Mayor Cam Guthrie’s role as the chair of the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) took him to Toronto Tuesday, where he stood in the press room of City Hall next to Mayor John Tory to continue the pushback against Provincial funding cuts.
Reiterating the joint statement released by LUMCO last week, Guthrie told reporters that big cities mayors are concerned about “downloading by stealth,” and that the provincial cuts to funding are forcing municipalities to make up the difference from their own budgets.
According to Guthie, the effect on Guelph will be to the tune of $27 million over 10 years.
“It’s being done after cities have already approved our own budgets, and after engagement with our citizens prior to when those budgets were approved,” Guthrie said. “So city councils have not had time to find efficiencies, or find those economies of scale. We have no time to adapt, and we’ll be forced to consider tax increases, service cuts, or putting off important infrastructure and capital projects to try and make up this shortfall.”
Guthrie made the point that municipalities only get 9 cents out of every tax dollar collected, even as many Ontario cities have some of the highest property tax rates in Canada.
“Our ability as a city to continue to move forward is in question due to a combination of these very ill-advised budget cutbacks, harsh measures imposed on cities and towns across Ontario without warning, some of them imposed more harshly on Toronto than any of the other cities and towns in the province for reasons that are unknown to me,” said Tory.
“The cuts are real, and unless the Province changes course, they will hurt real people,” Tory added citing the cuts to public health and children’s breakfast programs as examples.
In Question Period today, Doug Ford said that the City of Toronto has not found one efficiency in the last five years, which is, not coincidentally, the time from which Tory succeeded Ford’s brother as the Mayor of Toronto, and after Tory defeated Doug Ford for the job. For Tory, it seems that Toronto is being disproportionately targeted by these cuts.
“A healthy, vibrant Toronto with strong services and disciplined taxation is good for all the people: the people of Toronto, the people directly affected by these cutbacks, the people of Ontario, and the people of Canada,” Tory said.
“I believe that had we sat down together, we might have found some ways to do things better, but we were not given that opportunity,” he added.
After the press conference at City Hall, Guthrie appeared on TVO’s current affairs show The Agenda with host Steve Paikin.
“The mayors across the province are united in our voice in saying ‘We want to work with you, but you’re not on that side of the table,” Guthrie told Paikin.
Guthrie reiterated LUMCO’s message that the Government of Ontario needs to co-operate with cities in order to achieve their goals. “We want to pull the chair up for you on this side. Give us some breathing room and some runway to understand these types of cuts and changes that you’re making.”
Guthrie also said that many members of the provincial government come from background in municipal governance, and they should have known that cities would have been immediately and negatively affected by the cuts to funding. When asked directly about the politics of the situation, Guthrie said that this wasn’t exactly how he thought things were going to go down with a new provincial government.
“I had high hopes for them [the Progressive Conservatives] in regards to tackling the budget,” Guthrie said. “There seems to be many things rolling out from this government that require an outcry, either from mayors or organizations across the province to get them to listen.”
“What we’re saying is don’t get to that point where you’re listening after an outcry. Let’s do the talking and listening beforehand, and make it a little bit easier for everyone,” he added.
You can watch Guthrie’s appearance on The Agenda below: