Sam Merulla says Ontario's premier is "a liar" for implying that provincial uploading has left cities with extra cash.
At Wednesday's council meeting, the Ward 4 councillor said Kathleen Wynne was being either dishonest or "willfully stupid" in telling local media that uploading means municipalities now have more room to spend.
The strong language is to get the premier’s attention, Merulla said. He wants to deliver the point that Ontario’s tax system is unfair to people who pay property taxes in Hamilton.
“I’m calling her a liar here today,” Merulla said. “She obviously does not have an idea of the crisis municipalities are going through.
“I ask her, come forward or read the briefing notes, because you’re screwing us over, madam.”
Merulla’s comments came during a discussion about how 20 per cent of Hamilton’s tax bill is for provincially regulated services such as ambulance. When residents look at their tax bills, about one-fifth of it is for services the city can’t control, he said.
'You’re screwing us over, madam.' - Coun. Sam Merulla
Other councillors took exception to Merulla’s barbs. Council voted Wednesday to arrange a “Hamilton Day” at Queen’s Park in November to call attention to the alleged inadequacy. Comments such as Merulla’s could damage the process, said Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek, a former MPP.
“I encourage (councillors) not to use disparaging commentary to describe our colleagues provincially because when Hamilton Day comes, they don’t have to appear,” Clark said. “It’s voluntary for them. If they feel slighted, if they feel their premier has been slighted, they don’t have to attend.”
'I just need her attention'
After the meeting, Merulla said he’d love to get a reaction from the premier.
“I just need her attention because she obviously doesn’t understand the severity of the issue.”
Getting the ear of provincial decision makers is the goal of the city’s latest Fairness to Hamilton campaign. Following a motion by Coun. Brian McHattie, the city plans to head to Queen’s Park to meet with politicians and try to capture the media’s attention.
It also hopes to take any opportunity to appear before the provincial standing committee to argue its case.
In the late 1990s, services such as social assistance and social housing were downloaded to municipalities. From 2008 to 2018, Ontario is uploading some of those services back to the provincial level.
'A bloody crisis'
So far, Ontario Works, the Ontario Disability Support Program and the drug benefits program for those on social assistance have been uploaded. The uploading meant a loss of provincial grants to administer the programs, said finance head Mike Zegarac. But when the province calculates how much the city is benefiting, it doesn’t factor in the grant loss.
For this reason, the province considers the city of Hamilton to have saved $78 million from 2009 to 2013. But really, local taxpayers only saved $11.8 million, Zegarac said.
And 20 per cent of what taxpayers pay goes to provincially regulated services such as public health, police and land ambulance, Zegarac said.
Even councillors who disagreed with Merulla’s language Wednesday agreed with the notion of getting this out to the public.
“(This is) a bloody crisis,” Merulla said. “Let’s communicate this because our residents deserve to know. I encourage you. I implore you. Communicate it.”