On November 6, 2020, Atin Ito Publisher Leonardo Santos spent a little time interviewing MPP Vijay Thanigasalam regarding the provincial budget announced by the Ontario government the previous day. He explained the pillars of the budget and the rationale for these.
ATIN ITO: Good afternoon MPP Vijay Thanigasalam, and thank you very much for giving us the time today. Before we proceed, do you wish to make an opening statement MPP Vijay?
VT: First of all, I would like to thank you for having me to talk about our Budget 2020. I think that it is very important that we release the budget at this time. It is the first time in the province of Ontario that the government is releasing a budget in the middle of a global pandemic so that we are able to show financial transparency to the people of Ontario and that is the reason that the Minister of Finance, Minister Rod Philips worked on this budget with three pillars to show the communities in Scarborough-Rouge Park and the entire province of Ontario the expenditures that are in the budget across the province to combat Covid-19 and for economic recovery.
ATIN ITO: The opposition has basically used rhetoric such as “betrayal” and “disappointment” over the budget announcement. Why do you think they are making those sort of statements given the situation brought about by the pandemic?
VT: The budget is composed of three key pillars (protect, support, recover) and all these three pillars are showing exactly what this government is doing throughout the pandemic and what this government is going to do for the next three years whether to protect the people of Ontario, support the people of Ontario and especially the small business and most importantly economic recovery for our community members, family members and our business owners. These three pillars consist of $45 million investment to combat Covid-19. It is a positive budget that we are releasing in full transparency to the people of Ontario. As Premiere Ford always says “we want to show the people exactly.” This budget is showing exactly the blueprint for the next three years and what the expenditures are so that the people are informed and to show that we are moving in the right path to combat this deadly virus as we move to economic recovery in the province.
ATIN ITO: Well, they specifically mentioned four areas. Number one was senior care. They’re saying that the government may not be doing enough to address senior care issues that have been talked about and acknowledged as having existed for decades. Any input?
VT: Seniors are the ones who built this province. In this budget what we are showing how the second pillar of this budget provides support for senior care. For example, we are proposing the new Seniors’ Home Safety Credit for the 2021 tax year, a 25% credit on eligible renovations up to $10,000. This means that this will help seniors stay in their homes by making their homes safer and more accessible. Seniors will be eligible for this tax credit regardless of incomes and will apply to their income tax for 2021. Family members who have seniors living with them will also be eligible. This is an important component of this pillar of the budget.
ATIN ITO: The opposition also referred to mental health. Given the pandemic, mental health has become even more significant considering all the tension, job losses and issues that families and individuals face. Once again, the opposition is saying that the government is not doing enough to address this.
VT: I’m glad you brought out the topic of mental health because I’m passionate about this advocacy. In the history of the province of Ontario, we are making the most comprehensive investment of $3.8 billion for the next ten years and just this year, we have invested $176 million to have a connected and comprehensive mental health strategy. This is why we have an additional investment of $26.7 million to support 39,000 people to have access to a range of virtual and local mental health support including provisions for safe in-person counselling. What we are trying to do is to have investments as well as clearly defined strategies to make sure that these programs reaches people of all ages. For example the province is also increasing the mental health funding for students in universities and colleges by investing $19.25 million into mental health support for post-secondary students, an increase of $3.2 million more than last year. We are showing progress and continuing to invest more even while we are in the middle of a pandemic.
ATIN ITO: What about education? The opposition is saying that class sizes should be reduced to 15 from 30. Given this perspective, once again the claim is that this particular matter isn’t being addressed.
VT: I am confident with the plan that the Ontario government put forward for back to school approved by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams. We are the leading the way in terms of reopening of schools in Canada. On top of that, almost $1.2 billion has been invested for the reopening and this budget includes support for parents with children up to the age of 12 will get $200 for each child and $250 for each child up to age 21 to parents with children with special needs. This funding goes directly to the parents as they are the best decision makers for their children and enables them to fund technology, to fund extra learning resources to help mitigate the pandemic risks and continue to learn from home. As a government, I am proud of that we are leading the entire nation with our back to school program and this has been approved by Dr. David Williams, the Provincial Command Table and by SickKids.
ATIN ITO: One last item referred to is business particularly small business. What is the government doing to support small businesses in the light of the various lockdowns we’ve experienced throughout this pandemic?
VT: As the Premiere always says we want to make sure we protect Ontario’s small businesses that are run by families, we want to protect their kids in all corners of the province. That’s why we invested $300 million in support of small business during this second wave. This budget specifically includes a reduction in the property tax moving forward and also for all the manufacturing, commercial and industrial small business owners, a reduction in electricity rates. We want to make sure they do business in Ontario, they create good paying jobs in Ontario so that people can prosper in Ontario. We want to support small business and keep them open and continue to serve our people which they have been doing successfully in the past decades. On top of this $300 million investment, we are also working with the Federal government to have rent and wage subsidies so that businesses continue to thrive during this deadly pandemic.
ATIN ITO: Are there any other areas wherein the government is allocating funds in the budget to further support the economic recovery of Ontario other than those we have already discussed?
VT: Yes I really want to highlight what we are doing to support the long term care sector. We are making sure that each individual gets mandatory 4 hours of care from our great personal support workers. We are also investing more money for training for personal support workers and to recruit more nurses and health care workers for long term care facilities so we can protect our seniors who helped build this province. The investments we are making to support long term care is a key part of this budget. As a government, we are very serious about this and hence these investments. And at this point I would thank all the nurses, doctors and frontline care workers including the personal support workers for their support in fighting Covid-19 and protecting our seniors thru our long term care services.
ATIN ITO: What is the differential as far as the budget for seniors in long term care homes is concerned?
VT: We have additional investments coming into long term care facilities. That is the key here. I want to mention that this is the first government to have a special ministry for long term care. We never had this ministry in the province of Ontario. More specifically we are having accelerated development of new and upgraded beds through investment of $1.75 million that will increase long term care capacity in Ontario. We know that there are a lot of people waiting to get in to long term care facilities. So we increased the capacity through this investment. We are also fast tracking the building of new long term care facilities in Toronto, Mississauga and Ajax. To address those who are waiting to get in to long term care facilities, we have a new program, we launched a brand new program called Community Paramedicine for Long Term Care program to help seniors while they stay in their own homes while waiting to access long term care facilities. We also increased the supply of quality health professionals through recruitment programs for more qualified nurses and personal support workers. Once again, we want to thank our personal support workers for giving direct support to our seniors and we in government are in turn are giving them direct support worth $461 million to have a temporary wage increase for over 147,000 personal support workers.
ATIN ITO: What about in the area of infrastructure to further spur economic growth moving forward as we recover from this pandemic?
VT: That is spot on. Infrastructure investment is a key area to help in economic recovery moving forward. We did not pause on infrastructure work. For example the key priority projects in the subway expansion plan in Ontario specifically the Ontario Line, the Yonge North extension, the Eglinton Crosstown West extension and the Scarborough subway expansion that includes 3 stops running from the Kennedy Station northeast to McCowan Road and Sheppard Avenue. These infrastructure projects are happening right here in Scarborough where my riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park is. There is a very vibrant Filipino community here in Scarborough and I am honored to represent them in Queen’s Park. After 30 years of inaction, we will have 3 more stops in Scarborough starting from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre to McCowan and Sheppard. We built the plan, we got the business study done and we are now in the stage wherein we have identified the companies that will dig the tunnels for the subway. What this means is that with the subway expansion, more businesses will come to Scarborough. More investments in the region will bring about good paying jobs to enable these businesses to grow. We are not just expanding the subway, we will also build transit oriented communities meaning we will also have small shopping centres, doctors’ offices and other facilities around the subways so that we will have community members who will live and work through the use of the subways. So for these infrastructure projects, we are not holding back. In fact, we are accelerating the speed of building these in the proper and correct way so that we will hasten the economic recovery.
ATIN ITO: I know you have very limited time but is there anything else you wish to add before we close the interview?
VT: I would like to thank you for your continuous service during these very difficult times. I know that it’s not been easy. I want to thank the people of Ontario especially the members of the Filipino community who are living in Scarborough and across the province. Thank you for following all the health guidelines during these difficult times. Because of your dedication and contributions, we have moved this far. On behalf of the government, I would like to thank you for your dedication in fighting Covid-19. Together, we will combat Covid-19 and we will come to the other end of the tunnel more prosperous as a province and as a nation.
ATIN ITO: Thank you very much MPP Vijay Thanigasalam for your time.
VT: Thank you very much and goodbye.
Earlier in the day, Minister Rod Philips held a media conference with the multi-cultural media. Atin Ito posed the same question to which the minister in turn replied that the opposition should read and study the budget first before making any such statements.
Publisher’s Note: Atin Ito welcomes any reactions, any other relevant information and submissions from all interested parties regarding the contents of this article. Please email us at info@AINewsMediaOne.com.
About MPP Vijay Thanigasalam
Vijay Thanigasalam immigrated to Scarborough in 2003 at the age of 14. Just a few days after coming to Canada, he began school at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School. He went on to study at the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus and completed his Bachelor of Commerce in Finance at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). After graduation, Vijay worked as a financial advisor at one of Canada’s top banks.
Since coming to Canada, Vijay has been involved in the community in Scarborough and in politics for the last decade. In 2017, Vijay ran for nomination in the riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park and was elected on the first ballot. On June 7, 2018, the residents of Scarborough–Rouge Park chose him to represent them at Queen’s Park.
About Leonardo Santos:
Leonardo Santos is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with B.S. Industrial Engineering and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees. He has had a number of professional and leadership roles in a number of IT and Telecommunications companies in the Philippines prior to becoming a Permanent Resident of Canada.