Ontario moving ahead with municipal funding cuts in 2020: Doug Ford
TORONTO -- Ontario will move ahead with some of its controversial municipal funding cuts for public health and child care next year, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday at a gathering of municipal leaders in Ottawa.
The Progressive Conservative government had tried to force retroactive funding cuts on communities earlier this year but had to cancel them after municipal leaders complained their annual budgets had already passed.
After Ford paused the planned cuts -- to public health, child care and land ambulance funding -- in May, it was unclear whether they would go ahead next year. His office said those changes will now take effect Jan. 1.
Ford said Monday that he had heard municipalities' concerns.
"We recognize our government moved quickly when we came into office to address our inherited challenges," Ford told a gathering of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. "But my friends, we're listening to you."
The province's new plan will see all municipalities -- including Toronto -- pay 30 per cent of public health care costs. Under the initial plan, Toronto would have been on the hook for 50 per cent of the cost.
Previously, municipalities had varying public health cost-sharing arrangements with the province -- with Ontario paying 100 per cent or 75 per cent in some cases.
Starting on Jan. 1, municipalities will also have to pay 20 per cent of the cost of creating new child care spaces, which the province previously fully funded.
Some cuts to funding for administrative child care costs are being delayed until 2021 and others are being delayed to 2022.
Ford also said land ambulance funding will increase by four per cent -- $26 million -- in 2019-2020.
Toronto city councillor and board of health chairman Joe Cressy called on Ford to immediately reverse the cuts slated for next year.
While the city doesn't yet know the financial impact of the cost-sharing changes announced Monday, they will have an adverse impact on public health, he said.
"An indisputable body of evidence has demonstrated that cutting public health is both harmful and fiscally irresponsible," Cressy said in a statement. "Public health programs -- vaccinations, disease prevention, student breakfast programs, water quality testing -- save lives today, and tomorrow."
AMO President Jamie McGarvey, who introduced Ford at the event Monday, urged the government to work with civic leaders.
"We cannot achieve these things with abrupt, unilateral changes and it will take more than simple belt tightening to make things better," McGarvey said. "Working together, we can avoid unnecessary turmoil, and respect the essential front line-services that our governments deliver."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath slammed the Ford government for pushing ahead with the cuts.
"Municipalities -- families -- can't afford to fill all the financial holes caused by Ford's deep cuts, but the human cost of failing people when it comes to public health, ambulance services and child care is unthinkable," she said in a statement.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government's decision to proceed with the cuts is "disappointing."
"We cannot play around with issues like vaccinations, food safety and disease control," he said. "It is very problematic if the province no longer sees public health as its responsibility."
Several municipal leaders had slammed the province's various cuts to municipal funding earlier this year, characterizing them as "downloading by stealth."
For weeks, Ford 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 government is trying to eliminate an $11.7-billion deficit.
In the midst of taking heat from municipalities over the cuts this spring, Ford announced up to $7.35 million in total for audits to help them find savings in their budgets. His office said Monday that 34 out of 39 eligible municipalities took the province up on its offer.
All school boards were also eligible to apply, but the premier's office said only two did, so the deadline for them to apply is being extended to Aug. 30.