GTA

John Tory asks province to ‘reverse’ funding cuts, work together to find efficiencies

John Tory is asking Ontario Premier Doug Ford to reconsider program cuts that the city manager says will leave a hole of nearly $178 million in Toronto’s 2019 budget.

In a letter addressed to the premier dated Monday, Tory lashed out at Ford over a series of announcements in the past month that cut funding to public health units, paramedic services, child-care services and other programs.

City manager Chris Murray has said that the changes will add up to a $177.65 million budget shortfall for 2019.

“He was also clear that that we will not be able to make up this difference with efficiencies alone this far into the fiscal year — if your government proceeds with these cuts, the City will be forced to cut core services or raise taxes,” Tory wrote, referring to Murray.

Tory also alleged that although funding cuts affect cities across the province, “for some reason not yet explained, Toronto received harsher treatment.”

He wrote that he is “formally” requesting that the province “reverse” the $177 million in cuts, and suggested that the two sides sit down to discuss budgeting and the impact of reductions in funding on Toronto residents.

In response, a spokesperson for Ford said Monday that the current Progressive Conservative government was left to contend with a $15 billion deficit by the previous Liberal government, “which threatens the services all Ontario families depend on.

“Premier Doug Ford and the government for the people are protecting what matters most — like health care and education — by balancing the budget in a responsible and reasonable manner,” Ivana Yelich said in an email to CBC-Radio Canada. “As a part of this, municipalities like the City of Toronto who receive billions of provincial taxpayer dollars will have to do their part.”

Yelich also noted that Ford will be “making an important announcement in support of our municipal partners” on Tuesday. Ford is set to address the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, the Whitby Chamber of Commerce and the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade at 1 p.m.

“Premier Ford is always interested in sitting down with municipal partners to discuss how our two levels of government can work together to find efficiencies and respect taxpayers dollars,” Yelich’s statement concluded.

‘You can’t rule out there being a second tax bill’

Last week, amid a Toronto city council debate over the impact of provincial funding changes to various programs, Murray said “you can’t rule out there being a second tax bill” if the province’s cuts went ahead.

He said he doesn’t think it’s possible for the city to close the budget shortfall through efficiencies alone without impacting services.

In a 25-1 vote — with only Premier Ford’s nephew, Coun. Michael Ford, voting against — councillors backed a motion from Tory that called on the province to reverse the “unilateral, retroactive” cuts to the city’s 2019 budget.

The motion also requested that Murray report back this summer on the “service cuts and tax changes” that may be required to balance the budget if the cuts remain in place.

“We’re finding ourselves between a rock and a rock,” Murray said in council chambers.

The lost funding amounts to roughly $65 million for Toronto Public Health, $85 million for children’s services, $3.9 million for Toronto Paramedic Services and $24 million from the cancellation of a planned hike to Toronto’s share of gas tax revenue, according to city calculations.

City staff have been given the green light to work on a report exploring options to address the financial gap, including re-opening the 2019 budget, which was approved in March, city spokesperson Brad Ross told CBC Toronto last week.

In his Monday letter, Tory said the city has done its best every year he has been in office to find efficiencies, doing line-by-line audits of city expenditures. That work is ongoing, he added.

Tory said he understands the province wants to get its books in order — Finance Minister Vic Fedeli has set out a path to balance the budget by what would be the PC government’s second term in office — but wants a more “co-operative partnership” between the two governments.

“At the end of the day, the people of Ontario and the people of Toronto expect their governments to work together,” Tory wrote. He goes on to ask for the 2019 cuts to be reversed, and for the two sides to review their budgets, “perhaps with outside assistance,” to find efficiencies for 2020 and beyond.

“We are willing to work with you to find ways to do things better and to save money, but we need time and real dialogue and co-operation to allow us to do so,” Tory concludes. “I am ready to see us work together to do better for the taxpayers we both serve, following a sensible and co-operative approach.”

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