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.
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."
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.
The Tories are tackling an $11.7-billion deficit and had announced a host of funding cuts to municipalities, including for public health, child care and ambulance services.
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.
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.
Municipalities had been pushing back hard against the funding cuts, which were announced after they already passed this years budgets and would have been retroactive.
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.
Local government leaders had warned that they would be forced to raise taxes or slash services as a result of the Tories cuts.
Mr. Tory, who spent the weekend knocking on doors election-style to drum up opposition to the cuts, had warned that his city alone faced a $178-million shortfall in 2019, and that the retroactive reductions could harm everything from student nutrition to vaccination programs.
Last week, Ford said the province would pay for them to get outside line-by-line budget reviews done.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has reversed this year's cuts to municipal funding including child care and public health, 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."
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.
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.
"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.
The City of Toronto has said the cuts would have a significant negative impact on the public. The total cuts amounted to $177 million in 2019, city officials said.
Mayor John Tory had said the city could be forced to reduce services or increase taxes due to the cuts.
In London, the city estimated it was losing some $4 million that would have helped pay for everything from public health to policing.
In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson said the cuts had thrown the city into a "period of chaos" by pulling millions in funding.
Last week, Ford revealed a new fund to help cities and school boards review their budgets in an effort to find additional savings.
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