Doug Ford reverses retroactive funding cuts amid fierce pressure from Toronto

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is reversing this year's cuts to municipal funding, though future cuts will continue as planned. "We're a government that listens," Ford said.

City said retroactive cuts would force it to reduce services or raise taxes

Premier Doug Ford revealed the funding changes alongside Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has reversed this year's cuts to municipal funding, including child care, public health and EMS, but future cuts will continue as planned.

"We're a government that listens," Ford told reporters outside his office at Queen's Park Monday morning. "We're going to give the mayors more time. We're going to work with them."

The Progressive Conservative government has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks over funding changes first revealed in its spring budget. The City of Toronto has said it's losing millions in funding for everything from public health to child care to paramedics.

More than 31,000 people in Toronto signed a petition demanding the province reverse the cuts, which were revealed after the city passed its 2019 budget.

"This is a very good announcement," said Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark. "It's being very responsive to what our municipal partners are saying."

The cuts, combined with the cancellation of an increase to municipalities' share of the gas tax, mean local governments would be out well over half a billion dollars annually.

The City of Toronto had said the cuts would have a significant negative impact on the public. The total cuts amounted to $177 million in 2019, city officials said.

In addition to direct cuts, that calculation also included a proposed shift in the existing cost-sharing model. Under the current system, programs delivered by Toronto Public Health are funded 75 per cent by the province and 25 per cent by the city. 

Tory thanks Ford, calls for more collaboration

The Tories planned to reduce that split to 60-40, then to 50-50 in 2021. The government now says it will maintain the current model while municipalities review their books.

In a statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory thanked Ford for reversing the cuts, adding that both governments must work together more closely before Ontario's 2020 budget.

"This must be done in a prudent, collaborative manner that does not impact the vital services that people in Toronto rely on each and every day," Tory wrote. "This can only be done if we work together."

Mayor John Tory said Toronto could have been forced to raise taxes due to the cuts. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

While Toronto Board of Health chair Joe Cressy said the government "did the right thing" by reversing the cuts, he said the impact may only have been delayed until next year.

"We must all continue to stand up and speak out to ensure future cuts to our vital public health and child-care services do not proceed," he said in a statement.

Giving municipalities 'more runway'

While Ford said he's still calling on municipalities to reduce their spending, he acknowledged some will need more time to do so.

"We're willing to work with them to give them more runway," he said.

"Are we right a 1,000 per cent of time? I wish we were right 1,000 per cent of the time," Ford added.

Ontario has 444 municipalities, and many expressed concern about the funding cuts.

In London, the city estimated it was losing some $4 million that would have helped pay for everything from public health to policing.

Mayors applaud funding reversal

In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson said the cuts had thrown the city into a "period of chaos" by pulling millions in funding.

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger called the announcement a "positive, progressive step," since it gives the city time to make its case to the province that cutting could mean lost jobs and services.

"It's good news that the province is listening," he said. 

"On behalf of Ontario's big-city mayors, I want to thank the premier and Minister Clark for listening to our concerns and responding," wrote Cam Guthrie, mayor of Guelph and the chair of the Large Urban Mayors' Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO).

"Now we have the time to come to the table with the province and figure out how to do this in a way that best protects our local residents and the services they depend on," he added.

Last week, Ford revealed a new fund to help cities and school boards review their budgets in an effort to find additional savings. He said the offer still stands, even though funding has been temporarily restored.

"We're certainly open to the help that he's offering to provide funding for auditors," Eisenberger said. "But it doesn't really address the question of what services to be cut."

With files from The Canadian Press