TORONTO — Government travel will continue despite concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, Ontario’s premier said Tuesday, while his finance minister promised to dedicate the “necessary resources” to respond to the health emergency.
Doug Ford said his government does not currently plan to cancel any upcoming international trade missions, though he expressed concerned about COVID-19 and its impact on the economy during a press conference in Toronto.
The premier, who has made the province’s fiscal health a major theme of his tenure in office, stressed that he will be meeting with the federal government Friday to look at ways to safeguard the health of Ontarians and the provincial economy.
“That’s a big concern, the economic side,” Ford said. “We’re going to be vigilant…. We’re playing it day-by-day and seeing what’s happening internationally, working with our other provincial partners and looking at the federal government for support.”
Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli is scheduled to travel to South America next month to lead a mining manufacturing and equipment business mission, and Ford said that trip remains on-track.
“We’re going to monitor the situation and we’re going to support the people of Ontario,” the premier said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure we support the businesses and the people of Ontario.”
Ford’s comments come as Ontario health officials announced one new case of the novel coronavirus — a man in his 40s who had travelled to Switzerland — bringing the total in the province to 36.
The government also signalled Tuesday that it does not intend to delay its spring budget, scheduled for release on March 25, because of the virus.
In a speech, Finance Minister Rod Phillips said he plans to provide the “necessary resources” to protect people from the novel coronavirus.
“It’s clear COVID-19 is having an economic impact,” he said. “How deep and significant that impact will be will be unclear until we know the true scope of the issue and how long it is going to persist.”
Phillips gave no further details about what that financial commitment could mean, but acknowledged the government will need to leave itself fiscal flexibility in its spring budget to adapt to the evolving situation.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the best way the government could instill confidence about its COVID-19 response is to communicate details of any strategy it has developed.
“The government needs to show the people of Ontario that they have a plan that actually addresses the impacts of COVID-19, in terms of health care and in terms of the economy,” she said.
Liberal House Leader John Fraser asked the government to include its COVID-19 plan in the spring budget and prepare to invest in a response to the health emergency.
“Although I have concerns about government’s handling of health care, we just have to get this right,” Fraser said. “It’s going to require extra resources. The government will have to build that into their budget.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he remains hopeful that the government will have a COVID-19 contingency fund in the spending package.
“Clearly, we’re going to have to put more money into health care to support front line services, in terms of delivery and prevention,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2020.