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Premier Ford's first Budget: what will it mean for Toronto?


Every year when the Ontario Budget is announced, the hallways at City Hall get eerily quiet. Anyone who is not already in a meeting runs towards the nearest TV to watch the announcement. That’s because there are so many services the City delivers to you through shared costs that it's fair to say our province's budget is as important as our own.


How Ontario's budget affects Toronto


Why is Ontario's budget so important for Toronto? Here's an example: while the provincial government contributes nothing to the operation of our low-income housing and day-to-day transit operations, we rely on their contribution to build those housing and transit systems. We also rely on the province to partner with us on major state of good repair work in both housing and transit, even though their contributions have been scarce for decades.

The 2019 Ontario Budget is titled "Protecting what matters most."


Toronto also delivers preventative health care programs, addiction services and disease control on behalf of the province through Toronto Public Health. We operate nine long term care homes in partnership with the province as well as 49 childcare centres, 21 employment and social service offices and all our shelters and supportive housing.


Transit


You already know the Premier plans to build new transit in Toronto. What gets far less media attention is his silence on State of Good Repair. We know that over the next 10 years, the TTC system needs about $20 billion in track replacements, vehicle purchases, signal updates and bus garage overhauls.


Many of those repairs were going to be funded by revenue from a provincial gas tax – now that Premier Ford cancelled any increase to that tax, it's unclear how we will close the gap.

A TTC subway work car - our system needs about $20B in upkeep over the next 10 years

Health care

Toronto Public Health delivers 75 per cent of its programming through provincial funds and the other 25 per cent through property taxes. This has been the formula since just after the SARS epidemic. Now, the province wants to reduce its contribution to Toronto Public Health by $200 million and adjust its funding formula – I can tell you right now your property taxes can't pick up the slack.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Just one hour before this publication,Premier Ford's government announced a $1 billion cut to Toronto Public Health over the next 10 years, effective immediately. Affected programs will include disease prevention, water quality, immunizations, overdose prevention, infectious disease control, food safety, student nutrition and more. Click here for a full statement by Joe Cressy, Chair of the Board of Health.


Child care


There are deep concerns for our childcare system. The province announced an enhanced child tax credit for parents and yet the overall ministry budget was cut by 2.2 per cent. The budget alludes to increasing opportunities for for-profit childcare in public schools, but there is no mention of increasing subsidies for low-income families using public childcare.

Last year, Toronto Children's Services and City Council made commitments on three fronts: adding more subsidies to lift families out of poverty, leveling off or decreasing costs for parents paying full costs and lastly, improving the training and pay rates for childcare workers. We made our contribution to these goals in our City Budget but there is no mention of this from our provincial partner.


Social services


In Toronto Employment and Social Services, we expect the province will continue to pay their 80 per cent share of welfare cheques as well as 50 per cent of the administration costs for the program. However, there will be no inflationary increases to either welfare or disability support cheques. The province wants to reduce costs in this department by 21 per cent with "details to follow," so we expect job placement and support programs we deliver for the province will suffer.

A snapshot of some of the services provided by TESS


Senior care

There is a bright spot: it should come as no surprise (given the campaign promises of all three provincial parties during the 2018 election) that there is investment in seniors' care. Ontario is promised 15,000 new long-term care beds and as many upgrades to existing beds.


There is also a new dental care program for low-income seniors – Toronto can help deliver this. We have dental care centres in schools and at the North York Civic Centre. It was my own motion as a first-term councillor that turned Mayor Mel Lastman’s spacious North York office into a dental clinic upon his retirement.

Carefree Lodge at Bayview and Finch


We also have a shovel-ready facility in Scarborough that will deliver 128 new long-term care beds. We hope to soon have details on how many of the existing beds in nine city-run homes can be upgraded with the new funds. Toronto city staff have a detailed index of upgrades they can move on immediately – Carefree Lodge in Don Valley North, for example, is ready for upgrades if funded.


Conclusion


I’ll end by speaking about education and healthcare – these two mega-ministries are described in optimistic terms in the provincial budget, but both received increases below the rate of inflation. While municipal governments do not deliver these services, under-funding them is cause for concern in any city that wants to remain liveable.

Thousands of people packed Queen's Park earlier this month to protest education cuts


Our economy is driven by the good health and knowledge capacity of our citizens. Our most vulnerable citizens are made even more so when these ministries fail them. And in the long run, that costs us all.


I’ll be standing with students, patients, healthcare workers and education workers who are vocal about losing much-needed supports. Our City depends on them to deliver.

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