Safe Restart Agreement Response Letter: Premier of Ontario

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister:

I would like to acknowledge the hard work and collaboration of First Ministers over the last several months in managing the COVID-19 pandemic – and would like to recognize the historic more than $19 billion agreement between provinces, territories and the federal government. To protect the health of Canadians and to ensure a safe re-opening of our economies, all governments need to continue to work together effectively to manage the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of these ongoing collaborative efforts, I am pleased to accept additional federal resources and join as a full funding partner in key areas to support critical needs over the next six to eight months through the Safe Restart Agreement which, including in-kind federal spending, will provide Ontarians with over $7 billion to support frontline health care and communities. These investments will help to protect public health and safety, prepare for potential future waves of the virus, and further support the safe reopening of economies across Canada.

This letter outlines Ontario’s funding priorities under the Safe Restart Agreement reached between Canada and Ontario; to reflect our understandings on shared objectives and the funding commitments made in the seven priority areas. This letter, and its Appendix, represents the entire Safe Restart Agreement and terms reached between our two governments.

Ontario’s specific allocation and other distribution details for each priority area are also set out and confirmed in the Appendix forming part of this correspondence.

Testing, contact tracing, and data management

The goal of this investment is to help provinces and territories reach a collective capacity to test up to 200,000 people per day across Canada, as well as to improve their contact tracing capacities.

The Government of Canada will provide $4.28 billion to support provinces and territories with the costs of increasing their capacity to conduct testing, perform contact tracing, and share appropriate public health data that will help fight the pandemic. Funding and support will also be provided to provinces and territories to improve and modernize data management across Canada, to help all orders of government coordinate their efforts to contain the virus. Provinces and territories will share relevant information and data, including disaggregated data.

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 remains a priority for Ontario and enhanced capacity for testing, contact tracing, and data management are essential as we reopen the economy and prepare for the future.

The Safe Restart Agreement will support Ontario as we significantly expand testing capacity over the next six to eight months. As recently as March 16, 2020, just prior to Ontario’s declared State of Emergency, Ontario tested 2,960 people for COVID-19. Ontario now regularly exceeds 25,000 tests per day, a capacity Ontario built by Ontario’s dedicated COVID-19 response team over the spring and summer. Ontario is now leading the country in total tests and per capita testing. By late August, Ontario administered more than 2,852,000 COVID-19 tests – this represents approximately 52 percent of the approximately 5.3 million tests conducted in Canada overall. Ontario has to date administered more tests than all other provinces and territories combined. We are now pleased the federal government is fully joining Ontario’s effort to test, track and trace COVID-19 infections.

As part of Ontario’s ongoing partnership and joint responsibility with the federal government on testing, we are committed to establishing the ability to administer 50,000 tests per day by this fall. It is important to note that this number would reflect per-day testing capabilities, not necessarily tests administered per day, as daily testing has not been mandated and has always been contingent on the number of voluntary requests.

Further, in the coming months, Ontario is developing an increased capacity for testing well beyond our near-term commitment of having a 50,000 per-day testing capability. This significant planned increase in testing capacity is in anticipation of greater demand due to re-opening sectors such as workplaces, schools and day cares; a potential second wave of COVID-19; and, a potential increase in symptomatic individuals (due to cold/flu).

As we have demonstrated through our significant ramp-up of testing since the onset of the pandemic, Ontario is and will continue to be the national leader in testing. We already test more people per capita than any other province – and we are committed to doing all that is necessary to continue to increase testing capabilities to meet the needs of people across our province and be prepared in the event of a second wave. We will continue to augment our testing ambitiously and will look to build on our partnership with the federal government to ensure our innovative testing strategy is well-supported and will see us well prepared for any future scenarios.

As we continue to grow our testing capacity, we will look to the federal government’s remaining $1.28 billion in funding for testing and tracing that is part of this Safe Restart Agreement to provide Ontario with the testing supplies including reagent, swabs and other testing in-kind support we require on a needs basis that will appropriately support our ambitious testing objectives.

As we continue to increase access to testing across our province, Ontario recognizes there are several key areas to keep a watchful eye on as the country moves to safely restart the economy. One such area is the federal government’s role and responsibility to safeguard Canadians as you consider your strategy for an eventual reopening of borders. Ontario looks forward to the federal government outlining a clear plan that protects people’s health and safety, while taking a responsible approach to reopening the border. We also need you to ensure there will be effective measures in place, including increasing staffing, enhancing screening, testing and follow-up measures, and data sharing as appropriate.

To further help us achieve our shared objective of increasing testing volumes, Ontario requests federal support to prioritize and expedite Health Canada review and certification for new, innovative approaches to testing, with emphasis on made-in-Canada tests and testing technologies similar to actions taken by other bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or other accredited international standards testing authorities. Having rapid access to new testing technologies and approaches, such as point-of-care testing, can support increased testing in high-volume settings and advance surveillance and containment efforts going into the fall. Expanding access to testing tools will guard against supply chain disruptions and allow for more strategic deployment of testing resources.

In the coming months the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada will jointly develop a contingency that could allow for surge testing capacity of up to 78,000 tests per day on an as-needed basis in Ontario, which is our  per capita share of the federal national testing commitment. Our ambitious testing goals, including this additional contingency for heightened surge capacity, is dependent on and enabled by specific supports and continued partnership from the federal government, including the federal government approving and making available new point-of-care tests, administering testing as appropriate at Canadian borders, and enabling modes of alternative service delivery for testing.

Funding through the agreement will also support Ontario’s ongoing efforts for rapid case management and contact tracing to contain outbreaks and continue meeting our target of reaching new cases within 24 hours of a case receiving a positive test result. Ontario will continue to build human resource capacity (including receiving in-kind federal support staff for contact tracing) and supporting infrastructure (including lab capacity, supplies, centralized data systems), so we can adequately prepare for a potential surge in cases in the fall. Ontario will require some federal government support to ensure we can access particular supplies of reagent and testing and will share relevant information on Ontario supply needs.

Health care system capacity

COVID-19 has increased the demands on health care systems across Canada and placed additional strain on mental health. This investment is intended to support the health care services and mental health supports that Canadians rely on, as each jurisdiction addresses the impacts of COVID-19.

The Government of Canada will provide $700 million to support health care systems capacity to respond to a potential future wave of COVID-19. A further $500 million will address immediate needs and gaps in the support and protection of people experiencing challenges related to mental health, substance use, or homelessness. This investment, over the next six to eight months, will help keep Canadians safe and healthy with the health care supports they need, and should be recognized as the first step towards longer-term health funding conversations. Ontario looks forward to a discussion with you and all other Premiers concerning the adequacy and sustainability of federal health funding through the Canada Health Transfer.

Ensuring we have health system capacity and prioritizing mental health supports are key for Ontario as we manage through the pandemic and prepare for a potential surge in the fall. The Safe Restart Agreement will provide funding over the next six to eight months to support Ontario in addressing additional infection, prevention and control measures, reducing the backlog of non-COVID-19 procedures, and preparing for surge capacity. Ontario’s health system continues to experience ongoing pressures across operations, staffing, technology and appropriate availability of drugs and pharmaceuticals in relation to COVID-19. The Safe Restart Agreement will assist in managing these costs. To date, Ontario has announced a $3.3 billion investment in the health care system to support frontline health care workers and increase health care capacity in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The funding provided under the Safe Restart Agreement will also support services and protections for people experiencing mental health challenges and problematic substance use by enhancing Ontario’s investments in community-based mental health supports such as expanding and staffing virtual programs and supporting infection prevention and control measures alongside other priority sector needs.

Vulnerable populations

Canadians receiving long-term care, home care, and palliative care are at an increased risk of more severe cases of COVID-19. As the economy restarts, it is important to have continued protections and supports in place for seniors, and provide health and social supports to other vulnerable populations.

The Government of Canada will provide $740 million to support costs over the next six to eight months for measures aimed at controlling and preventing infections. This could include addressing issues in long-term care, home care, palliative care facilities and services to support other vulnerable populations.

Ontario has made a commitment to seniors and their families to improve the quality of care in Ontario's long-term care homes and effectively manage the spread of COVID-19 in these settings over the course of the pandemic. The Safe Restart Agreement will support Ontario in ongoing infection prevention and control measures. This includes the incremental costs of staff to undertake screening, additional cleaning and other resident supports; equipment and supplies, including PPE; costs associated with reducing home occupancy to facilitate resident isolation and cohorting; and important upgrades in older homes to reduce the potential for infection spread. Ontario has committed to investing a historic $1.75 billion over five years to create new and redevelop existing long-term care beds. This is part of our commitment to modernize our long-term care system by building 30,000 new beds over the next ten years.

Municipalities and transit

Municipalities are on the front lines of a safe restart of the economy, and need to continue to put in place appropriate precautions to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and manage public spaces and critical services, like public transit.

The Government of Canada will contribute up to $2 billion to support municipalities with COVID-19 operating costs and pressures for the next six to eight months. Provincial and territorial governments will continue to support municipalities, and will cost-match federal supports with investments flowed this fiscal year for operating costs and pressures.

In addition, the Government of Canada will also contribute over $2.3 billion to support any additional contributions by participating provinces or territories for public transit operating costs and pressures.

Funds for municipal and transit investments will be cost-shared 50/50. Contributions for municipal supports will recognize provincial and territorial operational investments flowed from April 1, 2020.

Ontario will be contributing up to $2.2 billion: $1 billion for transit and $1.22 billion for municipal operating pressures, which will help strengthen communities, restart jobs and the economy, and ensure critical services, including public transit, continue as the province safely and gradually reopens. This funding is expected to support a range of services and needs, including but not limited to the following:

Ontario’s municipalities will receive overall $2 billion in support to address municipal operating pressures, social services including shelters and food banks, and extraordinary public health costs to assist public health and safety as a result of managing COVID-19 pandemic. Transit agencies in Ontario will receive up to $2 billion to address actual financial pressures related to COVID-19.

Ontario has invested about $350 million to support municipalities and social service providers such as shelters and food banks, as well as individuals receiving social assistance and those who are ineligible to receive federal support. Ontario has also invested $100 million to support extraordinary public health costs incurred in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and in protecting Ontarians. Both of these investments will be flowing to municipalities after April 1, 2020.

Ontario is committed to continuing to assist its municipalities and transit agencies to support the COVID-19 related financial pressures. Federal funding in Ontario under the Safe Restart Agreement will not reduce existing provincial funding to municipalities in the province.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for health and non-health workers

COVID-19 has added significant pressure to the procurement and supply of PPE for essential health workers and others. Both orders of government have made significant investments in this area and worked collaboratively to ensure availability of the required equipment at all stage of the pandemic.

To support the restart of the economy, the Government of Canada will commit $4.05 billion to purchase PPE for national distribution to provinces and territories, $500 million to support the purchase of PPE for the non-health sector and commit $3 billion directly to provinces and territories for previous and planned PPE investments. To facilitate future procurement, provinces and territories will regularly share relevant PPE-related data with the Government of Canada.

Ontario recognizes the critical importance of having accessible PPE for front line workers, communities and businesses over the next six to eight months. This is particularly important as we look to the fall with the return to school and the entry of the province into Stage 3 of its reopening framework – trying to normalize activities while maintaining public health measures. The Safe Restart Agreement will support Ontario’s ongoing investments in PPE, which have included growing our domestic production of PPE and international purchases. Ontario will also continue to work with the federal government to ensure it can access a steady supply for Ontario from the national distribution network, as the federal government has committed to distributing 80 per cent of the PPE to provinces and territories on a per capita basis, and the remaining 20 per cent to be distributed according to need.

Child care for returning workers

The Government of Canada is working with provinces and territories to ensure sufficient high-quality child care is available so parents can gradually return to the workplace.

The Government of Canada will provide $625 million to help the sector adapt to the COVID-19 environment and address the reduced availability of child care spaces and the unique needs stemming from the pandemic.

Child care is key to Ontario’s economic recovery from COVID-19. As we prepare to reopen more businesses and services, it is critical that we ensure supports are in place so people can return to work knowing their children will be cared for in a safe and healthy environment. Child care and early years programs play an integral role in the learning and development of children, and it is important to allow the sector to fully reopen, with strict health and safety guidelines. Ontario’s child care sector has experienced significant challenges and financial pressures due to COVID-19 and the Safe Restart Agreement will support the sector in opening childcare centres - ensuring staff have PPE, supporting minor retrofits to promote physical distancing, increasing cleaning and infection control, and increasing staffing. Ontario is working towards having our child care centres safely open and operating at typical capacities.

Pan-Canadian sick leave

To safely restart the economy, Canada must ensure that workers do not return to work if they have COVID-19 or are showing symptoms.

To encourage workers to remain at home and seek public health advice if they are showing symptoms, the Government of Canada will fund and deliver a new temporary income support program. The estimated $1.1 billion program will support workers who do not already have access to other paid sick leave. The federal government is responsible for all current and future costs of this program.

Where not already available, provinces and territories will seek to establish job protected sick leave so that workers can take advantage of the temporary new federal program.

In March, Ontario changed its employment standards legislation to provide unpaid job-protected infectious disease emergency leave. This ensures workers keep their job, even if they take more than 10 days off work for specific reasons related to COVID-19. For instance, it covers employees who need to self-isolate or quarantine and need to stay at home to take care of children during school closures. With this legislation, Ontario confirms that it has met the federal regulatory requirement for paid sick leave to take effect in the province, based on our understanding of the proposed sick leave program under the SRA.

As the federal government takes steps to design and roll-out paid sick leave, Ontario reiterates its previous request that implementation should not impose additional costs for employers, including for example, in the form of higher Employment Insurance premiums.

First Ministers believe this funding must quickly be put to use to protect the health and safety of our citizens and to truly help restart the economy. In order to do so, the funding for all priorities will be transferred to Ontario through a direct single transfer pursuant to section 60.2 (2) (b) of the federal Financial Administration Act. This single transfer is in addition to a September transfer for the second tranche of testing funding and is apart from the federal Pan-Canadian Sick Leave program and federal in-kind spending for testing, contact tracing, and data management and PPE.

Each government will continue to publicly report on its actions, to maintain transparency and accountability to the citizens it serves.  

Canadians have been well served by the strong, collaborative efforts demonstrated by First Ministers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. All First Ministers reaffirm their commitment to this approach, while they continue to address their top shared priority, the well-being and safety of all Canadians.

I look forward to the implementation of the Safe Restart Agreement and our continued collaboration.

Sincerely,

Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario

Appendix – Canada-Ontario Safe Restart Agreement Investment Details

  1. Testing, Contact Tracing, and Data Management
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $4,282
    2. Allocation Details
      • Per capita allocation;
      • $3,000 cash transfer in two installments;
      • $1,282 in transfers and federal support
    3. Ontario Allocation ($M) - $1,164.971
  2. Health Care System Capacity
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $1,200
    2. Allocation Details - Per capita cash transfer
    3. Ontario Allocation ($M) - $465.988
  3. Vulnerable Populations
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $740
    2. Allocation Details - Per capita cash transfer
    3. Ontario Allocation ($M) - $287.359
  4. Municipalities and Transit
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $2,000 (municipalities) + $2,300 (transit)
    2. Allocation Details
      • Municipalities - per capita cash transfer, cost shared at 50/50;
      • Transit – cash transfer as applicable, cost shared at 50/50;
      • Provincial and territorial operational investments flowed from April 1, 2020 are recognized
    3. Ontario Allocation ($M) - $1,776.647
  5. PPE
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $7,550
    2. Allocation Details
      • $3,000 per capita cash transfer;
      • $4,550 in federally-delivered support
    3. Ontario Allocation ($M) - $1,164.971
  6. Child Care for Returning Workers
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $625
    2. Allocation Details - Base ($2M/jurisdiction) plus per capita cash transfer
    3. Ontario Allocation ($M) - $234.606
  7. Pan-Canadian Sick Leave
    1. Federal Investment ($M) - $1,100
    2. Allocation Details - Federal Delivery
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