Health equipment, hydro rates and deliveries: Doug Ford’s latest answers

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Premier Doug Ford once again took questions with some of his top ministers Tuesday as he confirmed the latest measures to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.

The most recent announcement was the government suspending time-of-use electricity rates and holding prices to the current off-peak rate of 10.1 cents per-kilowatt-hour for the next 45 days.

The government says it’s expected time-of-use customers will see rate reductions of over 50 per cent compared to on-peak.

The news came after the government released its list of essential services that will remain open effective Wednesday, which is also the day Finance Minister Rod Phillips will give his fiscal update, which was supposed to be his first budget.

HEALTH EQUIPMENT AND TESTING

Health Minister Christine Elliott maintained that there are adequate supplies, such as masks, gowns and gloves available to health care workers, in response to a question about some doctors taking to social media, begging for more equipment.

“We have heard from several areas that they are running short on supplies and we are providing them with supplies as soon as we hear of their needs,” she said. “We are dealing I think it’s fair to say with an international competition for personal protective equipment, but we are receiving our supplies in.”

Ford himself acknowledged it’s been a challenge, but there’s “light at the end of the tunnel” with more supplies coming in.

On N95 masks for example, he noted that there’s one plant in South Dakota that all of North America is ordering from, while one in the U.K. won’t distribute to North America.

“I was on the phone yesterday with 12 other premiers and the prime minister, everyone’s facing the same challenges,” he said.

But as COVID19 cases have continued to increase in Ontario, so too have the number of test results under investigation, now hitting over 10,000.

Many who have been tested have reported waits of over a week, but Elliott said they are taking measures for more capacity.

“We are up to about 3,000 tests per day at the moment, we hope to have it up to 5,000 tests per day by the end of this week and then increase again after that to get up to 15,000 tests per day,” she said, adding they’re making contacts with both public and private facilities to shore up capacity.

POWER RATES

When it comes to the power announcement, the move becomes automatic for bills, so customers don’t have to fill out forms.

Ford says the 45-day period was simply meant to take the burden off when asked if that’s how long he expects Ontarians will have to stay in their homes as much as possible during the pandemic.

“There’s no playbook here, but we knew that in 30 days it wasn’t going to represent enough of savings,” Energy Minister Greg Rickford said. 

“We feel very comfortable with the idea that by mid-May we’ll be able to assess whether any further interventions would be required.”

Both Ford and Rickford said they also expect that any savings received by landlords would automatically be passed on to their tenants.

“If you have the savings, why wouldn’t you pass it on to your tenants? I think it’s the right thing to do,” Ford said.

FISCAL UPDATE

Phillips said the update would not include multi-year projections, with the hope the provincial budget will be tabled in mid-November.

“There will obviously be a significant focus on the response to COVID-19 and the health care components of that, but this will be the first steps in our plan overall,” Phillips said.

He said the update is a first step and will be complimentary to the federal financial supports announced over the last week.

“It’s going to clarify for our transfer partners monies that they will be getting and it’s also going to make clear to Ontarians we’ve got the money to support our health care system, we’re going to be supporting jobs and people as well,” he said.

NON-ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES AND CONSTRUCTION

As for the list complied of essential businesses, Ford said it’s a document that’s subject to change and said there are ways for non-essential businesses to still function.

Businesses such as florists, clothing stores, book stores and others could operate as deliveries.

“If someone wants to deliver something, I understand that and we wouldn’t have a problem with that,” he said. “But the number one issue, bar none, is health and safety of the people of Ontario.”

“The vast majority of people are cooperating,” he added.

A spokesperson for Phillips added that deliveries are permitted, so long as there isn’t person-to-person contact between items.

As for construction, which was left as an essential service, Ford reiterated that sites that do not provide safety for their workers would be shut down by inspectors, but shelter is a critical part of public health and some homes could be days away from completion.

“Let me be clear, if the industry does not take every step necessary to look after their workers, I will shut them down,” he said.

He also defended the continued operation of the LCBO and cannabis availability, based on advice from medical and health experts that said those with addictions issues could increase the burden on the health care system.