Toronto’s board of health chair is blasting the province over “Groundhog Day” cuts that could jeopardize student nutrition programs, vaccination clinics and water quality testing.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that the province would download up to 30 per cent of public health program costs to municipalities beginning next year as it strives to reduce its deficit.
“Here we are, yet again, with yet another announcement of a harmful cut to public health,” Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy told CTV News Toronto. “I hope the premier will listen to the concerns of cities and residents and reverse course yet again.”
Ford first tried to impose similar cuts on Toronto in the spring, but the initial plan called for retroactive cuts, and the government backed down in the face of outrage of municipal officials who had already balanced the city budget.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who had scolded the province over the earlier version of the plan, softened his tone on Monday.
“While we do not yet have all of the details, these changes are an improvement on previously announced proposals. I appreciate the government’s efforts over the past few months to listen to municipalities, including Toronto, and understand the impacts that changes to established funding formulas will have on the services we deliver for our residents,” Tory said in a statement.
“As I have said before, I recognize and appreciate the challenges the Government of Ontario faces in getting its deficit under control, and I support its intention to do so. However, this must be done in a prudent, collaborative manner that does not impact the services that people in Toronto rely on each and every day.”
“We know this is a difficulty for municipalities,” Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged, pointing to the fact that additional financial help will be available for cities whose public health budgets increase more than 10 per cent as a result of the downloading.
Toronto will also be on the hook for 20 per cent of the cost of new daycare spaces, which were fully-funded by the previous Liberal government.
Fifty-one new child care centres in Toronto schools are slated to open in the next few years, and critics warn that without full funding they may never open their doors.
“When we get less money from the province for child care, and get less money form the province for vaccinations and student breakfast programs, either we cut those programs or we raise taxes to pay for them,” Cressy said.
Municipal officials were still crunching the numbers Monday on the exact monetary impact of the downloading, but the mayor described the potential budget blow as “significant.”