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In a Keynote Address at the Association of Ontario Municipalities 2019 Conference on Monday, Ford announced his office’s plan to invest $144 billion in local projects across Ontario.
Included in this sizable invest are the following projects:
- Over $90 billion alone in public transit and provincial highways to help get people and goods moving
- $17 billion to build and renovate our hospitals
- $13 billion to build new schools, and $1.4 billion to fix existing ones
- $315 million to improve and expand Internet and cell service into more rural and remote communities.
- $200 million to help 405 small and rural municipalities achieve efficiencies and plan for their future, as part of the
- A review process of $7 million investment to help school boards and large municipalities protect core public services for future generations
- 201 transit projects outside the GTHA
- 144 road and bridge projects for rural and northern Ontario communities
Ford also mentioned that his office has “nominated 350 projects to the federal government for key investments in transit, schools and hospitals.”
However, while many of these initiatives seem good, many are concerned about the provincial government’s plans for municipalities, calling his decisions “controversial.” This is because, while these investments are substantial, they are still a cut to the overall funding received by municipalities, meaning municipalities will have to generate the remainder.
Indeed, the only reason Ford is announcing these changes now, rather than earlier in the year, is because of a backlash from municipal governments.
Ford had originally announced that municipal public health and child-care programs that were funded by the province would see cuts in April, reports the Toronto Sun. However, many municipalities said that these cuts were simply not feasible at the time because they had already made their 2019 budgets.
According to Global News, “Prior to the changes announced by the Ford government last spring, municipalities had varying public health cost-sharing arrangements with the province – with Ontario paying 100 per cent or 75 per cent in some cases.
“The new plan will see all municipalities – including Toronto pay 30 per cent of public health care costs. Under the initial plan, Toronto would have been on the hook for 50 per cent of the cost.”
These cuts are set to take effect January 1, 2020.
The local burden of creating child-care spaces, land ambulance funding, and the slashing of public health cost-sharing arrangements with the province have been particularly controversial; though, the burden of child-care costs for municipalities will be held off until 2021 or 2022.
“We recognize our government moved quickly when we came into office to address our inherited challenges,” Ford said. “But we’ve listened to you.”
“We’re extending the transitional funding until 2020, we’re giving them a little cushion,” Ford said in an interview with Newstalk 580 CFRA in Ottawa.
“We cannot achieve these things with abrupt, unilateral changes and it will take more than simple belt tightening to make things better,” AMO President Jamie McGarvey said when introducing Ford. “Working together, we can avoid unnecessary turmoil, and respect the essential front line-services that our governments deliver.”
In his speech, Ford said that he hopes these initial investments will help kick start municipality action, so that local government can start managing their own affairs rather than the provincial government. This also means that municipal governments will have far greater responsibility when it comes to managing their own budgets, which Ford hopes will reduce the overall debt. According to Global News, the “government is trying to eliminate an $11.7-billion deficit.”
Ford described his overall plan as bottom-up, rather than top-down. Ford believes that municipal governments will be more responsible with their spending than provincial or federal governments as “Municipalities know how to make every dollar count because you know where it’s needed most.
“The solution is giving municipalities the tools and supports they need to have more flexibility with their budgets,” he added.
According to Ford, roughly 90% of municipalities he spoke with accepted his offer for “funding for line-by-line reviews.”
“Red tape and too many regulations stand in the way of local communities focusing on the things that matter most – the frontline services people rely on every day,” Ford claims.
He goes on to mention the now-scrapped Green Energy Act that Ford believes “stripped local communities of [their] voice[s] in these planning decisions,” as an example of reducing red tape and regulations.
Ford ended his speech optimistically, saying that he’s excited to see the effects of “put[ting] local communities back in the driver’s seat of their own affairs.”
“We’re 100% committed to taking an active role to support you, so you can continue to do what you do best – put people first,” he concluded.