Ford's unemployment strategy: same as when he took office
Faced with the prospect of growing unemployment in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford says his approach to deal with it will be the same as when he took office.
"Take the same strategy," he said Saturday, which would focus on business-friendly incentives and consumer confidence.
On Friday, the Parliamentary Budget Office released a new report into the economic consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In one scenario, the report said Canada's deficit could hit $113 billion in the 2021 fiscal year, but also a possible 15 per cent unemployment rate in the third quarter of this year.
"We stress that this scenario is not a forecast of the most likely outcome. It is an illustrative scenario of one possible outcome," the report said, assuming social distancing and self-isolation measures are in place for six months.
Ford himself is also bracing for his own provincial shift in deficits, as Wednesday's fiscal update included a projection of a $20.5 billion hole in 2021.
But Ford said he has all the confidence in the world that the economy will rebound, hoping his initial approach in office will be successful.
"Incentives, cutting WSIB premiums, making sure we reduce taxes, taking the burden off these companies," he said, adding consumers and businesses both need confidence.
"Keeping the hydro rates as low as we possibly can," he added.
Ontario's unemployment rate was recorded at 5.5 per cent in February, but that is likely to take a hit after nearly a million Canadians filed EI claims between March 16 and March 22, according to multiple reports.
Employment lawyer and analyst Howard Levitt said it's about all the premier can say right now.
"It was a bit pollyannaish, but in fairness, that's probably the right way to be," he said. "Right now, we're suffering among other things from a huge lack of confidence, people are afraid to spend money and people are afraid to invest.
Levitt Ford's major tasks of creating business investment and keeping consumer confidence high won't be easy, especially as unemployment increases.
"If people know they're going to have secure jobs, they're going to be prepared to spend their money," he said. "If they're fearful they won't have a job tomorrow or the job they have know is penniless and untenable, they are going to horde their money."
Levitt is also unsure of just how effective the federal government's 75 per cent wage subsidy will be, suspecting it may only be beneficial in the end for a certain number of workers.
It was a move heralded by Ford, who says despite the outlook, he's confident about the future.
"We'll start driving the economy the likes of which this province has never seen," he said.