of covid-19 outbreak

Change in revenue since the 2019 budget, in billions of dollars

$3

$2.6

Higher base

New tax relief

2

1

0

$5.8-billion

impact due

to revised

economic

outlook

-1

-2

-3

-$3.5

-4

2019-20

2020-21

borrowing program

Deficit, in billions of dollars

2019 budget

$10.3

Interim 2019-20

$9.2

Plan 2020-21

$20.5

JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: government of ontario

The Ontario government says the measures build on the $82-billion in support and tax deferrals that the federal government has announced, which include $2,000-a-month payments for workers affected by COVID-19.

But Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ottawa’s aid is flowing too slowly, and Ontario needs to hand out its own relief to people left without jobs or facing lost income because of COVID-19. Large parts of the economy have skidded to a halt.

“It’s just not good enough,” she said. “People need money now.”

Ontario introduced a $17-billion package Wednesday to support the province through the COVID-19 outbreak, including an influx of cash for the health sector, direct payments to parents, and tax breaks for businesses. The Canadian Press

The plan’s massive $20.5-billion deficit blows a hole in Ontario’s path to balance its books by 2023, a year after the next election. Last fall, the government, with a $9-billion deficit in 2019-20, was projecting just a $6.7-billion deficit for next year and boasting of its prudent approach.

The document tabled on Wednesday contains no multiyear outlook, which Mr. Phillips says will be included in a full budget now scheduled for Nov. 15.

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The economic update predicts the virus and its impact will cost the government about $6-billion in revenue, as COVID-19 brings Ontario’s economic growth to a standstill in 2020.

But the government believes growth will rebound later in the year and into 2021. The province is also predicting unemployment will increase by one percentage point to an annual average of 6.6 per cent.

Based on private-sector forecasts, these numbers are now a week old. Mr. Phillips said the update is just a first step. And he acknowledged that since the numbers were finalized, layoffs had mounted and the landscape was shifting.

“Things are changing hour to hour, day to day,” Mr. Phillips said. “What we’ve done though is we’ve made sure that the province has the financial firepower in terms of the reserve and in terms of the investments that we need to make sure that the province will be able to weather whatever’s on the horizon.”

The new spending includes $3.3-billion for the health-care system, with $2.1-billion for hospitals to respond to the outbreak, money for long-term care homes, and a $1-billion COVID-19 contingency fund. It also includes $61-million for vaccine development and $75-million for personal protective equipment for front-line workers.

The spending also includes $160-million for public health, including for monitoring COVID-19 cases and lab testing. Local public health units faced cuts in the 2019 budget, prompting protests from mayors.

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Critics have charged that the government’s previous budgeting for health care had failed to keep pace with inflation and the needs of an aging population. Ms. Horwath, and new Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, both said the new funding was not enough.

For individuals, there is little on offer compared to Ottawa’s package. The government will provide parents with a one-time payment of $200 for each child under 13 and $250 for special-needs children. Student loan repayments and interest charges will be paused for six months. The government is also providing more money for low-income seniors by doubling the guaranteed annual income system for six months, and promising extra help for some on social assistance.

For businesses, now facing steep losses and in many cases orders to shut down, the government is pledging a variety of relief. It will allow businesses to defer paying most provincial taxes for six months, leaving them with $6-billion in temporary cash. Employers will also be able to defer $1.9-billion in Workplace Safety and Insurance Board payments. Municipalities will be given temporary fiscal room to defer property taxes. More small businesses will be exempt from health-tax payments.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ford also revealed Wednesday that four Ontario manufacturing companies – Linamar, Woodbridge, Magna and Martinrea – would be working together to build ventilators over the next few weeks, needed to treat patients with COVID-19.

“We can’t rely on the rest of the world when they’re in crisis. … We’re going to produce them for Ontario, we’re going to produce them for the rest of Canada.”

He said Woodbridge, an auto parts manufacturer, would also be making face masks.

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