Tom Sasvari with files from
MANITOULIN—The Manitoulin Health Centre’s (MHC) worst fears as far as provincial funding for this fiscal year came to fruition last week when there was no mention of funding for small hospitals in the provincial budget. However, changes made to the budget the day before the vote, following a meeting of the leaders of the provincial Liberal Party and New Democratic Party, points toward funding being provided to the MHC and other rural and Northern hospitals.
Tuesday’s budget vote was the first held under a minority government since the Liberals took power in 1985. If the budget had not passed, it would have meant the government would fall and would have forced a provincial election.
“We are not going to vote down the government, or the budget,” stated Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha, just prior to the vote on Monday. He said there had been enough comments and input provided by constituents not only locally, but throughout the province, that they didn’t want an election, and that the NDP needed to work with the Liberal government to bring about some balance and changes in the budget.
“This was the general comments and input we received from residents in Algoma-Manitoulin and throughout the province,” Mr. Mantha said. “To be quite frank, there wasn’t one issue that swung us to vote in favour of the budget. There were a variety of proposals we brought forward and some changes made,” said Mr. Mantha. He stressed, “this a Liberal budget, we would have done things differently.”
Mr. Mantha said one of the areas the two party leaders agreed to was “a two percent tax increase on income earners making $500,000 or more a year. This will raise approximately $470 million, and if this was an NDP budget we would have put it toward front line workers in health care, hospitals, education and child care. The Liberals have chosen to put this towards the current fiscal deficit.”
“Another point of success we had in the budget includes $243 million over three years being put into child care,” said Mr. Mantha. “And one point we are really pleased about is that before this agreement there would have been zero percent invested in small rural Northern Ontario hospitals. We asked for $100 million, and the Liberals have agreed to put $20 million toward small, rural northern hospitals, which is a really big win for everyone.” This $20 million will be met over the course of the budget, he said. This funding will go to 34 rural and northern hospitals.
“We were also able to get assistance to most children,” said Mr. Mantha, with $90 million, followed by $68 million and $84 million being provided over three years to secure child-care spaces. He pointed out there has been a one percent increase in Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works benefits increases. “There will also be new legislation in place to freeze the total pay envelopes of those in public sector, and one time transitional funding for those affected by cuts in the horse racing sector.”
As well, “the Liberals have indicated they will be examining a job creation tax credits, where employers would receive benefits if they create more jobs,” said Mr. Mantha. “They will be examining this through the ‘On the Jobs and Prosperity fund.’
“Again I would like to make it clear this is not an NDP budget, our budget would have been a lot different,” said Mr. Mantha. “And, for instance, some of the issues the government is not taking action on is for instance taking the HST off home heating, but we will continue to fight for this. And we feel the Liberals are taking the wrong direction in divesting Ontario Northland, which we are against and will be fighting for it to continue. Investing in Ontario Northland would definitely be a worthwhile investment in Northern Ontario. It is an important corporation that helps build up Northern Ontario.”
“At the end of the day we engaged the people of the province, took their concerns to heart and at least made some progress toward a more fair and balanced budget for Northern Ontario,” said Mr. Mantha. “People sent us a very clear mandate that they want us to work with the government, not be chasing votes with another election.”
Prior to the provincial budget being passed, which had good news for the hospital sector, Derek Graham, CEO of the Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC) had told the Recorder, “we received notice from the North Eastern Local Health Integrated Networks (NE LHINs) that as small hospitals, we should assume a zero increase in funding for this year, and to plan for a zero percent increase; that is what we were fearing,” The MHC had planned for the zero percent increase in its operation, but it is expected the MHC will receive some funding through the changes made to the provincial budget.