The Financial Accountability Office (FAO) released its latest report on Wednesday, revealing the Ford government spent $2.6 billion less than planned in the fiscal first quarter (April 1, 2021 to June 30, 2021).
The independent report says, “In the health sector, the province did not spend any of the $2.7 billion COVID-19 Response transfer payment.”
First announced on March 25, 2021, the Government of Canada is providing $4 billion through a one-time top-up to the Canada Health Transfer to help address the pressures that COVID-19 has put on the health care systems.
The FAO detailed that the province spent $36.9 billion in the first quarter, which was $2.6 billion (6.6 per cent) less than planned. Most sectors spent less, led by “other programs” ($1.0 billion or 16.6 per cent under the plan), health ($1.0 billion or 5.4 per cent under the plan) and children’s and social services ($0.5 billion or 11.6 per cent under the plan).
The largest budget increases were $202 million for the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit transfer payment program and $235 million for the Property Tax and Energy Cost Rebate Grants program.
For its part, the Ford government took issue with how the report captured spending.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott tells 680 NEWS, “The $2.7 billion referred to in the report is the allocation for the COVID-19 Response transfer payment program for the entire fiscal year, 2021-22.”
“No spending had occurred as reported at the end of Q1 (June 30, 2021), due to the timing of when expenses are recorded in the province’s Integrated Financial Information System,” the spokesperson said.
“Our government will spare no expense to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians. The FAO reports on spending as recorded in IFIS at a point in time, which does not necessarily reflect when services/goods were received, the spending plan for the entire fiscal year, or the spending position that will occur at the end of the fiscal year.”
Critics questioned on Wednesday why the funds from the pandemic program went unspent as the province was battling the third wave of COVID-19.
Asked about the report and speaking to 680 NEWS, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath called it a disgrace.
“… Doug Ford refuses to invest the dollars necessary,” she said on Wednesday. “He doesn’t like to spend money, he’s a penny pincher and we all pay the price as a result.”
“We demand the Ford Conservatives end this shell game,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario.
“Spend the money to keep Ontarians safe – in our Long-Term Care facilities, our schools and universities, our cities and towns, our social services for the most vulnerable. Invest in affordable housing and provide more direct financial support to people who are suffering.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said people need answers from the Progressive Conservative government about the COVID-19 fund.
“Doug Ford had the money to save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19. He chose not to,” Del Duca said in a tweet.
With files from The Canadian Press