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Ford reiterates municipalities can make up for loss of development charges by cutting 'waste'

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford reiterated Wednesday that he believes revenues lost by municipalities because of breaks for some developers in his housing plan can be made up by finding efficiencies at city governments.

“We're gonna bring auditors into the cities to make sure that you know, what they say they're doing, they're doing,” Ford told the Mississauga Board of Trade Wednesday in a question session following a speech he delivered to the group. “And if you have a shortfall, we'll cover you. But let's all work together and get these housing projects started.”

The Ford government’s housing plan reduces or eliminates municipal development charges for developers building some housing types that are in short supply, such as larger units and rental and affordable housing.

The fees are not being eliminated altogether, but staff at a number of municipalities have projected that the changes would nevertheless amount to a substantial blow to their coffers.

Housing Minister Steve Clark has indicated the province will help municipalities make up the shortfall but has said the province will audit them first to make sure that they aren’t wasting money.

Critics have charged that the province is taking money out the pockets of already cash-strapped cities in order to pay for a housing plan which gives breaks to developers.

But speaking to the group in Mississauga Wednesday, Ford asserted that “there's waste in all levels of government” that can be eliminated to help pay for the plan.

He recalled his time as a city councillor in Toronto when his late brother, Rob Ford, was mayor.

“I'll never forget when the city manager said on the first day on the job ‘you're facing $774 million of pressure. You have to find the efficiencies or you're raising the taxes 20 some odd percent,’” Ford recalled. “Well, the first year we brought in lean methodologies and we found the $774 million and delivered a 0 per cent tax increase. And you know, I always say as a business person, government doesn't have an income problem; they have a spending problem.”

While it’s true that Rob Ford managed to save the city hundreds of millions of dollars in his term, city staff later clarified that his predecessor, David Miller, had done so as well.

Most recently Toronto has had to scrounge to balance a budget already hammered by a massive revenue shortfall brought on by the pandemic. The city recently announced its highest tax increase since amalgamation and Toronto Mayor John Tory has warned that the further loss of revenue from development charges represents a significant threat to Toronto’s finances.

The Ford government has characterized a lack of housing in the province as emanating from municipal bureaucracy.

Just a few weeks ago, the premier lashed out at Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie after she said that the city may have to raise taxes in order to make up the shortfall that Ford’s housing plan would bring about.

But other municipalities have warned that they might also have to raise taxes to make up for the costs of the province’s housing plan.

Ford said that Housing Minister Steve Clark is working on a timeline for when the audits of municipalities will begin.

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