Recent moves by the Provincial government to cut budgets for things like legal aid, library services, and conservation authorities, along with the proposed amalgamation of ambulance services and local health networks, is “downloading by stealth” according to a joint statement released by the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO).
“Big-city mayors from across Ontario are extremely concerned that the Government of Ontario is engaging in downloading by stealth – implementing funding and governance changes to municipalities without any consultation, after cities have already approved our budgets,” said a joint statement by the LUMCO mayors, of which Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie is the chair.
Since the Government of Ontario introduced its budget last month, there have been a steady stream of announcements concerning cuts and changes to several agencies that get provincial funding. That includes budget cuts to public health units, libraries, legal aid, and conservation authorities, as well as a cut to the provincial gas tax, which many municipalities depend on to subsidize public transit.
“This amounts to millions of dollars per year in funding reductions to vital, front-line services,” read the statement. “The Government of Ontario is effectively forcing municipalities to consider tax increases or service cuts to absorb the download in services it has proposed.”
More than the lost money, municipalities are also angry about the timing. Most municipalities in Ontario finished their 2019 budgets well before the Province announced theirs. With the changes in funding going into immediate effect, this blows a hole in those municipal budgets, forcing cities to either cancel services, or cut costs in other areas. Municipalities in Ontario are barred from running deficits by law.
“Residents have begun to pay their taxes, which have been set locally after many months of consultations with residents about the services they want their local governments to provide and how much they are willing to pay for them,” said LUMCO.
LUMCO says they’ve invited both Premier Doug Ford, and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark to take part in their next meeting. One politician at Queen’s Park has come out to say that this would be a smart move.
“Proper consultation must take place so cities can plan and act responsibility. In this case, not only did the Ford government not consult municipalities, they timed their announcements to come after many municipal budgets have already passed,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in a statement that was sympathetic to the mayors plight.
“I urge the Ford government to listen and collaborate with cities, not pick a fight with them.”