City finances thrown into 'period of chaos' by PC budget, mayor says
Formerly 'rosy' budget now posing thorny problems, Jim Watson tells reporters
- On May 13, the NDP leader asked the premier if he would give Ottawa more time to adjust to cuts.
- Ford responded in Question Period that he and his ministers have a "great relationship" with Watson.
- Ford pointed to how pleased Watson was to receive $1.2 billion from Ontario for Stage 2 LRT.
With each day seemingly revealing a new detail about the Ontario government's spending plans, Ottawa's mayor says the city's finances have been thrown into a "period of chaos" that will affect property taxpayers.
While the budget tabled in mid-April initially painted a "rosy" picture, that optimism didn't last, Jim Watson said Friday.
"Then all of a sudden, piece by piece, we find in the deep bowels of the documents there are some really significant cuts that are going to hurt a lot of people and put an extremely great pressure on our budgeting process for 2020 and beyond," the mayor told reporters after a finance committee meeting.
We pushed long and hard to stop the downloading. But you've cranked it back up again, and that's not good for taxpayers in Ottawa.- Mayor Jim Watson
Among other recent changes, the City of Ottawa has learned its paramedic budget is frozen, that Ottawa Public Health is in for a merger and cuts, and that child care centres will lose a fund which helped them adjust to paying higher wages.
Watson said he's especially perplexed that the province cut all of its $3.4-million funding to Ottawa Tourism.
"The government at Queen's Park is all about job creation," Watson said. "You don't go about doing that by taking away an economic lever like tourism."
Watson said he has urged Premier Doug Ford, his staff and provincial cabinet ministers to give cities time to adjust.
"They've made these decisions — some of them retroactively — midway through our fiscal year. That's patently unfair," Watson said.
"If you're going to make these cuts, give us the runway so that we can properly implement them without going through this whole period of chaos that we're finding ourselves in."
Watson said he's asked the city treasurer to speed up an accounting of the extent of those changes and what they mean for Ottawa's books.
Watson now wants to make that analysis, initially planned for July, public within the next two weeks.
"We can go back to the province and say, 'Look. We pushed long and hard to stop the downloading. But you've cranked it back up again and that's not good for taxpayers in Ottawa.'"
New: Memo to city officials from city manager Chris Murray puts total impact of provincial cuts at $178 million for 2019, which includes a nearly $4 million funding drop for Toronto paramedics. <a href="https://t.co/sWa7RghTlD">pic.twitter.com/sWa7RghTlD</a>—@LaurenPelley
Toronto has already done that accounting and found the provincial changes will create a $$178-million problem for its budget this year.
Watson said Ottawa may face similar difficulties, and it's a good thing the city has healthy reserves.
"But dipping into reserves midway through fiscal year is not a way to run any kind of an organization," Watson said. "And it puts us in a deeper hole for the 2020 budget."
Municipalities across the province have begun fighting the changes, and the tension is increasing.
A group of mayors that includes Watson has accused the governing Progressive Conservatives of "downloading by stealth." Toronto Mayor John Tory, one of the most vocal critics, and has trading barbs with Ford over his government's first budget.
- 27 Ontario mayors slam province for downloading costs, forcing possible tax hikes
- Who wins in Ford and Tory's war of words — and why it's not just empty rhetoric
On Thursday, NDP MPP John Vanthof asked Ford during Question Period at Queen's Park to explain the effects of the budget changes and how his government will work with municipalities, but the premier gave unrelated answers.
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, however, did say earlier in the week that the government would be looking at the province's finances line by line.
"We made it very clear to all of our partners, whether they be Ontario's 444 municipalities, that we expected them to do the same," Clark said.
"We expected them to review every policy, every program, and every service, and put people first."