Toronto

'Torontonians will die': City calls on province to end public health cuts amid debate over financial impact

Dr. Eileen de Villa says changes to the cost-sharing between the city and province have left her at a loss for words.

Ontario told health units late last week that it will reduce cost-sharing between the city and province

Dr. Eileen De Villa speaks at a news conference at Toronto's city hall on Wednesday. She says public health initiatives appear to be invisible when they work because they prevent disease, so it is easy to take them for granted. (Gary Morton/CBC)

City of Toronto officials are calling on the province to reverse public health funding cuts that they say could put residents' "health at risk," amid a growing battle between the city and the Ministry of Health over the true financial impact of the changes.

Last week, Premier Doug Ford's government notified health units that it will reduce cost-sharing from levels of 100 per cent or 75 per cent, to 60 to 70 per cent for some municipalities.

In Toronto's case, the cost-sharing for some programs drops to 50-50 by 2021.

"Torontonians will die," board of health chair Joe Cressy said, adding the province announced the changes with "no warning, and no consultation."

The multi-million dollar annual loss could potentially have an impact on vaccination programs, food safety or disease prevention, he added, and called on the province to reverse the cuts.

Cressy made the remarks on Wednesday at a news conference while flanked by medical officer of health Dr. Eileen De Villa and public health supporters like Priya Amin.

Amin, a lifelong Toronto resident, was diagnosed with tuberculosis several years ago and at times believed she may die from the infectious airborne disease.

"Toronto Public Health became more like a best friend during several months of quarantine," she said. "Having this disease in Canada meant I was treatable — and curable."

Amin said Ford should listen to citizens like her to avoid "having blood on [his] hands."

Elliott says Cressy 'fear mongering'

Before the news conference, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott lashed out at Cressy on Twitter, saying he is "fear mongering" and calling his accusations "misleading."

The province has also disputed the city estimate that the cost-sharing changes could amount to $64 million this year alone, and roughly $1 billion over a decade.

Elliott's spokesperson, Travis Kann, told CBC Toronto the province's own analysis "shows an impact of $33 million on the City of Toronto for 2019-20, growing to $42 million per year once the slow shift in the cost-sharing funding model is complete.

"We're confident that Toronto has the population size and density to realize economies of scale to deliver public health smarter with greater administrative efficiency," he said in a statement. "The shift in the cost-sharing funding model is only one component of our modernization plan."

Kann also attended Cressy's news conference, and afterwards, Cressy confronted him to ask what was inaccurate about the city's estimate.

"So are you not prepared to share with the media the numbers you publicly shared with 35 medical officers of health and 35 board chairs?" Cressy asked him in front of reporters.

Kann said his ministry planned to "engage directly with municipalities."

City has been 'honest' with residents: Tory

In a statement later in the day, Tory said the city has been "honest with residents" about the financial impact of the cuts. 

The funding change puts the city's "health at risk," he said.

"The province says it is slowly shifting the cost-sharing model over the next three years," Tory said. "It is not — these cuts are retroactive to April 1 of this year and they have been done without any consultation whatsoever."

While speaking to reporters, De Villa said changes have left her at a loss for words.

"One of the main challenges — the paradox of prevention — is when it works it looks like nothing is happening," she said.

"A dollar invested in public health results in significant savings … These are investments that are made to support people and communities."

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

With files from The Canadian Press

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