Critics call it 'shortsighted' and 'wrong', but Ontario government moving forward with municipal funding cuts
Toronto mayor softens criticism but city's health board chair calls cuts 'an attack'
Child-care and health-care advocates are slamming the provincial government's plan to go ahead with some of its controversial municipal funding cuts next year.
Premier Doug Ford made an announcement on the cuts Monday at a gathering of municipal leaders in Ottawa.
The Progressive Conservative government tried to force retroactive funding cuts this year, but had to cancel them after municipal leaders complained their annual budgets had already passed.
Despite some extra time before funding is slashed, the news was unwelcome for Carolyn Ferns, public policy and government relations co-ordinator with Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care.
"Sure, they've delayed some of those cuts now — but they're still coming," she said. "That just creates uncertainty, stress for families and sort of chaos at the municipal level across the province as they try to scramble to figure out what's happening."
Ford said some of this year's planned cuts — to public health, child care and land ambulance funding — will take effect Jan. 1.
"We recognize our government moved quickly when we came into office to address our inherited challenges," Ford said at the gathering of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). "But we've listened to you."
Prior to the changes announced by the Ford government last spring, municipalities had varying public health cost-sharing arrangements with the province — with Ontario paying 100 per cent or 75 per cent in some cases.
The new plan will see all municipalities — including Toronto — pay 30 per cent of public health care costs. Under the initial plan, Toronto would have been on the hook for 50 per cent of the cost.
Coun. Joe Cressy, chair of Toronto's board of health, said officials are trying to figure out what the full financial impact of the cuts will be — but he was adamant that the cuts would amount to tens of millions of dollars annually for the city.
"If these cuts go ahead, many of our critical programs are at risk," he said.
"As is too often the case with this provincial government, they make announcements first and provide details later."
Funding cut for new child-care spaces
Starting on Jan. 1, municipalities will also have to pay 20 per cent of the cost of creating new child-care spaces, which the province previously fully funded.
Some cuts to funding for administrative child-care costs are being delayed until 2021 and others are being delayed to 2022.
Ford also said land ambulance funding will increase by four per cent.
Toronto Mayor John Tory had warned the public health cuts would affect services like children's breakfast programs, vaccination programs and water quality testing, and the child-care cuts would jeopardize subsidies.
He and the mayors of Ontario's largest municipalities had slammed the various cuts to municipal funding earlier this year, characterizing them as "downloading by stealth."
Tory softened his stance Monday, saying in a statement he "appreciates the government's efforts over the past few months to listen to municipalities."
"As I have said before, I recognize and appreciate the challenges the government of Ontario faces in getting its deficit under control, and I support its intention to do so," he said. "However, this must be done in a prudent, collaborative manner that does not impact the services that people in Toronto rely on each and every day."
Travis Kann, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said in an emailed statement the changes will mean Toronto will have to pay more for public health services.
"So long as the City of Toronto meets its obligations, there should be no reduction in overall spending on public health services and programs," Kann said, adding the city will "be expected to pay $4.3 million more next year from an operating budget of over $13 billion."
Cressy told CBC News the cuts are "nothing short of an attack on Ontarians.
"Make no mistake, these cuts will hurt people," Cressy said. "They are shortsighted and they are wrong."
Ontario's deficit is $11.7 billion
For weeks, the premier and his cabinet ministers had defended the cuts as necessary to tackle an urgent financial situation and said municipalities needed to do their part, as the recipients of a large share of provincial dollars. The government is trying to eliminate an $11.7 billion deficit.
In the midst of taking heat from municipalities over the cuts this spring, Ford announced up to $7.35 million in total for audits to help them find savings in their budgets. Ford's office said Monday that 34 of 39 eligible municipalities took the province up on its offer.
All school boards were also eligible to apply, but the premier's office said only two did, so the deadline for them to apply is being extended to Aug. 30.
AMO president Jamie McGarvey, who introduced Ford at the event Monday, said municipalities understand the province's goals and urged the government to work with civic leaders.
"We cannot achieve these things with abrupt, unilateral changes and it will take more than simple belt tightening to make things better," McGarvey said. "Working together, we can avoid unnecessary turmoil, and respect the essential front line-services that our governments deliver."
With files from The Canadian Press