This week at Queen’s Park
by Jim McDonell
This week our province is marking Agriculture Week, from October 7 to October 13. I can tell you the government continues to find ways to support farmers and the agri-business and grocery workers, who have been so important to us during the pandemic. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs has improved some important components for the industry. These include increasing the Risk Management Program by $50 million to $150 million annually, launching the $15 million Agri-Food Workplace Protection Program, adding $10 million in AgriRecovery emergency support for beef and hog farmers, building more rural broadband infrastructure, and leading a campaign to improve AgriStability. Currently, the public is invited until October 15 to provide input for new regulations stemming from the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020.
We continue to see the number of new cases in the area increase over the past few weeks. As of Wednesday, there were 86 active COVID-19 cases in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s region compared to 19 a month ago. As a result, we need to take extra care to settle into the Thanksgiving weekend and follow the tighter social gathering restrictions of no more than ten people indoors and 25 outdoors. For now, bars, restaurants, banquet halls, and churches are exempt due to their trained supervision. If cases continue to rise, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, and the Public Health Measures Table could advise the government to tighten restrictions further. It’s in our hands to act responsibly to save lives and prevent severe health issues that inflict our seniors, those with compromised immune systems, and many others. Practice the two-metre social distancing, wear masks and wash hands frequently.
The government has implemented testing by appointment to reduce the time waiting in line, especially with the onset of colder weather. We continue to ramp up testing infrastructure to keep up with the demand and will be able to process 50,000 tests per day by next week. We now have 77 pharmacies available for testing, with more to be added soon. This week, our province surpassed 4 million residents tested, which is more than all the other provinces combined. To find an assessment test centre that is best appropriate for you, please visit https://covid-19.ontario.ca/covid-19-test-and-testing-location-information. Our $2.8 billion plan, Keeping Ontarians Safe: Preparing for Future Waves of COVID-19, is also expanding tracing and contact management. Another good way to find out if you may have been exposed to the virus is to utilize the COVID Alert app. It is an easy way to protect your loved ones and your community. It will alert you if have come in contact with a person who has tested positive within the last two weeks. You can download it free from Apple and Google app stores.
This week, I was pleased with the latest efforts by the government to support our small businesses through the pandemic. Associate Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria has introduced the Main Street Recovery Act, 2020. If passed, this legislation will make it easier for small businesses to innovate, to pursue new opportunities, while keeping the public safe and protecting the environment. This effort comes after the Minister and I heard from local stakeholders during a virtual roundtable. For more information on the government’s Rebuilding Main Street plan, go to: http://www.mri.gov.on.ca/repository/rebuilding_main_street_2020.pdf
While we increase our efforts to reduce the cases of the virus, the government wants to help communities move ahead with long-standing festivals and events. We are providing $9 million for municipalities and event organizers that will allow them to safely stage events, to mark important commemorations, such as Remembrance Day. I encourage applicants to visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/available-funding-opportunities-ontario-government and apply from Oct. 8 to Dec. 1, 2020.
As always, I want to remind everyone to stay safe and have a Happy Thanksgiving.