Doug Ford reverses retroactive funding cuts amid fierce pressure from Toronto – CBC News

Doug Ford reverses retroactive funding cuts amid fierce pressure from Toronto - CBC News
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."

Video: Ford government reverses cuts to public health, child care

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.

“I am certainly pleased with today’s announcement that they are recognizing how ill-conceived these in-year cuts were and the chaos they were creating in municipal finances,” Donahue said, adding, “Essentially this is a stay of execution and we need to continue to impress on the province that these services are crucial in our communities and we are running pretty lean operations.”

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 assume the next step is they’re going to want to bring in cuts in January,” Watson said. “While it’s a small step forward that they listened to us with respect to the timing, we still have to negotiate a fairer deal that ensures that vulnerable people in our society aren’t affected by these cuts in health care, paramedics and day care.”

Video: Doug Ford reverses millions in cuts to Ontario municipalities

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

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who heads the city’s health board, said the announcement gives public health officials “an opportunity to look at the situation going in to the 2020 budget” when the province says it will consolidate 35 existing health units into 10 and reduce the amount the province pays for public health.

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.

Video: Province will reverse retroactive cuts to public health, child care, land ambulances: Ford

Were going to work together: Ontarios Tory government cancels retroactive cuts to municipalities

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.

The in-year cuts would have forced Ottawa Public Health to cut $3.8 million from its $60-million budget this year. Renfrew County would have faced a half-a-million-dollar cut to its public health budget. Municipalities also faced significant retroactive cuts to paramedics and childcare as well as other services.

PCs cancel retroactive cuts to Ontario municipalities

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 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.

The Provincial Conservative government had previously announced a $7.3-million fund to help municipalities find cost savings. Mr. Ford and his officials had also characterized the money that cities would have to find as being only a tiny amount of their overall budgets. Critics countered, though, that most city budgets consist of fixed costs, making the impact far greater.

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."

The decision prevents municipalities having to find hundreds of millions of dollars in already formalized budgets and restores 2018 funding in public health, child care and paramedic services. As part of the reversal, the province is also not moving ahead to change the funding formula for Toronto Public Health, which would have seen the city shoulder more of the costs.

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.

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

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Ford government cancels retroactive cuts to municipalities

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

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.

Ford Reverses Cuts To Public Health, Child Care, And Ambulances After Many Complain

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

PC government cancels retroactive cuts to municipalities

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

“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.”

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.

“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, wouldn’t hit families hard.”

"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).

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.

"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.

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.

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.

“Every mayor I talked to said they can find savings, so that’s the good news, but they said they needed more runway,” Ford said Monday. “We’re willing to work with them, give them more runway, and this will be a win-win for the taxpayers across Ontario.”

Ontarios Tory government to reverse retroactive cuts to municipalities

"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."

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“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.”

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.

“At the end of the day, the taxpayers are going to better off,” the premier said. “We have to pay down the deficit and we’re doing that in a responsible and reasonable manner.”

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

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.

Asked if the poor polling numbers prompted his change of heart, Ford said he has been up and down in the polls before and believes voters will have a clear choice in the next provincial election.

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.

Ford and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said they spoke to mayors across Ontario over the weekend and came to the conclusion that the province should maintain funding for this year.

"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."

“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,” Tory said in a statement. “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.

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.

“We’ve come up with a conclusion that we will maintain the funding throughout this year,” Ford told reporters outside his office at Queen’s Park on Monday. “(We will) maintain ground ambulance, child care, and public health. Those were the three big issues that we were facing. At the end of the day the taxpayers are going to be better off.”

Ford said Monday that the in-year cuts to public health, child care and land ambulance will not go ahead. It was not clear whether they would proceed next year.

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.

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Tory said Monday he hopes for a collaborative process, moving forward, to identify efficiencies in both levels of government. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario said it appreciates the additional time to work together to find solutions.

“In speaking with Premier Ford this morning, I reiterated Toronto’s willingness to work with them on what for us has been a continuous search for efficiencies each and every year, with our focus continuing to be on ways we can achieve them without jeopardizing core services our residents expect.”

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