Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s frustration with a perceived lack of COVID-19 recovery funds flowing from the federal government turned to praise on Thursday as he learned the province would be receiving a $7 billion portion of a national aid package.

Ford announced the province’s share of the $19-billion deal from a farm outside of Chatham, Ont., as he toured parts of Southwestern Ontario still grappling with the global pandemic.

He said the money will help the province provide critical services, including financial relief to municipalities who have said help from both governments could stave off local tax hikes and service cuts.

“This funding will support us as we get the economy going over the next six to eight months,” Ford said. “My friends … it’s a great deal for Ontario.”

The federal funding is expected to help provinces pay for initiatives such as child care, contact tracing and personal protective equipment.

Last month, Ford said the province’s pandemic-related expenses have reached $23 billion and that he wouldn’t agree to a “bad deal” with the federal government. But he had changed his tone considerably on Thursday, offering praise for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“At the end of the day, the prime minister had the final say in this,” Ford said. “And he pulled through in my opinion with spades. He came up, he stepped up. True leadership. When you’re negotiating within the family … things get a little bumpy.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory said earlier this summer that the city faced $1.5 billion in pandemic-related costs and needed help to avoid serious cutbacks and even loss of local transit services.

He said Thursday the deal will have a positive impact on the city’s finances, but said he is still waiting for details on how Ontario’s portion will be allocated.

“I know Premier Ford is mindful of … the tremendous damage that has been inflicted upon transit systems by the pandemic,” he said.

Meanwhile, the top doctor for Ontario’s Windsor-Essex region said Thursday progress is being made to bring COVID-19 outbreaks on local farms under control.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed said approximately 150 workers in the region have active cases of the virus, down from more than 300 weeks earlier. The health unit reported that another 11 agri-food workers tested positive for the virus on Thursday.

“I think that’s definitely an improvement from where we were,” he said. “But the challenge is the unique nature of the industry … and the congregate living setting that we are talking about.”

Farms in Windsor-Essex have been hit hard by COVID-19, with five currently in outbreak. Two local workers have died from the illness. 

Migrant workers spend their days and nights in close quarters, which advocates say makes physical distancing hard and has led to the rapid spread of the virus on farms.

The farm outbreaks delayed the economic reopening in the Windsor-Essex region, particularly in the towns of Leamington and Kingsville, which were the final two communities to reach Stage 2 last week. The region will be one of 10 left behind as the rest of the province advances to Stage 3 on Friday.

Ford toured the area Thursday morning, stopping in to get his first haircut in months at a barbershop in Leamington, Ont.

Late last week, local leaders called on either the provincial or federal government to take charge of the response to the farm outbreaks.

They outlined their concerns in a formal request to the province last week, but Ford wouldn’t say Thursday if the government had responded.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath criticized the premier for focusing too much of his time on photo ops in the region instead of providing leadership on the farm outbreak issue.

“It’s really tone deaf to the problems that folks are facing,” she said. “It’s just unbelievable that the government isn’t stepping up on the co-ordination piece that they’re being asked to do.”

Ontario reported 111 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and five new deaths related to the virus.

Meanwhile, Ontario extended pandemic emergency orders until July 29. The orders cover the redeployment of health-care workers and temporary management of long-term care homes. They also prohibit price-gouging.

An emergency order permitting curbside delivery of cannabis has also been extended.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2020.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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