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Message from Queen’s Park: Interview with Mr. Stan Cho, MPP for Willowdale

MPP Stan Cho and Leonardo Santos

On February 12, 2021, Atin Ito Publisher Leonardo Santos spent a very interesting 10 minutes plus of MPP Stan Cho’s time sporadically interspersed with fun moments during the interview.  Stan has been very actively involved in the finance and economic affairs of the province since becoming MPP.  Our discussions focused on consultation that had been and were continuing to be made with the people, businesses and other groups in Ontario.

ATIN ITO: Good morning MPP Stan Cho.  Before we begin, would you care to give an opening statement?

SC:  I just want to say “kamusta po” and we hope everyone is doing well and celebrating a very happy lunar new year.  I know this has been a very difficult time, certainly in 2020 and in the beginning of 2021 but we do see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And so with just a little bit more vigilance we’ll be back to normal life hopefully very soon.

ATIN ITO: Yup, we’re all hoping for that.  The vaccinations seem to be going on at least somewhat back on schedule at least from recent announcements and yes with our fingers crossed.  Today, we’ll be discussing about the consultations for the budget in 2021?  What are the objectives of these consultations?

SC:  It’s an important question and it’s the same objective Leonardo that we had when we tabled our budget in November.  Unprecedented levels of consultations with individuals, parents, with small businesses, with not for profits and because this budget does not belong to the politicians.  It belongs to the people of this province and so we are continuing those consultations.  We committed to regular financial transparency.  The next budget will be tabled for March 31st of this year and so we are just listening from those same groups.  I just got off the phone with a bunch of charities who have been hard hit by this pandemic and so are the families who usually rely on those charities and the great work that they do.  So we’re hearing ideas on how we can continue to protect the health and safety of Ontarians but also on how we can lay the foundation for when we’re beyond Covid.  And those economic measures will be of key importance on how Ontario will continue to compete on a global scale.

ATIN ITO: So you’re basically trying to understand the different publics and what they want out of the budget at least for 2021?

SC:  Yes, that is correct.

ATIN ITO: I understand that you’ve already had consultations with the Chamber of Commerce here in Ontario.  Would you care to share some of the insights you gathered from these consultations?

SC:  Sure, Leonardo.  The chambers of commerce not just in Ontario but the local chambers of commerce including the small businesses and I know many in the Filipino community rely on small business activity.  They’ve said similar things and that this pandemic has been incredibly difficult on them of course being forced to close, that they understand that it’s the right decision to protect health and safety but that they needed support.  And so we announced a series of supports throughout this pandemic, also in the November budget and most recently last month, we introduced our small business support grant.  It was $1.4 billion in monies for grants of $10,000 for small businesses that had to close and up to $20,000 for those businesses that had very reduced revenue.  And that’s not alone Leonardo.  That’s a grant program and those supports are available on ontario.ca/covidsupport.  We’ve had over 80,000 small businesses apply to that program and the money has been flowing out there and what I’ve been hearing from the chambers of commerce is that this is helping these small businesses to weather the storm.  And of course there’s more supports necessary and so we’ll have additional supports outlined in our budget in the spring.

ATIN ITO: Okay.  So you’ve heard from the people that do business.  What about the people who work for these businesses?  They are also part of these consultations, correct?

SC:  Absolutely they are.  So we’ve heard from parents.  Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard that it’s been very tough with kids at home and the additional broadband requirements and the technology that’s required.  Twice, the Ministry of Education was able to announce the learners’ grant support work program and that was $200 for every child under the age of 12, $250 for special need kids. And what that money was allowing parents to do was maybe get another piece of technology to upgrade their internet connection and that program was administered twice.  But it’s not just parents.  Of course, we’ve been hearing from community leaders as well as the charities that I mentioned.  The charities are telling us that the non-profit donations have gone way down.  I just had a call with the Salvation Army and they said that they had 10,000 new families that they had never heard from before access service during the pandemic and that half of them, almost 5,000 of those families accessed service twice so you can see that the non-profits are really going through tough times too.  And they do very important work because they service vulnerable families in Ontario and so they need support as well.  So we’re talking to everybody and anybody in this province.

ATIN ITO:  The parents and the students, they represent different publics as well.  And there are all a lot issues relative to reopening and postponement of March break.  What about the workers, those who actually try to earn a living.  It’s been very difficult for a lot of these people as well.  What is the government planning to do relative to consultations with them?  Or if they’ve already been consulted, what have they given you as their ideas and feedback and things that they want to see done?

SC:  Absolutely and we’ve been speaking to workers, frontline and health care workers, workers in companies, workers who have been laid off, who can’t find jobs.  The tourism sector has been very hard hit by the pandemic.  From the beginning Leonardo, we said that this is not the time for politics.  We’ve been working with all 3 levels of government in a coordinated support to make sure these individuals have that support and so there’s been a series of measures whether that will serve which was now shifted to the new EI program or whether it’s been support for child care especially for our frontline health care workers during this difficult time.  Those on the frontline were given a pandemic pay boost to top up their wages.  Community social services has had frontline relief in terms of municipalities getting direct relief dollars to help those vulnerable families and it’s a long list of supports that we’ve done so far.  Having said that, it’s right.  We’re not through this difficult time yet.  More supports are necessary and so we’re continuing the consultations to table for the budget this spring.

ATIN ITO: In the fall, the announcement by Ontario was that the budget will fund $45 billion all the way to 2022.  Do these consultations in anyway affect the plan that had been already been crafted as a result of the budget announced in November?

SC:  Yup.  These consultations do.  We learn something new about the pandemic every day.  And that was what was so important.  We laid out a plan of $45 billion in multiyear spending but just this week, we had a third quarter update and it showed that we went through all the money we had set aside for last year’s relief programs, we had to add $2.6 billion to continue to be adaptive.  That shows that we’re building in that financial flexibility to continue to adapt to this ever changing situation.  Back in March of 2020, I had hoped that this pandemic would only last a month.  But when we realized that wasn’t possible, we had to continue to add more money to be adaptive and react quickly.  That’s the case today.  So we’ve added more funding.  Additional supports are necessary and that’s why we need to table another budget.  We just tabled one three months ago but we know that times have changed.  We know there’s new information out there.  We need to continue to be adaptive.  We continue to make sure that we support everyone in this province until we’re through this pandemic for good.

ATIN ITO:  Well all these are very noble because you’re providing financial support but at some point in time, the budget deficit will continue to grow and this will be a challenge moving forward after the pandemic.  The economic recovery that we all want is going to have some challenges because the deficit has to be addressed as well, correct?

SC:  Hugely, hugely important issue and I am so glad you brought that up.  You’re right.  And I learned this lesson in my parents’ little convenience store when I was 9 years old and the store was very, very busy and I was still a kid.  I remember asking my Dad if I could get a toy and he sat me down and he said “you know son, when times are good that’s when you save for a rainy day.”  And true enough, 2 weeks later, the basement flooded and my Dad and Mom had the money from those good times to pay for those damages.  It’s no different in government.  That’s why in our first 2 years, we were spending very prudently and chopped the proposed deficits down in half.  That’s why we can spend today.  We cannot apologize for spending to protect the health and safety of people.  The government, the premier has said many times that we will spare no expense to make sure that we protect the people we serve and that we will lay the foundation for economic recovery.  You’re right.  We do need to get back on fiscal track but not during the times when people need us.  Now is the time to spend but we will get back on track.  We have a plan to do that.  We will outline that plan in March.

ATIN ITO:  It sounds like the government is trying to do what it can to support businesses, individuals and families all across the province.  Now the vaccines when these get administered to our citizenry, these will not really prevent transmission.  It will curtail infection.  So health and safety will continue to be a major concern and you mentioned that earlier.  Are there programs now that are in the works and are about to be implemented once we get out of this pandemic issue when most of our citizens have been vaccinated?

SC:  Yes and I’m glad you phrased it that way Leonardo and yes, we’re not through this yet.  Everyone still needs to remain vigilant.  There are only 3 public health units that have entered green so for the rest of us, we must continue to respect the stay at home emergency order.  You know the vaccines will help us return to normal but that is in combination with that vigilance that I just mentioned.  Everyone, the medical teams are working round the clock, so let’s listen to them.  They’re the experts.  They’re the ones telling us how we’re going to beat this thing.  And on the vaccination front, we’re ready to go, our distribution channel is in place.  Let’s listen to General Jones, the Premier and General Hillier.  They’re ready to get those out to the people in the priority order.  The challenge now is that our supply is limited.  Our delivery trucks are open and ready to go.  We just need to fill them.  So we call on our federal partners to please get us those vaccines because we understand that this is a big piece of our returning to normal.

ATIN ITO:  Well, from recent announcements, it will get back on track.  They haven’t deviated from that March commitment that been talked about, right?

SC:  And we will continue to pressure them on that commitment.  We hope they deliver on that and certainly we’re ready to get those to the arms of the people who need it.

ATIN ITO:  From a recent roundtable with Premier Ford, he mentioned that in June, all Ontarians who want to get vaccinated should get vaccinated.

SC:  If we have the supply, we certainly can.  We are absolutely there.  We can vaccinate up to 40,000 people a day.  We’ve already vaccinated 400,000 but we need more.

ATIN ITO:  So it’s really the supply line that needs to get addressed so this can be done quickly enough?

SC:  Yup.  The analogy my staff uses is that the race car is built.  We built it.  All that’s needed now is the gasoline from the federal government.

ATIN ITO:   Seems like the government is doing what it can to support people and business.  However, it seems like it will still be a very challenging next few years.  There are various analyses out there economically speaking on when we will get back to where we were before the pandemic.  What are the insights that government has with respect to these?

SC:  What a great question.  In the budget we tabled in November, we built in that fiscal prudence.  We’re always listening to the experts.  Whether that’s for health or whether it’s for education.  It’s no different for the economy.  We’ve been consulting with the banks around the word, the smartest economic minds.  We all acknowledge that this is a time of great uncertainty.  In fact, the typical variance in GDP growth among these economic experts is usually about 1.2%.  Well, in this pandemic, the variance, the difference in opinion is 2.4%.  This is unprecedented uncertainty when it comes to where the economy will land and that’s why we modeled 3 different projections from the last budget on that path to economic recovery because we understand that the uncertainty is there so we built in those variances.  We’re going to have a plan based on all the worst case scenarios but I want to inform your readers to remain assured that the cupboards are not bare.  We understand that there is uncertainty out there but whatever the case is, your government is going to be prepared to continue to protect you and make sure that we can get through this thing together.

ATIN ITO:  Well Stan, I know you have very limited time but before I let you go, do you have any closing remarks?

SC:  Yes, a couple.  First of all, I have a big Filipino-Canadian population in my riding.  I miss you all.  I miss halo-halo incredibly and the “Taste of Manila” and all the amazing food in the restaurants I’m used to visiting.  I just want to say “salamat po” for all the sacrifices you’ve made.  And the second piece is to all 14.5 million people of this province.  It’s been incredibly difficult so I want to thank you for continuing to listen to the health care professionals.  We’re almost through and so let’s get to the last stretch together.

ATIN ITO:  Ok.  Thank you very much for your time today Stan and I’d like to wish you and your family a very happy family day and weekend.

SC:  You as well Leonardo.   Thank you so much, take care.

ATIN ITO:  Take care.  Bye.

SC: Bye.

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 Stan Cho:
Stan Cho is a second-generation Korean-Canadian and proudly calls Willowdale home.  Born on September 14, 1977, he was raised in Toronto.  In June 2018, he became MPP representing Willowdale riding.  Among his duties and responsibilities in Queen’s Park include memberships in the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs and Standing Committee on Public Accounts.  He is also concurrently Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance.

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.



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