Haliburton’s Volunteer Dental Outreach (VDO) is expressing concern about the requirements for a new low-income senior dental program introduced in the 2019 provincial budget.

The program was revealed with the budget April 11. It would offer dental services for low-income seniors at community health centres across the province. It is expected to begin this summer.

“At least two-thirds of low-income seniors do not have access to dental care,” Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott said in a press release. “There are over 3,000 low-income seniors (in the riding) … who could potentially benefit from this program.”

However, VDO director Lisa Kerr noted the Ontario Dental Association has expressed opposition to the program due to the requirement for seniors to travel to government-run centres to get treatment from dental teams they may not know.

“If that’s the case, I would expect that Haliburton seniors would be expected to travel to the public health dental offices in Lindsay and Port Hope,” Kerr said. “Which would be impossible for most who cannot afford the gas or travel expenses to these clinics.”

Kerr said the board would wait for full details of the plan to make any adjustments to VDO.

“Our board will discuss if and how our financial screening process will be modified to best serve the needs of the community,” she said.

Scott praises budget

Scott praises a number of measures in this year’s provincial budget impacting the riding. The budget lays out a plan to achieve fiscal balance in five years.

The budget offers measures aimed at helping the skilled-trade sector, including a new flexible framework to allow for training and certification between different trades.

“Budget measures aimed at job creation and a modernized framework for skilled trade apprenticeships will benefit workers and small businesses across Haliburton – Kawartha Lakes – Brock,” she said.

The province also announced it intends to create a Housing Supply Action Plan to address barriers that prevent people from getting housing and reduce “red tape” around housing development.

Scott also spoke about the new Childcare Access and Relief from Expenses (CARE) tax credit, offered to families to help with childcare expenses.

“The CARE credit will provide much needed relief for local families who are struggling with the cost of child-care,” she said.

Mixed review from county warden

County warden Liz Danielsen offered both commendation and criticism over different aspects of the budget impacting municipalities.

“The province’s commitment to reducing the deficit is commendable as long as that isn’t at the expense of our environment,” she said.

Danielsen said she supported the province investing $315 million over the next five years toward projects to expand cellular and broadband coverage.

“This has been a priority for County Council and will contribute considerably to improving the ability to do business in the County and beyond,” Danielsen said.

She also praised measures to increase long-term care beds, increase the stock of low-income housing and reduce the cost of policing on municipalities.

However, Danielsen said she was concerned by news of the government’s plans to reduce the number of paramedic operators, merging 59 municipal paramedic operators into 10 regional ones.

“(That) could create a serious reduction of services in rural Ontario and an unknown financial loss to the county,” Danielsen said.

Minister of Health spokesperson Hayley Chazan said no paramedics will lose jobs as a result of changes to the system.

“As we move our modernization agenda forward, we are working directly alongside frontline paramedics and our municipal partners to ensure emergency health services can better meet the needs of Ontario’s communities,” she said.

The province is also not increasing the provincial gas tax share to municipalities which the Association of Municipalities of Ontario said was unexpected.

“The plan to reduce the province’s gas tax program will likely create greater challenges for municipalities that run, or are considering the establishment of public transit services,” Danielsen said.

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