This afternoon, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and key ministers Christine Elliott and Rod Phillips held a press conference, providing updates on the province’s COVID-19 response and reaction to today’s federal economic relief package. Today’s briefing was largely designed to reassure, communicate with transparency, and let people know that much is being done to help everyone get through this pandemic in the best way possible.
With news that the province has confirmed 23 new cases of COVID-19 overnight, it was important for the Ford government to continue its efforts to calm the community following its declaration of a state of emergency order on Tuesday.
Amplifying ongoing federal-provincial cooperation in dealing with the COVID-19, the Premier’s comments focused on praising the federal government for its support package for the Canadian economy.
Premier Ford has been in close contact with the Prime Minister about the closure of the border, calling it a tough, but right decision. Ford also noted that he has been assured that trade and commerce will continue to flow, a key concern for Ontario’s economy.
Premier Ford confirmed that the next round of the government’s emergency relief package will follow in next week’s Economic Statement, continuing to express confidence that the province has the financial capacity and the will to weather the storm. Finance Minister Phillips was tight-lipped on future spending but commented that Ontario is aiming to align measures with the federal government wherever possible to ease access for Ontarians. He noted that Ontario intended to match the federal government’s six-month moratorium on student loans.
Emergency Sitting Scheduled
The Ford government has announced it will hold an emergency sitting tomorrow, March 19, at 1:00pm to introduce legislation enforcing job protection for workers during the COVID-19 situation. Social distancing measures will be put in place for MPPs, including limits on the number of elected officials present. The government has indicated it expects to receive unanimous consent from the NDP and Liberals to expedite debate and vote on both items. The government has indicated two pieces of legislation will be tabled, the second of which is believed to be measures to pause evictions of tenants by their landlords.
Following this, the government intends to adjourn the legislature until Wednesday March 25 at 1:00pm, when Finance Minister Rod Phillips will release an Economic and Fiscal Update in lieu of the 2020-21 Budget. Phillips commented that tabling the update in the legislature will provide the ability to address any legislative items, if required.
Further Changes to Ontario’s Health Care System
As Ontario’s Telehealth system faces disruptions due to capacity challenges, the government continues to try to ensure enough capacity in the health care system. Health Minister Christine Elliott issued an order today to transfer the Ontario Telemedicine Network, which facilitates virtual care for patients in health care organizations across the province, to the provincial agency Ontario Health effective April 1, 2020. While this change was planned prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, it will help to integrate and promote the use of virtual care options in combatting the spread of COVID-19, as well as supporting routine health care services.
Concurrently, the government has postponed the transfer of the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) into Ontario Health, originally scheduled for April 1, 2020. The LHINs were to close as part of the government’s broader health system integration initiative, which would see various health care agencies, as well as the 14 LHINs, folded into Ontario Health. With existing LHIN capacity currently focused on combatting COVID-19, the province has made the decision not to disrupt ongoing efforts. The transfer is expected to happen in the future, but no set date has been determined.
Private Sector Partners are Stepping Up
In his remarks, Premier Ford took some time to thank the many businesses in the province for stepping up to help combat the spread of COVID-19, such as Sysco, one of the largest food distribution and logistics companies working to maintain a robust supply chain of groceries and essential supplies. Organizations looking to support the province’s response to COVID-19 and collaborate with government should actively seek out opportunities to do so. StrategyCorp can help.