There were several ‘good news, bad news’ points raised in a Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce virtual fireside chat with Sault MPP Ross Romano Thursday.
Many of Ontario’s economic woes could be eased, if not completely solved, with an improved rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Romano said.
Leaders have stated a vaccinated workforce, with public health’s blessing, could return to the workplace and get the economy rolling again.
“We really need a greater supply of vaccines,” Romano told the Chamber’s virtual audience, which included small and medium-sized business owners as well as Algoma Steel and Tenaris VIPs.
Looking at the pandemic on a global scale, Canada is falling behind in immunizing its population, Romano said, notingthat Canadian NHL teams may have to head to the U.S. for the Stanley Cup playoffs where they can be immunized and take to the ice.
“It’s been a really difficult, difficult situation. When you think of your supply chain, imagine trying to get products out, trying to roll out delivery of an item when you have no idea of when your products are coming in, you have no idea of what your supply chain looks like, you have no reliability in your supply chain,” Romano said, addressing his business audience.
The MPP said he is not blaming the federal government for the relatively slow pace of immunization and appreciates its efforts, adding “Ontario is the leading province in the entire country in our vaccine rollout. We are at over 30 per cent of the entire population vaccinated.”
“But, we just don’t know when vaccines are coming, and it’s such a struggle,” Romano said, pointing to a recent shipment of Moderna vaccine to Ontario which turned out to be much smaller and later than expected.
“We’re doing the absolute best we can with what we are receiving.”
Romano said Ontario is fighting three pandemics, stating the province is still fighting the first wave due to a lack of vaccines, the second and third pandemics being variants of the virus.
“100 per cent of the variants are coming from outside of our borders. These variants aren’t swimming to Canada all by themselves. We have to get control of non-essential travel at our borders and we need a more reliable supply of vaccines and then hopefully we can really make a meaningful impact here,” Romano said.
Romano was asked by the Chamber audience what provincial aid lies in store for the tourism industry.
“This is a really tough one, especially for a community like ours...once we can really get a handle on that first wave through the vaccine rollout, that will help tremendously. The issue of non-essential travel restrictions, obviously that doesn’t help the tourism sector.”
“We’re talking about a $36 billion industry. It’ll definitely be the hardest hit industry as a result of the pandemic and it will have one of the longest recovery periods,” Romano said.
There is $150 million from the province’s 2020 budget put aside for the tourism industry, Romano said, but will not be available for use until public health authorities give the okay for the tourism industry to reopen.
Good news items from Romano’s fireside chat included mention of a proposal from the province to match federal support, announced in the federal budget, for workers who are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19.
The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) gives $500 to eligible people for a one-week period.
The province’s proposal to the feds, announced Thursday before Romano’s virtual Chamber event, would double that to $1,000 a week.
“We’re waiting from the feds for a response,” Romano said.
The MPP said the province has also tabled legislation that would provide, for employees missing work for up to three days as they await results of a COVID-19 test, an additional $200.
Romano also mentioned the benefits of:
- The provincial government’s training of 8,000 additional PSWs across the province
- An expanded nursing program, especially important for busier than usual ICUs
- The establishment of Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) as an independent institution as “amazing for northern Ontario,” without being hindered by going through the governments of two other institutions (Lakehead and Laurentian)
- $3 million for two consecutive years for the Black Road expansion and Trunk Road resurfacing
- The expansion of microcredential education in Ontario, urging Saultites to take such courses through Algoma University, Sault College, Indigenous or private institutions (microcredential programs now funded by OSAP, if need be)
Romano also said work is continuing to establish Residential Withdrawal Management Services in Sault Ste. Marie (formerly referred to as a Level III Withdrawal Management Services facility).
“The ‘ask’ is before the Ministry of Health...they reached the point of examining a number of different sites in the city. All of the sites have been reviewed. The Ministry of Health has landed on one specific location that would work.”
Romano said he is working with two different branches within the Ministry of Health (one which deals with capital funding, the other with ongoing, operational funding) to establish a standalone residential treatment facility for those battling addictions.