Ontario didn’t spend money from COVID-19 response program in first quarter: FAO

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Ontario spent no money in the first quarter from a new $2.7-billion COVID-19 response program, the province’s fiscal watchdog found, prompting critics to question why the government didn’t use the money during the third wave did.

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A Wednesday report from the Financial Accountability Office found that health spending was $691 million less than planned for the population and public health sector because the province did not spend funds from the pandemic program.

That provincial program – called the COVID-19 Response Transfer Payment – was introduced this year to support public health. But a spokesman for the Sentinel’s office said the FAO does not have details about the program’s intended recipients.

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A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott disputed the FAO saying there was “no spending” and noted that $2.7 billion has been allocated for the full fiscal year. She said the program is used for testing and for COVID-19 response measures such as vaccine and case management.

“Just because it was not recorded by the FAO at the time of the data request, does not mean that the expenditure has not occurred,” said Alexandra Hilken.

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“The FAO report is a snapshot in time and is not indicative of government spending during a fiscal quarter or year.”

Some expenses, such as $773 million for laboratory testing in the first quarter, are likely to be registered under the program in the second quarter, she said.

The FAO found that health spending for long-term care home operation and development exceeded the plan, but was less than the plan for payments in physicians and health services.

Critics on Wednesday questioned why funds from the pandemic program were not spent as the province grapples with a third wave.

NDP leader Andrea Horvath, in response to the FAO’s findings, said: “It is shameful that (Premier) Doug Ford has refused to invest the dollars needed to help us combat this virus, and it is by all means There has been a problem.”

“They don’t like spending money.”

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said people needed answers from the Progressive Conservative government regarding COVID-19 funds.

“Doug Ford had the money to save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19. He chose not to,” del Duca said in a tweet.

The president of the union representing Ontario public sector workers said in a statement that not spending the money is a “complete abdication of responsibility.”

“The most obvious lesson from the past 18 months is that public services save lives and are the least governments can afford to promote them,” said Fred Hahn of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario.

The FAO report provided an update on the province’s spending plan for the year and reviewed unaudited spending by the government in the first quarter.

It found that the province spent a total of $2.6 billion — or 6.6 percent — less than planned between April and July.

It said spending in two sectors, education and justice, was more than planned. In most other areas, the FAO found that spending was less than planned.

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