Ottawa recovery dominates first day back in session at Ontario legislature

By Canadian Press

Ontario's finance minister says more help is coming for businesses affected by the weekslong protest against COVID-19 measures in Ottawa.

Peter Bethlenfalvy didn't share specifics on Tuesday but said the province would have more to say on targeted supports soon.

He made the comments as elected members returned to the provincial legislature for the last session before June's election. 

Debate over the province's handling of the lengthy protests and blockades that have recently rocked Ontario cities dominated discussion on the first day back in session.

Opposition politicians called on the government to commit funding supports for businesses and workers whose jobs were disrupted by the anti-vaccine mandate protestors.

Bethlenfalvy acknowledged that workers, families and business owners in Ottawa have been impacted.

“We recognize these are very unique circumstances and that’s why I will have more to say in the very near future about supporting those businesses,” he said. 

The federal government has pledged up to $20 million to help cover operational costs for businesses affected by the blockades, in payments of up to $10,000 per business.

Provincial Liberal Lucille Collard, who represents an Ottawa riding, said Tuesday in the legislature that the province should match that, and called for more details on the incoming supports.

“The province needs to step up, to at least match the federal $20-million fund that is being offered, provide hydro bill forgiveness, a moratorium on evictions, because businesses are worried,” she said.

Legislators also criticized the Progressive Conservative government and Premier Doug Ford for not acting sooner to end the protests, which lasted three weeks in Ottawa and several days at a key border crossing between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit.

Those demonstrations have largely been cleared and several key protest leaders have been arrested. But law enforcement and governments were still bracing for possible follow-up actions as of Tuesday.

Toronto Police had closed roads around the provincial legislature, as they have on-and-off for weeks, in preparation for possible attempts to set up blockades of vehicles like the one that clogged up downtown Ottawa. 

Demonstrators initially rallied against a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for cross-border truckers but the protests turned into a broader movement calling for an end to government pandemic measures.

The closures around Queen's Park were starting to lift Tuesday afternoon, with plans to relax them over the course of the next day or so.

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath asked Tuesday if the government would “acknowledge their role in letting that hate fester for three and a half weeks in the city of Ottawa and dividing this province.” She also specifically asked Ford to apologize to residents in Ottawa and Windsor. 

Liberal House Leader John Fraser also questioned Ford's leadership throughout the crisis. 

“How can any community in Ontario have confidence that this Premier will be there for them and not abandon them the way that he did the people of Ottawa and Windsor in this situation,” he said.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones responded to criticism by saying that the province couldn't direct police to act but did provide resources to help. 

She said it was a challenging time but collaboration between police forces that eventually cleared the demonstrations showed the value of working together.

“I’m proud of the work that they have done and I am proud of the work that has happened as a result: safely being able to deal with these illegal operations,” Jones said.

Ford was not present in the legislature for the first question period debate of the sitting. 

Earlier in the morning, he was at a car dealership in Richmond Hill, Ont., just north of Toronto to make a campaign-style announcement about a plan to eliminate licence plate renewal fees. 


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