Another long-term care fast-track announcement
Premier Doug Ford and several MPPs went to Ajax to make another announcement about fast-tracking more long-term care beds, the second such announcement in as many weeks.
"Government after government failed to make the necessary investments in our long-term care homes and that ends now," the premier vowed. "With our new modernized funding model and this innovative pilot program, we will get shovels in the ground faster on these critical projects and ensure more seniors get the quality care they deserve. I won't rest until every senior in Ontario has a safe and comfortable place to call home."
The announcement for 322 beds in Ajax is scheduled to be completed within 14 months. In a statement, the government credits "modular construction and rapid procurement" and using existing hospital lands for fast-tracking the beds, which were previously planned for by the Liberal government. Under the government's Accelerated Build Pilot Program Lakeridge Health will work with Infrastructure Ontario.
"It's going to be done in months as opposed to years," the premier touted.
Last government recently reannounced that it would build 8,000 new long-term care beds, 6,000 of which were planned for by the previous Liberal government. During the 2018 campaign, Ford promised to build 15,000 long-term care beds over five years. To date, the PC government has only built a few dozen new long-term care beds.
The government recently updated the funding model in part to incentivize long-term care development projects.
Although the premier promised in a statement that he wouldn't rest until every senior had a place to call home, the Financial Accountability Officer sounded the alarm about the long-term care waiting list in a report last October. In it, he said that even if 15,000 new beds would be built by 2023 — a target the government now does not plan to hit — Ontario's waiting list for long-term care would still grow due to demographic pressures.
The government is also expected to announce the terms of its long-term care commission in the coming days.
The Ford guarantee
The premier was asked by a local reporter at his daily press conference whether he would guarantee that what Ontario saw at Orchard Villa — the Durham-area long-term care home that arguably saw the worst results in the province — would not happen again.
He didn't give a Mark Messier-style guarantee but instead said the government is doing its best. "We're doing everything we can to make sure that never ever happens again, we're so much better off than we were four months ago with public health, we're better off with Ontario Health," the premier said in an attempt to assuage the concerns.
"I think we've all learned a tremendous amount, right across the province and as a government as well. So we're in much better shape and we'll do everything we can to make sure that never happens again."
The premier's reassurance comes as Ontario's positive daily coronavirus numbers remain steady in the 100 to 200 range. But experts have warned that this could just represent the long tail of the first wave and that with seasonal factors a second wave in the fall that coincides with flu season could be more difficult to manage.
For whom the Ford tolls
It is no secret that the premier is generally not fond of road tolls.
The Ford Nation brand was built in Toronto in part on a pro-car, low-tax agenda, and road tolls are anathema to that outlook.
So when Ford was asked about eliminating road tolls in Durham, particularly on the publicly-owned 407 extension east of Brock Rd. as well as the 412 and 418, he had an immediate answer.
"I'd love to get rid of the tolls."
But the realities of public policy and finances made his answer a bit more nuanced. "We froze the fees when there is an escalator, when the previous government that automatically put the cost up, we were able to freeze them and our goal is to eventually eliminate them — once we pay for the infrastructure and the highways."
That could be a while yet. While the government announced a study last fall to lift the tolls, they're planned to continue for 25 years in order to pay for the infrastructure, a plan that was implemented under the previous Liberal government.
Finance Minister Rod Phillips added that the study on the subject will come out soon. "I know that that report is going to be coming out soon and I know that they'll be reporting back to the community as soon as they get that, but certainly understand that we know that one of the reasons that people elected our government — and something that we continue to know is important — is making life more affordable in places like Durham and across the province."
The government also responded to a question about Ontario Provincial Service Employees Union President Smokey Thomas calling on the government to reopen LCBO locations on Mondays.
The government shut the stores down on Mondays in early April in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Phillips, who oversees the booze file as the finance minister, said that it's something to look into, but that health and safety will remain the guiding principle. "We'll be looking at what makes sense in terms of hours, but we're always going to put the workers’ safety first and we're always going to make sure we listen to people like Smokey and their suggestions," he said at the daily press conference. "Our objective here in Durham, where we moved to stage three last Friday, and across the province, is to get everybody back to work, but only when we can do it safely and then to help get our economy back on its feet."