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E-BLAST: Another pandemic budget: Federal edition


As all of us live through this terrible third wave, it has become harder than ever to imagine what life will look like after the pandemic is over. The federal budget that was announced this week may be one of the last things on people’s minds. There are other things to worry about, like trying to get your vaccine appointment booked or keeping a close eye on the kids. While it’s hard to see past the moment we’re in right now, we need to look at how we’re going to get through this pandemic and out the other side.

Here in Toronto, we need funding commitments from both the Federal and Provincial governments if we want to keep our city afloat, let alone achieve the recovery we need to keep Toronto strong. In this E-Blast, I’m taking a look at some of the most important aspects of the Federal budget and how they’ll impact our City.

CHILD CARE One of the highlights of my week was reading the announcement that the federal budget pledged to provide all Canadians with access to $10 per day child care in the next five years. I’ve long been advocating that we provide all families with access to child care they can truly afford. I recently harkened back to a tweet I sent out in 2013, in hopes that my own granddaughter, Eva, might be able to access child care for $10 per day by the time she one day becomes a mom. After the announcement this week, it looks like this could become a reality long before then.

The Federal government has dedicated nearly $30 billion in child care funding over the next five years. This funding will dramatically decrease the cost of child care that many families struggle to afford here in Toronto, where parents pay the highest fees in the country. I hear from countless parents (and even grandparents) trying to find affordable child care spaces for their kids. This federal funding would see the cost of all regulated early learning and child care reduced by 50% by the end of 2022, and would bring that cost even further down to the $10 a day average by 2025-26.

Providing truly affordable child care is essential to building back our economy after this pandemic ends. Many people, especially women, are blocked from entering the workforce without access to child care. This program would help thousands of Toronto families access economic opportunity and contribute to building back our City in the aftermath of the pandemic.

LONG-TERM CARE What I was most disappointed about in the federal budget was a lack of concrete steps to support our seniors in long-term care (LTC). Thousands of seniors have died from COVID-19 in LTC homes across the province, and many of you took the time to write to my office to advocate for robust, comprehensive changes to the LTC system. While the budget does commit $3 billion to improving LTC over five years, it does not spell out how this will happen and includes no national standards for how we care for some of our most vulnerable.

We need a real plan from both the Federal and Provincial governments to ensure LTC residents receive the highest quality of care. We know that these homes need more staff who are better compensated and a rigorous inspection regime to ensure homes are operating to the highest standard. This is especially important as we remember that here in Toronto, LTC homes managed by the City fared far better than those managed by private companies or non-profit agencies. This was no accident. The City has high accountability standards in homes, provides more hours of hands-on care, and pays LTC workers a fair, liveable wage. We need a plan to make sure the same standard applies to every LTC home in our country.

TRANSIT As TTC Commissioner, I paid close attention to the commitments to transit funding presented in the federal budget. This budget reiterated previous commitments of almost $15 billion over eight years to fund public transit expansion starting this year.

While it's great to see funding for new subways and other transit projects, we also significant investments right now to maintain our existing levels of service on the TTC. We’ve needed over a billion dollars in funding just to cover the TTC’s operating costs during the pandemic. We’re going to need stable, long-term funding agreements from both the Federal and Provincial governments if we want to deliver much-needed service to our bus, streetcar, and subway routes. There is much heavy lifting to do in order for transit to recover. I'm hopeful that the three levels of government can work together to put the TTC on a strong path forward.

WHERE WE'RE AT TODAY While this budget has given us a look towards the future, I know we still have a lot of work to do right now to get through the third wave. We have still not seen a plan to get vaccines to child care workers, education workers and teachers, and transit operators, who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to take care of our children and help our other frontline workers get where they need to be. All of these essential workers need to get their vaccines as soon as possible, along with the many other frontline workers that have allowed many of us to stay home.

I also know there’s a lot of work to do as pop up clinics begin to roll out in our priority neighbourhoods, M2J and M2M. We were there to see the lines at the Parkway Forest pop up last Sunday, and heard your concerns loud and clear. No one should have to get in line at midnight to get a first-come, first-served vaccine at 8:30 AM the next morning. I have been communicating these concerns directly to North York General Hospital, the organizer of the clinic, to emphasize how important it is that they set up a pre-registration system for these clinics going forward. I'm happy to announce that they are working on this and we should see a better system for these pop up clinics soon.

I know it can be stressful and frustrating to wait to get your first dose. By the time you read this, clinics here in Toronto will have delivered one million doses into arms, and that’s an achievement worth celebrating. Of course, there’s always room to improve, and I’ll keep advocating for better vaccine rollout here in Don Valley North and across the city. As more and more of us get the vaccine, I hope we start thinking about the future we want to see after this pandemic is over.

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