Toronto Mayor John Tory says if provincial and federal governments do not come up with billions of dollars to help municipalities in the wake of COVID-19, his city would be forced to shut subway lines and lay off 500 police officers, while closing daycares, homeless shelters and community centres.
With Toronto facing a shortfall of $1.5-billion to $2.8-billion, depending on how long restrictions related to the novel coronavirus are in place, Mr. Tory laid out the stark cuts on Friday the city would have to make if financial help does not arrive.
“The bottom line is, this would be a disaster, in terms of a working, humane livable city which we’ve created here,” Mr. Tory said, noting that other groups, such as businesses and the unemployed, have received financial aid and that cities need more than “encouraging words.”
Toronto and other Ontario municipalities are forbidden from running deficits. And Mr. Tory has already warned that the financial hole, caused by the city’s response to the pandemic and the dramatic plunge in ridership for public transit, would mean the equivalent of an unprecedented 47-per-cent property tax hike.
But he said Friday city officials have calculated the “devastating” reductions that would be needed to offset the city’s red ink, warning that the cuts would hamper any attempt at an economic revival.
They include a $575-million cut to the Toronto Transit Commission that would see service chopped by 50 per cent, halving the number of trains on the busy Yonge and Bloor-Danforth subway lines and mothballing the Sheppard and Scarborough RT altogether. Bus and streetcar service would also be cut in half, despite the need for physical distancing on crowded vehicles.
The fire department would see a $23-million cut. Toronto Police would need to chop $31.3-million and lay off 500 front-line officers.
More than 40,000 childcare subsidies would be eliminated. Homeless shelters would see a $100-million cut that Mr. Tory said would half the number of new spaces recently added to curb the spread of COVID-19. Sixty-one community recreation centres would close.
The city would shutter half of its long-term care spaces. Library branches would close. Plans for new youth hubs to address the roots of gang violence would be scrapped and the city would have to layoff more than 19,000 people.
Mr. Tory said he was trying to get the attention of senior governments, warning that a “day of reckoning” for cities was coming. He said he was encouraged by recent comments made by Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about possible help for cities, and that he understood talks were taking place on the issue. But the mayor said there was still no sign of a financial commitment.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has asked the federal government for $10-billion in emergency funding for municipalities across the country.
Ontario’s Premier said May 13 that he was looking at help for cities, but that the province needed Ottawa to be at the table as well. Speaking the same day, Mr. Trudeau said the federal government would “work with the provinces” to help with transit funding.
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