Ontario’s Minister of Finance and president of the Treasury Board, Peter Bethlenfalvy, has released the 2021 budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy which outlines the next phase of Ontario’s response to COVID-19 and is the second budget the government has delivered during the pandemic.

“You can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people,” said Bethlenfalvy. “For the past year, we have been focused on protecting people from COVID-19. Many challenges lie ahead. But with vaccines being distributed in every corner of the province, hope is on the horizon.”

The budget builds on the government’s investments in response to the global pandemic, bringing total investments to $16.3 billion to geared toward protecting health and $23.3 billion to protect the economy. Ontario’s COVID-19 action plan support now totals $51 billion.

“When this chapter is finally closed, I’m confident that the people of Ontario are going to unleash the economic growth that is necessary for job creation, prosperity and a stronger province,” said Bethlenfalvy.

Like economies around the world, Ontario has been significantly impacted by the
COVID-19 pandemic. The province’s real gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have declined by 5.7 per cent in 2020. As the economy recovers, Ontario’s real GDP and employment are both forecast to surpass their pre-pandemic levels in early 2022.

Ontario is projecting a $38.5 billion deficit in 2020–21. Over the medium term, the government projects steadily declining deficits of $33.1 billion in 2021–22, $27.7 billion in 2022–23 and $20.2 billion in 2023–24.

Some environmental organizations are criticizing the budget for its lack of support for environmental initiatives and programs.

Keith Brooks, program director of Environmental Defence, a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization, isn’t satisfied with the budget. He appreciates the near-term focus on COVID-19 and the additional assistance for citizens and small businesses but he also points to governments around the world that are making plans for a green recovery and putting climate change at the centre of their efforts to create jobs.

“Ontario’s budget barely references climate change,” said Brooks. “And it doesn’t provide any funding for even the few climate change programs the government has already committed to in its Environment Plan. Where is the $400 million promised for the emissions reduction fund, for example?”

Brooks also points to contradictions in the budget. “For example, the government touts Ontario’s clean electricity supply, though the budget omits that the electricity sector is projected to see a 300 per cent rise in emissions by 2030 due to an increased reliance on natural gas.”

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