This past week, municipal leaders met virtually with Premier Ford, cabinet ministers, MPPs, and Ontario’s ministry officials at the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference. I am confident the progress will continue on the issues specific to rural and eastern Ontario. I was called upon to chair 10 of these zoom meetings as Parliamentary Assistant to the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister. The issues were varied and spoke to the challenges of limited broadband coverage, COVID-19, and expensive red-tape regulations. The delegations were upbeat and appreciative of the progress made so far. I look forward to moving ahead on their concerns.
COVID-19 has presented its share of challenges across the province, making it harder to access health, childcare, and business services. The Ontario government supports municipalities by investing an additional $40 million through the Municipal Modernization Program, announced by Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark. This program’s previous funding has produced excellent results, including improvements to speed up residential and industrial developments. At the ROMA conference, Minister Clark told attendees that municipalities responded quickly to the pandemic, and the Government wants to ensure municipalities can balance their budgets. He also announced $200 million for small, rural, and northern regions through the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund. Our local municipalities will receive $3.5 million through this initiative to maintain important transportation links and ensure safe water and wastewater systems; all necessary components to boost economic growth and investment, and create jobs.
On another note, I’m sure most of you missed our popular fairs last summer. To enable their return, OMAFRA Minister Ernie Hardeman announced $5 million for the agricultural and horticultural societies to get through the pandemic and be ready to invite us back for the 2021 fair season. By this summer, I trust the vaccination programs will be nearing completion, allowing us to enjoy our tremendous festivals, fairs, and events. And finally, we announced the extension of electricity rate relief for families, small businesses and farms to support those spending more time at home in response to the provincial Stay-at-Home Order. The Government will continue to hold electricity prices to the off-peak rate of 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour until February 9, 2021. This lower rate will be automatically applied to your bill and available 24 hours per day, seven days a week for Time-Of-Use and tiered customers.
The provincial shutdown and stay at home order are chipping away at the number of active COVID-19 cases. As of this past Thursday, we had 293 active cases, down from 390 last week. Although this is good news, our local hospitals continue to be stretched, so every case reduction helps. Some good news was released Thursday, with the announcement that our local schools can return to in-person learning in the upcoming week. Getting students back into the classroom is our top priority and supported by the Chief Medical Officer of Health. He reports that schools have been safe places to learn and that over 99.66 percent of the in-person learning students did not report a case of COVID in the fall session. Please verify your local school’s return date, as some boards have previously scheduled a professional development day on Monday, February 1.
With the Pfizer vaccine plant’s retooling in Belgium, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit is experiencing a slowdown in shipments. The EOHU team has completed the distribution of the first dose to all eligible residents in our region’s LTC homes. I expect the vaccination program will pick up quickly when supplies do arrive. Province-wide, we can administer 20,000 vaccines per day, capitalizing on retired General Hillier’s team to distribute the doses.
As always, remember to stay home, stay safe and save lives. Your health and that of your loved ones may depend on it.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry