Ontario to get $7B of federal government’s $19B pandemic recovery funds

Ontario’s share of the newly-announced $19 billion in federal funding meant to help provinces and territories recover from the COVID-19 pandemic will be about $7 billion.

Speaking at Craven Farms in Chatham, Ont. as part of his “summer tour” on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford applauded the agreement, thanking the federal government for the “desperately needed funding.”

“This historic agreement proves what we can do as a nation when we stand united,” Ford said. “My friends, make no mistake, by standing united, by standing together as a province, Ontario was in a strong position to get a deal from the federal government.”

Last month Ford said that Ontario needed $23 billion in federal assistance to prevent service cuts and keep municipalities from running deficits, something they are not legally allowed to do. But on Thursday the premier didn’t seem concerned about the drastically lower amount in federal funding they would be receiving, calling it a “great deal for Canada and a great deal for Ontario.”

No further details were released on how the province will divvy up the $7 billion or when they will get the funding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the funding announcement in Ottawa Thursday afternoon and said that seven priority areas were outlined in the provincial agreements. The priorities included testing for COVID-19, the purchase of personal protective equipment, supporting vulnerable populations and ensuring childcare availability.

He also said some of the funding will be earmarked for municipalities, but said it was up to each province to decide how to allocate the money.

"Our towns and cities have been at the forefront of responding to COVID-19,” Trudeau said. “Cities must remain up and running if our economy is to eventually get back up and running. If cities aren’t equipped for a safe restart, people will not be safe."

Trudeau added that provinces would not be allowed to “take money from one bucket and put it in another.”

The announcement comes after months of advocacy by big city mayors, who have argued that they are “bleeding” millions of dollars as businesses were shuttered and residents asked to stay home to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Toronto Mayor John Tory has renewed this call multiple times since the pandemic was declared in March, saying that without emergency funding thousands of city employees would have to be laid off and a number of critical services would have to be cut.

Toronto is said to be losing about $65 million a week in revenue because of the pandemic and officials predict the city could be out at least $1.5 billion by the end of 2020.

This estimation is based on a three-month lockdown and six-month recovery period and does not take a potential second wave of COVID-19 into account.

Following Ford’s news conference, Tory spoke with reporters about the funding and thanked both the federal and provincial governments for their “unflagging efforts," calling the agreement a “big deal.”

He said that he hopes to hear from the premier before the next city council meeting at the end of the month about how the money will be allocated.

"While we await further details as to the allocation of these funds to cities and towns across Ontario and indeed across Canada, I know Premier Ford is mindful of the size and the scale of transit systems in Toronto and the rest of the GTA and the tremendous damage that has been inflicted upon the transit systems by the pandemic,” Tory said.

“I’m confident that those realities will cause the premier and his government to ensure that Toronto’s particular challenges are fairly addressed when the allocation of these funds are finally done.”

The mayor said that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the new funding will help the city avoid some cuts, but also said he would have to see “the fine print” before making any promises to residents.