Toronto expecting $1.35B deficit, mayor pleading for provincial, federal help
John Tory warning of possible tax hikes, service cuts because of COVID-19 shortfall
Toronto Mayor John Tory is once again asking the federal and provincial governments for funding help as the city stares down a $1.35 billion deficit.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, Tory referred to a just-released executive committee report, which he said provides a "substantial update" on the impact COVID-19 has had on the city's finances.
Potentially on the chopping block, he said, are: transit, homelessness services and child care. City council did vote against a targeted reduction of the policing budget a few weeks ago.
"The city has incurred tens of millions of dollars of costs," Tory said.
Toronto is projecting a $1.9 billion shortfall by the end of 2020 — but, Tory said, some of that is being offset by mitigation measures and underspending. That includes things like city staff on unpaid leave, the alteration of TTC service, and not hiring spring recreation workers.
Measures like those have amounted to $514 million in cost savings, Tory said, which still leaves the city with a net deficit of 1.35 billion, or 11.6 per cent of the 2020 operating budget.
"The savings are now more difficult to come by without cutting services," Tory said, warning that the financial shortfall could be even bigger should Canada be hit by a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.
Should the federal and provincial governments not kick in any help, the city would have to consider a "massive tax increase" or "damaging cuts to services" to balance the books, the mayor said.
"We're very optimistic that we can avoid that," Tory said, but he also noted that, "the longer you leave the making of cuts, the deeper the cuts need to be."
Last month, the federal government announced it is providing $14 billion to the provinces and territories to help them "safely and carefully" reopen their economies.
"Provinces and territories are facing different realities, so flexibility will be important, but here's the bottom line: For seniors and people who need extra support, for kids and workers — this plan is here for you," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time.
Some of that money was meant to help provinces and territories improve the state of long-term care, and to help municipalities continue providing core public services such as transit.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at the time that the move is a "start," but that $14 billion falls far short of what's required to address the "massive need" in the province. Ford has repeatedly spoken about the need for federal funding at his daily press conferences.
"The reality is we have a $23 billion problem in Ontario, and $14 billion for all of Canada ... just won't cut it," he said.
Tory said Tuesday that both levels of government have said there is going to be "some level of help coming," but as of yet, no one has figured out who will be paying for what.
Toronto "doesn't have the luxury of time," he said.
Tory said late summer is a likely timeframe for cuts to start if funding doesn't arrive.
"The longer it goes, the more we would have to cut if it [doesn't] come."
With files from Kathleen Harris