After weeks of advocacy and protest from mayors and city councils across Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced this morning that cuts to childcare, public health and ambulance services funding will be stopped, at least until the end of the current fiscal year.
“We’re a government that listens,” Ford told reporters in a scrum outside his office at Queen’s Park Monday morning. “We’re going to give the mayors more time. We’re going to work with them.”
Ford was joined by Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark, who added, “This is a very good announcement. It’s being very responsive to what our municipal partners are saying.”
Clark should know, he got an earful from the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) when they met this past Friday in Guelph. For the chair of LUMCO, Mayor Cam Guthrie, this was a good news announcement.
“On behalf of Ontario’s big-city mayors, I want to thank the Premier and Minister Clark for listening to our concerns and responding. I also want to thank LUMCO mayors across Ontario for being a unified voice on this issue,” said Guthrie in a media statement.
“We have said all along that we support the Province’s efforts to gets its budget deficit and debt under control, but we need more runway and more details,” he added. “We look forward to working with the Province in the weeks and months ahead to continue to find efficiencies, without jeopardizing core municipal services.”
This is the second time that the Ford government has backtracked on a new mandate for municipalities. Back in January, the Provincial government pulled schedule 10 of the controversial Bill 66, which bypassed the official plans and public consultation on zoning bylaw amendments.
In a letter addressed to the heads of council, Ford wrote that, “After listening to the concerns of our partners, our government has made the decision to maintain the in-year cost sharing adjustments for land ambulance, public health, and child care services.
“Minister Clark has advised us to take this approach on the understanding that, as partners, Ontario’s municipalities will use the additional time to work with the Government of Ontario to transform critical shared public services and find the efficiencies that will ensure their sustainability.”
Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner says he’s grateful that the Premier has relented.
“I am relieved the Premier has come to his senses and finally listened to Ontario’s mayors, who have warned for weeks about the damage from his short-sighted cuts,” Schreiner said. “The Premier has finally done the right thing by backtracking on his retroactive cuts, but the Premier’s fights with other levels of government must stop.”
Unfortunately though, the fights are likely to continue. Several cuts to municipal funding remain, including cuts that affect legal aid clinics and public libraries. There’s also the matter of Bill 108, which undermines the current level of development charges that municipalities can collect, and forces councils to make planning decisions under tighter deadlines.
“There is no doubt that any provincial funding cuts will still cause municipal Councils to make some tough decisions. But at least now we have the time to come to the table with the Province and figure out how to do this in a way that best protects our local residents and the services they depend on,” Guthrie added.