Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has asked his city manager to prepare a report on the impact of the province’s $150-million cut to a social-program fund, and has reaffirmed he won’t raise taxes to make up the shortfall.
Mr. Ford, who earlier this week said he was “furious” that his plea to the province to save the fund was ignored, held a news conference Thursday at city hall. He was joined by city manager Joe Pennachetti, budget chair Frank Di Giorgio, and Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday.
Mr. Ford told reporters Mr. Pennachetti will deliver his report at the July 16 council meeting.
“I want everybody, every single person to understand the effect these funding cuts will have so we can start to brace for the impact,” he said. “The province says they are partners. They want to work with us. Unfortunately, I don’t see that.”
Mr. Ford said he was shocked by the province’s decision to cut the fund and he accused Queen’s Park of trying to force him to raise taxes. He said he won’t bring back the vehicle registration tax, or scrap his plan to reduce the land transfer tax by 10 per cent.
“We made a commitment of a 1.75-per-cent tax increase. We have made a commitment of getting rid of 10 per cent of the land transfer tax. This has already been committed to. So once you give something you shouldn’t take it back,” he said, adding later, “I’m not going to bring back the $60 car tax – guaranteed.”
The mayor said the provincial cut would take 25 per cent from the shelter and support budget, and hurt the city’s most vulnerable residents. He said his efforts to negotiate over the phasing out of the fund, or to even have the cut put off for one year, were rebuffed by the province.
The mayor met with Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa on Monday at Queen’s Park. He said after the meeting his pitch was ignored and he would be forced to cut social housing as a result.
Mr. Sousa then accused Mr. Ford of holding people in social housing “hostage.” The exchange further strained the relationship between the province and the city that sources have said was already frayed.
Mr. Sousa maintained Thursday that the province has re-assumed responsibility for costs that were previously off-loaded on the city, such as provincial disability benefits and that Toronto will come out $110-million richer in 2016 than it is now. However, Mr. Sousa’s calculations also include the forgiveness of $230-million in debt that the city was not planning to repay the province. If that $230-million is removed, Toronto will actually be $120-million poorer by 2016.
Mr. Sousa’s math also excludes the added costs to the city of previously provincial programs that Toronto will still have to pay for.
Mr. Pennachetti said Thursday the city had not repaid the debt mentioned by Mr. Sousa for eight years and was just waiting for the province to write it off.
Mr. Sousa’s spokeswoman said Thursday that, if Mr. Ford wishes to keep funding social housing, he should look to taxes rather than the province. In a statement, she suggested Mr. Ford cancel his proposed cut to the land transfer tax and reinstate the vehicle registration tax he killed more than two years ago.
“As we’ve said all along, the city has choices,” Susie Heath said. “Cutting funding for social housing is a choice the Mayor is making, just as he has chosen not to benefit from land transfer or vehicle registration powers that he holds under the City of Toronto Act.”
She said that, over the past decade, the province has provided $1-billion toward affordable housing.
City hall and Queen’s Park sources have said the province never intended to negotiate over the cancelled funds. The government has been considering making the cut for more than a year – even going so far as to run it by the Liberal caucus's Toronto members – and was firm in its decision, the sources said.
Councillor Adam Vaughan said Thursday that Ottawa and Queen’s Park have “got to get into the housing game.”
“Moving money away from housing is unacceptable,” he said.
Mr. Vaughan also criticized the mayor for making the situation worse by “sloganeering.”
With files from Adrian Morrow and Elizabeth Church