After weeks of cuts stemming from the Provincial budget, Premier Doug Ford has decided to take a new tact for municipal finances: we’ll pay you to have auditors find cost savings!
At an announcement in Ajax this morning at a joint luncheon of the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, the Whitby Chamber of Commerce and the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade, Ford revealed that the Province is making $7.35 million available to municipalities and school boards to hire third-party auditors to conduct line-by-line reviews of their budgets to find potential efficiencies.
“Our government was elected to fix 15 years of Liberal mismanagement, put the province on a path to balance and protect services like health care and education,” said Ford in a statement. “But the previous Liberal government was using the credit card to pay the mortgage and, with interest payments costing our province $38 million a day, we can’t do it alone. We campaigned on finding four cents for every provincial dollar spent and we are asking our partners to do the same.”
This is not the kind of assistance that Ontario’s mayors have been hoping for.
As the Ontario government’s been cutting, Ontario’s mayors have been asking them to stop. Cuts to conservation authorities, legal aid, and public health have all been problematic for municipalities who had established their budgets for the year in advance of the Provincial budget announcement last month. Cities are now left with gaping holes in funding, and on top of that, Ontario municipalities are barred by law from running deficits.
“Municipalities and district school boards now have the tools they need to find real savings and protect what matters most to the people of Ontario,” Ford added. “Our government is ready and willing to roll up our sleeves and work with anyone who shares our priority of returning Ontario to fiscal health.”
Guelph’s MPP is unconvinced that Ford’s new initiative is the silver bullet to Ontario’s fiscal issues.
“I had hoped the Premier would hit the pause button on his plan to download cuts onto municipalities and school boards. Today’s announcement about money for audits is more political theatre in an ongoing budget war the Premier started,” said Mike Schreiner in a press release.
Schreiner pointed out that when Ford’s brother was Mayor of Toronto, a third-party audit by KMPG was conducted at the cost of $3.5 million. The report suggested such efficiencies as closing library branches, eliminating the “last resort” dental health service, and even selling off the Toronto Zoo and divesting the City from Exhibition Place.
And although both Ford Brothers ran on the talking point that they had saved the City of Toronto $1 billion, Toronto’s auditor general pegged the total savings coming out of the KMPG report as merely $12.6 million. Other savings came from one-time transfers or efficiencies discovered by Toronto city staff before the KPMG audit.
“Amidst a backlash, I thought the Premier would take responsibility today and acknowledge that some of his cuts will negatively affect public health, education quality and municipal services,” said Schreiner. “But it seems he cannot admit fault.”
For the Ontario government though, the fault is not in themselves, but in their predecessors at Queen’s Park.
“The interest on debt accumulated by the previous government is the single largest cut to frontline services in Ontario’s history,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Treasury Board. “To achieve structural balance and a sustainable government, we will put the People at the centre of every service, every regulation, every program, process and policy. We’re ready to help our transfer payment partners and we need their help.”
“We are willing to work with our partners to find the savings within their budget. This exercise is about putting structures in place that create a culture of efficiency,” Bethlenfalvy added.
The Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) has asked repeatedly to meet in-person with the Premier and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark to talk about the funding cuts, so far with no success.