Province slashing funds for Tourism Toronto, city estimates $100M total shortfall from funding changes
Mayor John Tory says 'significant number' could mean 'host of cutbacks'
The city is estimating a shortfall "well north" of $100 million for 2019 because of the province's recent funding cuts, which now include Premier Doug Ford's government completely eliminating provincial funding for Tourism Toronto, CBC Toronto has learned.
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After revealing the grand total on Tuesday, Mayor John Tory called it "a very significant number."
He said the shortfall amounts to one of two options: Either a "host of cutbacks," or a three-point increase in property tax — but for the latter, the 2019 rate was already set during the city's budget process earlier this year.
The revelation comes amid rising tension between the city and Premier Doug Ford's government over a variety of sweeping funding changes to child care and public health, and an end to a planned hike in municipalities' share of gas tax revenue that was expected to provide roughly $1 billion to Toronto over the next decade.
On Tuesday, non-profit industry association Tourism Toronto also revealed its provincial funding will be "fully eliminated" by 2020, which amounts to a loss of more $9 million annually, with some transitional funding set aside for the remainder of this year.
Andrew Weir, the organization's executive vice-president for destination development, said that amounts to roughly a quarter of the current budget, with the city making up the other three-quarters by collecting a hotel tax.
Weir said there's "nothing on paper," though provincial officials did confirm to CBC Toronto that there is a funding reduction for the office in the 2019 budget.
The province will also be "rolling out our 2019 Ontario Tourism Strategy in the coming months," said Brett Weltman, a spokesperson for the ministry.
Weir said the changes follow a record-breaking tourism year in 2017, which saw 43 million visitors in the area last year, who spent more than $8.8 billion.
While the funding cut won't prevent Tourism Toronto from operating, it will mean the organization may have to choose between which tourism opportunities, like international conferences, it can bring to the city, he added.
Don Peat, a spokesperson for the mayor's office, noted increased tourism to the region has helped generate revenue and jobs for the province.
"It's hard to argue the province is open for business when it is cutting funding dedicated to telling the world to visit Ontario," he said.
Difficult for city to 'precisely' determine total impact
Now, even as all these funding changes add up, the city still has only a rough ballpark estimate for the total impact.
That's because it's difficult for staff to "precisely" name a grand total with provincial officials not offering specifics during meetings, Tory said.
Most of the discussions and updates have been verbal — not in writing — he added, which Tory said does give him hope there may be room for changes.
Board of health chair Joe Cressy, an outspoken critic of recent funding changes to Toronto Public Health, agreed. "Given the breadth of outrage, and the diversity of geographical and political opposition to these public health cuts, I'm hopeful they will reverse course," he added.
Ford fires back
However, Premier Doug Ford is showing no signs of backing down. Following Tory's remarks at city hall on Tuesday, he fired back against city officials in a statement, suggesting Toronto has room to find efficiencies instead of letting "waste fester."
"The City of Toronto spends millions of dollars watering dead tree stumps, hundreds of thousands of dollars on car fleets that are collecting dust, and uses public health resources to conduct 'shade audits' of public parks," Ford said in the statement.
"And, let's not forget, the councillors down at City Hall just recently voted to double their office budgets."
Those doubled staffing budgets were in response to another cut from the province — the mid-campaign slashing of Toronto's council from a planned 47 members to 25, which later led elected officials to beef up their budgets post-election to handle the demands of the larger wards.
Ford ended his statement with a dig directed at the mayor: "If John Tory spent as much time going through the city's finances as he does worrying about the colour of the Toronto sign, he would be able to find some efficiencies and deliver some value for taxpayers' dollars," he wrote.