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."
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.
Ford reverses retroactive cuts to public health, child care, land ambulances
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.
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Ford said Monday that the in-year cuts to public health, child care and land ambulance will not go ahead.
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.
Ontarios Ford government cancels retroactive cuts to municipalities
Tory said Monday he hopes for a collaborative process, moving forward, to identify efficiencies in both levels of government.
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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."
Were a government that listens: Premier Doug Ford cancels retroactive cuts to municipalities
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.
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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."
ntario Premier Doug Ford, centre, stands with Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek, left, and Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton during a news conference in Toronto on Wednesday, April, 10, 2019. Fords ambitious plan for public transit in Ontario includes a Toronto downtown relief line that will be twice as long as the city is currently considering, be built two years earlier and cost billions more. , THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
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."
Municipalities have been pushing back hard against the funding cuts, which were announced after they already passed this years budgets.
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 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.
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."
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.
"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.
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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