The Ontario government under re-elected Premier Doug Ford will continue its focus on economic growth, building highways, infrastructure and housing, and “better jobs and bigger paycheques.”

The throne speech read by Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell Tuesday afternoon stayed the course set by the Progressive Conservatives’ spring campaign despite rapidly rising inflation and an ever-worsening health-care crisis in the more than two months since the party won a second majority on June 2.

“In the months and years ahead, your government will continue to do what has served this province’s economy so well: cut red tape, keep taxes low, foster an environment that attracts global capital and make targeted investments that strengthen Ontario’s competitive advantage,” Dowdeswell read from the 20-page speech.

“Amidst growing uncertainty, the road ahead will not always be easy. But Ontarians can rest assured that their government is and will remain relentlessly focused on protecting the strength of the province’s economy.”

The speech noted “a growing sense of uncertainty” in the global economy, pointing to new COVID-19 variants, inflation and stress on global supply chains exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, along with a “generational labour shortage” in Ontario that has left 370,000 jobs currently unfilled.

“Taken together, these looming fiscal and economic challenges cannot be understated or ignored. They must be confronted head-on. And there are no easy solutions,” Dowdeswell read. “Your government is steadfast in its commitment to a path forward focused on economic growth, not painful tax hikes or spending cuts.”

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy also re-tabled the 2022-23 budget first introduced in April, too late to be passed before the election. The latest iteration contains few changes, save a small increase to monthly payments for people with disabilities and a chunk of cash for parents to pay tutoring costs for children who fell behind amid Ontario’s marathon school closures during the pandemic.

Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy re-tabled the province 2022-23 budget on Tuesday, months after introducing it in April, too late to be passed before the June election. File photo by Carlos Osorio / National Observer

The throne speech touted already announced plans to add long-term care and hospital beds, expand home and community care programs and build hospitals, as well as hire more than 27,000 new staff for long-term care homes by 2025.

The throne speech read by Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell Tuesday stayed the course set by the Progressive Conservatives’ spring campaign despite rapidly rising inflation and an ever-worsening health-care crisis. #ONpoli

“While these historic investments have helped to support the province’s health system through the most challenging period in modern history, there’s no question it, like health systems across Canada, continues to experience significant pressures, including an exhausted workforce and increasingly stressed emergency departments.”

Neither the speech nor the budget offered any specifics on how the government might tackle increasingly severe staff shortages that have led to hospitals closing emergency and other departments, critical care bed shortages and cascading shortfalls across the health-care system.

“Your government is actively engaging with health-system partners to identify urgent, actionable solutions and will implement whatever measures are needed to help ease immediate pressures, while also ensuring the province is ready to stay open during any winter [COVID-19] surge,” Dowdeswell read.

Opposition parties have demanded the government increase wages for nurses and repeal Bill 124, which caps wage increases to one per cent annually, to stem the outflow of health-care staff, particularly nurses.

“Our health-care system has not seen this kind of crisis in generations,” said Catherine Fife, finance critic for the official Opposition NDP, responding to the budget. “At the root of it, our health-care heroes are exhausted, they are run off their feet at every shift and they do not feel appreciated. And as long as Doug Ford continues to dig his heels in [on Bill 124] and underpay health-care workers, that sense of disrespect and underappreciation will continue.”

NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns said there are 3,400 fewer health care and social workers in the province compared to last month. “Since April, we’ve only seen hope dwindle,” said Tabuns.

Neither the throne speech nor the budget mentions specific plans to address climate change or protect the environment. Ford’s government touted its success in attracting investments to the auto sector for electric vehicle and battery manufacturing, boasting the province “is now firmly on track to become a leading electric vehicle production capital of North America.” The speech also pointed to investments in steelmakers in Hamilton and Sault Ste. Marie, where public money will help plants transition furnaces from coal to electricity to create “clean, green steel.”

Ontario currently boasts one of the cleanest electricity grids in the world, largely thanks to previous Liberal governments phasing out coal-fired power generation, but that is set to change in coming years as nuclear generation decreases and the province resorts to natural gas to power its grid.

Ford’s government remains steadfast in its plans to put more than $86 billion over 10 years toward building highways, subways and expanding transit services. That includes the contentious Bradford Bypass and Highway 413, though the latter project is currently tied up in a federal review.

The Bradford Bypass, a key aim of Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government, would cross the Holland Marsh south of Lake Simcoe, paving over protected Greenbelt lands. Photo by Nick Iwanyshyn / National Observer

Mike Schreiner, leader of the provincial Green Party, said Ontarians are facing unprecedented challenges in health care, inflation, housing costs and the climate emergency.

“But what did we hear in today’s throne speech at Queen’s Park? Not a single word acknowledging that we face a climate crisis,” said Schreiner, calling on the government to cancel the highways that would cut through the protected Greenbelt.

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