Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s budget cuts will cost Toronto at least $177.65 million this year alone, warns city manager Chris Murray in a new memo to Mayor John Tory and city councillors.
The email sent Thursday morning provides an overview of funding changes identified to date, estimated impacts on the city and “anticipated and indirect funding changes that may have future implications for the city and are being monitored by staff.”
The estimated pressure on the City of Toronto council-approved 2019 budget, Murray writes, based on the best available information to date, is $177.65 million.
He breaks it down as:
- $24 million from cancellation of planned provincial gas tax funding.
- $3.85 million for Toronto Paramedic Services.
The impact of the cuts, if Tory’s pressure campaign on Ford fails to convince the premier to abandon them and talk to the city about other ways to help reduce Ontario’s deficit, will be greater in future years because most of the cutbacks in the provincial budget take effect April 1.
That means the city is getting reduced funding for nine months of 2019, but will feel the full-year impact of the cuts starting in 2020.
Murray, who noted his staff are dealing with the best information available because the province has provided so few details, restated some cuts council already knew, such as the loss of extra gas-tax money that the previous Liberal government had promised Ontario municipalities and which Toronto earmarked for badly needed upgrades and maintenance.
The city manager provided some new issues as well, including the April 26 notification from Ontario’s health ministry that Toronto’s grant for ambulances will not, unlike prior years, include an increase to compensate for inflationary costs.
The $3.85 million reduction from what city council was expecting, and included in its 2019 budget set in April, is equal to a 3.5 per cent cut, Murray said.
Murray also warns of other impacts on this year’s city budget he can’t yet quantify. They include the likelihood that provincial belt-tightening on provincial welfare and disability benefits will mean less money for Toronto to administer the programs for local residents.
The city manager also lists indirect cuts, meaning they impact residents and the city as a whole but not the City of Toronto’s 2019 budget. They include the elimination of Tourism Toronto’s $9.5 million provincial funding.
Tory, backed by city council and mayors from across Ontario, has been fiercely criticizing the cuts.
Tory says cities were not consulted, that the unilateral transfer reductions came after municipalities had already set their 2019 budgets, that the cuts hit Toronto disproportionately hard for no reason, and that they will result in cuts to public health, child care and more.
The mayor escalated his attacks on Ford in recent days, saying Toronto will not reopen its budget and the Progressive Conservative premier must put on hold the “damaging” cuts that threaten the quality of life and economic success of Ontario’s economic engine.
Tory hammered Ford for moving to reopen an agreement with operators of the Beer Store, potentially costing the province more than $1 billion per year, while cutting services to low-income children, parents with subsidized child care spots and others.
Ford and his cabinet ministers have been firing back, insisting Toronto and other municipalities can find internal efficiencies to offset the cuts and that residents should feel no impacts as a result.
Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Lisa MacLeod, accused Tory in a letter sent to him Wednesday of not dealing with wasteful city spending and of not lobbying the federal government hard enough to get money to help house “illegal border crossers” — people who requested asylum.
“While you have found time to hold media availabilities and photo opportunities at City Hall to protest a reallocation of 0.24 per cent of your total budget, you seem to have forgotten about the tens of millions of dollars owed to you by the federal government,” MacLeod wrote.
Her government has refused to provide any money to help refugee claimants, or to grant Tory’s request that other Ontario communities be asked to help house refugee claimants.
At Queen’s Park on Thursday, Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy said the PC government has made “made tough choices.”
“Everyone’s got to do their part,” Bethlenfalvy told reporters.
Asked about the $177.65 million in cuts to the city this year, the minister said there are numerous ways for Toronto to save money.
“We cannot just pass the buck (the next generation).”
With files from Robert Benzie
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider