Ontario legislature resumes today as pandemic dominates the agenda
TORONTO -- Ontario's legislature returns for its fall session today, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting daily life, the Progressive Conservative government's house leader says it will not be business as usual.
Paul Calandra says the legislature will continue to respect public health rules while returning to its regular four-day-a-week schedule for proceedings.
He says the government will be focused in the coming weeks on the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy, school reopenings, and the health-care system.
Calandra says Ontario's 2020-2021 budget -- which was delayed by the pandemic -- will be delivered on Nov. 15.
The government is also expected to table a formal report on the state of emergency declared by the province earlier this year in response to the pandemic.
Calandra says the government is also leaving itself leeway in the legislative schedule in case it needs to introduce additional legislation to address COVID-19 this fall.
"We're seeing the (COVID-19 case) numbers are creeping up so if we get into a second wave, we want to be able to react quickly," Calandra said in an interview. "Should time be needed on the legislative schedule to pass bills, we're building that in."
In March, the Progressive Conservative government said its deficit would reach $20.5 billion by the end of 2020-2021. But in August, Finance Minister Rod Phillips said that due to billions more in spending required by the ongoing pandemic, the number is set to reach $38.5 billion.
Calandra said the government will ensure the health-care system gets needed funding and that small and medium-sized businesses also receive support this fall.
"Even for hard-core fiscal conservatives like me, we know that this is a time when you make investments for people ... but at the same time, you fix those areas that you can fix and improve your response," he said. "So, I think you'll start to see a lot more of that."
NDP legislator Marit Stiles said the official Opposition will focus on pressing the government for smaller class sizes, overhauling long-term care, and job creation.
"Returning to normal is just not going to be good enough," Stiles said. "This pandemic has shown where we have these giant gaps, whether it's in long-term care or education or those folks who have low wages, unstable jobs."
While politicians will return to the legislature Monday until the house rises again in December, the building remains closed to the public. Visitors will not be permitted in the spectator galleries of the house because of the pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2020.