Toronto city hall stands to lose $1.5 billion during the COVID-19 pandemic, mayor John Tory said on Friday, and he’s calling for financial help from Queen’s Park and the federal government.
The figure is based on a scenario featuring a three-month lockdown followed by a six-month recovery period where some level of restrictions would still be in place, Tory said.
He called the $1.5 billion estimate “the best case scenario,” and said the city is projecting losses of up to $2.73 billion if the crisis leads to a nine-month lockdown and 12-month recovery period.
The city has seen revenues plummet in a variety of areas, including licensing, tax payments and TTC fares. On transit alone, Toronto is losing around $20 million weekly, according to city estimates.
Those losses have been coupled with additional expenses, such as overtime, the purchase of cleaning supplies and enhanced services at homeless shelters.
The novel coronavirus and restrictions to slow its spread have wreaked havoc on Canada’s economy, and Tory said the city’s own books have not been spared.
“We’re going to have to take a look at our expenses and I’m not ruling anything out at this stage,” he said on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning earlier Friday.
City needs ‘substantial’ funding help
To avert major changes, Tory has been calling on higher levels of government to assist the city as it weathers the ongoing pandemic and prepares for a gradual reopening.
As a municipal government, Toronto is not permitted to operate under a deficit, meaning the city may be forced to cut services, lay off staff or raise taxes to make up for lost revenue.
Tory says those scenarios could be averted if the provincial and federal governments provide emergency funding to help Toronto and other municipal governments continue operating without making dramatic cuts or hiking taxes.
“This will require assistance in substantial amounts, taking into effect the constitutional limitations placed on cities,” Tory said.
That additional funding could allow Toronto to maintain “much needed services on the ground for people and not bring in what would be nonsensical large tax increases,” he said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was asked during his Friday COVID-19 briefing if the province would consider allowing municipalities to run deficits, but he did not provide a clear answer.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes. I’ve said from day one, I won’t spare a penny to make sure that we support the people of Ontario,” he said.
The province’s finance minister, Rod Phillips, is working on a plan to assist municipalities, Ford added, though no details are available yet.
Total cases rise by 9%
Toronto medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa also updated the status of cases in the city during Friday’s news conference.
She said there are now 3,145 cases of COVID-19 in Toronto, a jump of slightly more than nine per cent over the previous day. There have now been 154 deaths attributed to the COVID-19, an increase of seven.
Of the active cases, 244 patients are being treated in hospital, with 97 of them in intensive care units.