By Chad Ingram
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP and Ontario Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott says she’s cautiously optimistic that the province might see the peak of the coronavirus curve in the not-too-distant future but is emphasizing it’s important for residents to stay the course with safety protocols.
“We can’t take our foot off the pedal right at the moment” Scott said encouraging residents to continue practising self-isolation and social distancing.
The provincial government declared a state of emergency over the COVID-19 outbreak on March 17 and has since shut down large portions of the economy releasing a list of essential businesses that are permitted to continue operations in late March and then refining that list in early April.
“I know it’s very hurtful for a lot of businesses” Scott said.
Many businesses in Haliburton County have closed their doors temporarily or are operating in modified fashion such as restaurants and breweries offering delivery options. Some business owners have indicated they are uncertain whether they will ever be able to open their doors again.
The province is offering a number of measures to help ease the burden for business owners. The Regional Opportunities Investment Tax Credit will provide $45000 in tax savings for businesses that are building renovating or acquiring qualifying commercial and industrial buildings. The provincial government has announced $1.9 billion in relief on WSIB premiums with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board allowing employers to defer premium payments for up to six months. In addition no interest will be accrued on outstanding WSIB payments during that six-month period. The Employer Health Tax exemption will be doubled for 2020 for businesses with $1 million in payroll as opposed to $490000. According to the government this means some 57000 private sector employers will pay less health tax for 2020 including about 30000 who would be exempt for the year. The province is also offering some $6 billion in tax deferrals for certain provincially administrated taxes from now until Aug. 31 and businesses will not incur interest or penalties during that deferral period. According to the provincial government that measure should free up about $6 billion in cash flow for some 100000 businesses.
Scott noted that these measures complement a number of aid initiatives from the federal government including the interest- and penalty-free deferral of owing corporate taxes. The federal government has also created a wage subsidy for employers covering 75 per cent of wages on the first $58700 of an employee’s wage and has a number of other measures to assist businesses including an emergency loan program.
More information on the province’s COVID-19 assistance resources for businesses can be found at https://www.ontario.ca/page/
Resources for students and parents can be found at https://www.ontario.ca/page/
As for what it’s like to be in office during the pandemic Scott told the paper MPPs are dealing with huge volumes of information each day and said about 75 per cent of her day consists of dealing with health care and hospital issues getting updated by medical professionals reviewing modelling of the progress of the virus being briefed on logistics of mask shipments etc. Emergency decisions are being made against this deluge of ever-changing information.
“You just can’t really look at the whole picture because there’s no time” said Scott who was a nurse before being elected to parliament and compared the stressful situation to dealing with a patient in an emergency room. “I’ve got to get the heart beating first and then figure out why he’s here without his heart beating.”
Scott noted that emergency measures and preparedness plans have been put into effect at hospitals throughout the province including Haliburton Highlands Health Services. “We didn’t see that surge come in but we have to be prepared” Scott said.
At press time there were seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Haliburton County with one hospitalization.
Scott remains positive that real progress is being made and that could lead to discussions about how to go about reopening the economy.
“Every day I feel like we’re getting in better shape” she said.
In the meantime Scott is encouraging residents to continue to be persistent with self-isolation social distancing and sanitization practices.
“Wash your hands wash your hands wash your hands” she said.