Ontario holding onto $6.4 billion in unspent pandemic relief funds

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Ontario has a total of $6.4 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds, more than any other province, according to a report conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The report was conducted to examine how much money different levels of government have spent on the pandemic so far, and concluded that six provinces have billions of dollars of unspent funds.

According to the report, Ontario has budgeted a total of $6.4 billion for pandemic spending but has no plans for how the money will be spent, on what, or when.

As the pandemic continues on, CCPA found that while Ontario is in the lead when it comes to the amount of unspent money that could be used to fight the pandemic, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec also made the list.

Saskatchewan comes at second place with a total of $1.4 billion of unallocated funds.

According to the report, it is suggested that “while unallocated contingency funds aren’t unique, no province has such large ones (as Ontario).” 

In fact, the report found that while Canada has earmarked $374 billion in direct COVID-19 emergency spending, a total of 92 per cent ($343 billion) of that (excluding liquidity and unallocated funds) comes from the federal government. 

Only eight per cent ($31 billion) comes from provincial governments. 

In a news release, Senior Economist David Macdonald said that provinces need to “step up and do more” to address the crisis.  

“It’s incredibly problematic that several provinces do not yet have plans to spend federal money in health care, long-term care and housing at a time when it’s so urgently needed,” Macdonald added.

“(Ontario) is hedging its bet with its unallocated funds. If things get worse they may deploy those funds, but if things get better they’ll get to claim a smaller deficit at year’s end” said Macdonald.

With the pandemic being far from over and the rate of hospitalizations and deaths still at an alarming rate, there is a definite need to put that money into action.

“It’s time for the province to go all in and actually deploy the dollars it has budgeted to protect (long-term-care) homes, get kids back in schools and wrestle this second wave into submission” Macdonald added.

“There is room to do more, particularly at the provincial level, to mitigate the pandemic’s impacts” Macdonald said.

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