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News - Miscellaneous - 23 Mar 2020

News Item 40 of 1498 

Miscellaneous: 23 Mar 2020
Ford to expand COVID-19 state of emergency and shut all non-essential services

Premier Doug Ford’s PC government has already earmarked $304 million for COVID-19 relief efforts. - Star wire services

Premier Doug Ford is expanding Ontario's state of emergency to shut down all non-essential services to curb the spread of COVID-19.

It is expected that only essential manufacturing and supply-chain providers as well as medical offices, supermarkets, pharmacies, LCBO outlets, and takeout restaurants will be allowed to remain after the details are finalized Tuesday.

The two-week order takes effect on Wednesday.

"This was a tough decision, but the right decision, as this is no time for half measures," said Ford.

The premier also announced that it is "not realistic" for schools to reopen on April 6 because of the pandemic.

He said Education Minister Stephen Lecce would have more to say about that in the days ahead.

Ford added businesses that can operate with employees working remotely will be able to remain open. Some construction sites will be allowed to continue, including those related to hospital improvements.

A website and toll-free number will soon be launched to spell out further rules.

Ford made the decision after a phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Sunday night and in consultation with Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer for health.

Like the prime minister, the premier has been emphasizing the need for Ontarians to stay home during the pandemic. Quebec Premier François Legault made a similar declaration minutes earlier Tuesday.

Ontario's measures are coming into effect six days after Ford declared a state of emergency in the province last Tuesday.

The province's move came as the premier also announced on Monday some $200 million in social services relief funding to help the most vulnerable people in Ontario.

That money will go to municipalities to help homeless shelters, food banks, emergency services, charities, and non-governmental organizations.

"Our government will spare no expense to protect the health and safety of all Ontarians," said Ford.

"We are doing our part to show the Ontario spirit and we will make sure no one gets left behind. Organizations across the province are doing critical work right now to help vulnerable Ontarians and these funds will allow them to directly help those who need it most."

Earlier Monday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for immediate $2,000 payments to households facing economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Horwath said "Ontario Emergency Income" cheques should go to individuals and families that are experiencing unemployment or lost income in the crisis.

The payouts, which could cost the treasury as much as $6 billion, are designed to bridge people through to any federal Employment Insurance cheques that have yet to flow.

They would also automatically flow to those on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program as well as those already on EI.

"People cannot wait weeks for money to come in, and most couldn't pay the rent and make ends meet with their income cut in half," said Horwath, expressing hope for such relief in Wednesday's fiscal update by Finance Minister Rod Phillips.

"I have asked the provincial government to include in Wednesday's financial statement a plan to send $2,000 to each household experiencing unemployment or lost income during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the payments arrive before April 1, and come up with an ongoing plan to continue providing the support Ontarians need," she said.

"We need to help people before rent is due, before the cupboards are empty."

Horwath is also recommending a $250 per child benefit for households economically affecting by the pandemic and at least $1 billion in "surge funding" for Ontario hospitals.

She would also like to see an end to "time of use" electricity pricing — which Ford has already promised — and interest-free utility bill deferrals to help families.

The provincial Progressive Conservatives last week earmarked $304 million for relief efforts, but the premier has always stressed that is just the first phase and more money will flow.

He has instructed landlords not to evict anyone during the pandemic and been mobilizing businesses to help manufacture needed medical devices, such as ventilators and protective masks.

Many private companies — including brewing giant Labatt and distillers Dillon's, Corby, Spirit of York, and Kinsip — have shifted production to make hand sanitizer.

Jamil Jivani, who advises Queen's Park on such issues, has been pushing for the $200 million "social services relief fund" for a couple of weeks now — with $148 million of that set aside for charities, NGOs, religious organizations and other agencies providing help to those who are most vulnerable in the community at any time, but especially now.

The remaining $52 million is for those already on social assistance, who can request additional funds to be used for transportation, medication or food.

"This money is like saying 'we have your back. We know you are dealing with an unprecedented situation,' " said Jivani, the province's newly named advocate for community opportunities who has spent the last couple of months travelling around the province hearing from groups that serve needy populations.

He said the funds will flow to municipalities to distribute to places like food banks and shelters — which, for example, might need to purchase hotel rooms for a surge in demand.

"It's making money available for whatever needs to get done in order for these services to keep being delivered," and especially at a time when it is difficult to get volunteers, he added.

"When the crisis started, I knew that the weight they carry on their shoulders was only going to get heavier," he said.

"I don't want them to get lost in the shuffle."

He said many families are on "fragile ground, and that ground is shifting underneath them."

They don't know how they are going to pay rent, buy the food they need, he said, adding "their vulnerability is enormous" now and in the future.

"They don't know what life is going to look like coming out of this."

Robert Benzie is the Star's Queen's Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

by Robert Benzie Toronto Star/The Record/Twitter/AA

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