By Robert BenzieQueen’s Park Bureau Chief
Mon., Feb. 28, 2022timer3 min. read
updateArticle was updated 18 hrs ago
Let the campaign begin.
An imminent deal with Ottawa on $10-a-day child care, a good-news budget put off until the eve of the election, and a bevy of big-spending announcements as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be winding down.
With Ontario voters headed to the polls in just three months, Premier Doug Ford is hitting the hustings and revving up the rhetoric.
“On June 2, people are going to have a choice,” Ford told reporters Monday at a campaign-style announcement on improving wages and working conditions for gig employees.
“Either (they) want to move forward with making sure that we build roads and bridges and hospitals and schools, putting money back into people’s pockets, have the economy going,” the premier said, before taking a shot at the Liberal government of former premiers Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty.
“Or do you want to go back 15 years of the previous government that lost 300,000 jobs in this province, highest hydro rates, red tape and regulations. It was an absolute disaster under the previous government. So people will have a choice.”
“That’s all I can tell you. It’s going to get done as sure as we’re standing here, but as I said, I’m not going to do a deal just for making a deal,” he said.
A senior provincial government official, speaking confidentially in order to discuss the negotiations, said that an accord will be inked well before the June 2 election.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it is “a shame” that Ontario is the only province to not yet sign on.
“It’s just not a priority for Doug Ford,” said Horwath.
“Meanwhile, people were actually getting cheques in other provinces to rebate the amount of child care that they have paid for between June and the end of the year,” she said.
Time is of the essence, because Ontario risks missing out on a year’s worth of funding if it waits until Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s federal budget, which is expected in the spring.
In the legislature, Wynne, the Liberal MPP for Don Valley West, said “every other (provincial and territorial) government has managed to reach a deal before the end of the fiscal year on March 31 so that they could receive the money earmarked for this year.”
Last week, Ford amended his own law to move the provincial budget deadline to April 30 from March 31.
That means the budget, which will serve as the Tories’ re-election platform, can be delivered days before the official start of the campaign in May.
“I can’t say we did it just because of that,” the premier insisted of the new Fewer Fees, Better Services Act, which also eliminated licence plate sticker renewal fees of up to $120 annually, which will cost $1 billion a year, and removed tolls from Durham’s Highways 412 and 418.
Changing the law he introduced in 2019 means Ford and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy won’t face financial penalties of 10 per cent of their cabinet top-up pay for not meeting a March 31 deadline.
“I paid $10,000 back into the government when we didn’t meet the budget time frame before — and so did the previous finance minister (Rod Phillips),” he noted, referring to the $9,200 and $4,900 they repaid the treasury because the pandemic delayed the 2020 budget.
With proof-of-vaccination passports being phased out as of Tuesday — under the advice of Dr. Kieran Moore, the chief medical officer of health — Ford was asked when mask mandates would be lifted.
“I’m listening to the chief medical officer. It’s his advice when they’re going to come off and we’ll wait for his advice and recommendations,” he said, referring to Moore’s comments two weeks ago that mask changes could come later in March.
“Over the next few weeks, maybe after March break, when kids get back, but we’ll see. I don’t want to set a date. There isn’t a person I talk to likes these masks. No one likes them. But I’m going to follow the advice and we aren’t far away.”
With files from Kristin Rushowy
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