Doug Ford to cancel planned $177 million in retroactive budget cuts to Toronto – Daily Hive

Doug Ford to cancel planned $177 million in retroactive budget cuts to Toronto - Daily Hive
Ontarios Tory government cancels retroactive cuts to municipalities
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."

Quantifying the child care funding cuts has been more difficult to pin down. Ontario has allocated $80 million less this year than last year, but municipalities and the child-care sector say that number will be much larger, perhaps even double, once cost-sharing changes take shape for programs such as to create more licensed, not-for-profit child-care spaces.

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.

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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.

“We’ve come up with a conclusion that we’re going to work together,” he said Monday. “We’re going to maintain the funding throughout this year. Every mayor I talked to said they can find savings. So that’s good news. But they said they needed more runway.”

"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.

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 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.

Toronto Mayor John Tory was leading the charge through news conferences, starting a petition and urging residents to sign, door knocking, and creating a sticker parodying the province’s anti-carbon tax stickers for gas pumps.

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. 

The Tories are trying to trim an $11.7-billion deficit and had announced a host of funding cuts to municipalities, including for public health, child care, ambulance services, libraries, tourism and conservation authorities.

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.

Until now, Mr. Ford and his cabinet, including Health Minister Christine Elliott, had defended the cuts, accusing their critics of fear mongering and spreading false information. Doubling down just last week, Mr. Ford announced a $7.3-million plan to offer cities external auditors to trim their costs, and accused Mr. Tory of running a bloated government – saying all governments needed to help as Ontario dealt with its deficit and debt.

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.

The sudden reversal is just the latest for the government, which has also changed course on other policies after public outcry. In January, Mr. Clark ripped up part of a bill that would have allowed municipalities, with his permission, to build on the provinces protected Greenbelt. In March, Mr. Fords government retreated on its changes to the autism treatment program, pledging more money after protests.

"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."

As I have said before, I recognize and appreciate the challenges the government of Ontario faces getting its budget deficit under control, and I support its intention to do so, Mr. Tory said. However, 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. This can only be done if we work together.

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.

The announcement appeared to leave the plans for steep cuts to a range of provincial funding for cities in place for future years, however. It also leaves untouched a range of other cuts that have sparked protests, including a 30-per-cent reduction in provincial support for Legal Aid Ontario and a plan to increase class sizes in schools.

"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.

When you are used to the status quo, and there is this entitlement that the taxpayers owe the government a living, and all of a sudden a new government, that we got democratically elected to reduce the cost and size of government, get the finances of this province back in line – its not easy. Its not easy, Mr. Ford said.

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

In a news conference in the hallway outside his Queens Park office Monday morning, Mr. Ford stood alongside Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark and announced that the province would now keep its funding steady in these three areas, while the province and municipalities hold discussions on ways to reduce costs for next year.

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

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

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

[It] gives us some breathing space, but we still have the challenge of what the cuts are going to look like in 2020.- Ottawa Mayor Jim WatsonWatson had previously called it "patently unfair" of the province to impose funding changes midway through the year.

"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).

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said the province's decision to hold off on funding cuts to public health, paramedics and child care this year gives the city some much-needed "breathing space," but he remains on guard for 2020 and beyond.

"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.

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Last week, Ford revealed a new fund to help cities and school boards review their budgets in an effort to find additional savings.

"Today there is a glimmer of hope that the province recognized, I think through pressure and conversation, that they probably made a mistake trying to retroactively put these cuts in place," Watson told reporters Monday.

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TORONTO — Ontarios Progressive Conservative government has backed down on retroactive funding cuts to municipalities after sustained pressure from local leaders, who warned of devastating impacts to public health, child care and ambulance services.

Municipalities had been pushing back hard against the funding cuts, which were announced after they already passed this years budgets, saying they would need to raise taxes or cut services to cover the shortfall.

Premier Doug Ford said he heard from municipalities that they could find savings in their own budgets, but they needed more time to do so.

"Weve come up with a conclusion that were going to work together," he said Monday. "Were going to maintain the funding throughout this year. Every mayor I talked to said they can find savings. So thats good news. But they said they needed more runway."

One big cut could not have come at a worse time: a 50 per cent reduction in funding to Ontarios network of regional conservation groups, which forecast flooding, issue warnings and monitor stream flow across the province. The announcement came as thousands of residents in Quebec, New Brunswick and big chunks of Ontario watched their homes sink underwater. The military was enlisted to fill sandbags, homeowners kayaked through their demolished living rooms and thrill-seekers hauled out their jet skis. Less than two weeks after the Tories announced their conservation cuts, Ford went up north to offer support to the citizens of Bracebridge, near his familys Muskoka cottage, vowing to help them in any way he could. The timing would seem comical if the floods werent so devastating.

The Tories are trying to trim an $11.7-billion deficit and had announced a host of funding cuts to municipalities, including for public health, child care, ambulance services, libraries, tourism and conservation authorities.

icon-facebook Its been a dramatic spring in Ontario politics. Provincially funded organizations, one after the other, have been hit with surprise cuts, many effective immediately, throwing their organizations into chaos. Budgets have been decimated and services reduced. Some of the cuts seem targeted at the downtown elites Doug Ford loves to hate: the midwife association, lefty think tanks, universities, funds that support artists, legal aid for refugees, libraries.

Ford said Monday that the in-year cuts to public health, child care and land ambulance will not go ahead.

The cuts are rolling out so frequently, with so much spin and so few details, that panic has spread across the province. Its hard to know exactly whats on the chopping block. Paramedics are freaking out because the provinces plan to restructure emergency health services contains few specifics. Colleges and universities have learned that their funding will be tied to outcomes, but they have no idea how performance will be measured.

Toronto Mayor John Tory was leading the charge through news conferences, starting a petition and urging residents to sign, door knocking, and creating a sticker parodying the provinces anti-carbon tax stickers for gas pumps.

Tory said Monday he hopes for a collaborative process, moving forward, to identify efficiencies in both levels of government.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford is now admitting his cuts were wrong, but he should have listened to municipalities earlier.

"Any government worth its salt would have a conversation with partners in advance of massive cuts retroactive to their budgets," she said in the legislature.

"For weeks and weeks on end this premier has blustered in this legislature and on any talk radio program that would have him, insisting that deep cuts to public health, to child care, to emergency services, to libraries, wouldnt hit families hard."

Tory had warned that the public health cuts would affect services like childrens breakfast programs, vaccination programs, and water quality testing, and that the child care cuts would jeopardize subsidies.

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.

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

The province has said changes to public health cost-sharing would save the province $200 million a year by 2021-22.

Quantifying the child care funding cuts has been more difficult to pin down. Ontario has allocated $80 million less this year than last year, but municipalities and the child-care sector say that number will be much larger, perhaps even double, once cost-sharing changes take shape for programs such as to create more licensed, not-for-profit child-care spaces.

Spending figures show municipalities were to get $7.7 million less this year for ambulance and emergency services.

Last week, Ford said the province would pay for municipalities to get outside line-by-line budget reviews done.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford stands outside his office in the Queens Park Legislature in Toronto after announcing the cancellation of retroactive cuts that have hit public health, child care and other municipal services, on Monday, May 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young