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Politics New funding for Toronto transit, social housing left out of Ontario budget

Toronto Mayor John Tory leaves a news conference after outlining the city's response to the growing fentanyl and opiod overdose crisis at Toronto City Hall, on Monday January 9, 2017.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Cancelling a scheduled press conference and instead issuing only a terse statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory made his disappointment clear in an Ontario budget that failed to deliver any new funding for public transit or to fix his city's dilapidated public housing buildings.

"The provincial government appears to have missed an opportunity to partner in the historic investments made by the federal government in much needed future transit expansion and repairs to our vital social housing," Mr. Tory said in a statement e-mailed to media on Thursday, as reporters and TV camera crews idled outside his office doors.

Mr. Tory said he was still analyzing the budget, which he noted had important investments in health and child care, and would hold a formal press conference on Friday.

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Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa's budget does grant Mr. Tory's request for the authority to bring in taxes on hotel rooms and Airbnb-type short-term rentals, a power being granted to other cash-strapped municipalities as well.

But this was little compensation for Mr. Tory, as it appears his pleas for firm commitments from the province for hundreds of millions of dollars to help repair his city's crumbling social housing and fund new transit lines went unheard.

Toronto's mayor has been increasingly at odds with Queen's Park ever since Premier Kathleen Wynne overrode his plan to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure with tolls both on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway earlier this year. The denial prompted the mayor to complain that he was being treated like a boy in "short pants."

Ms. Wynne tried to soften the blow by promising a doubling of the amount of gas tax municipalities receive, which will eventually mean an extra $170-million for Toronto alone.

But Mr. Tory became more vocal in his demands for funding. Earlier this month, he urged city councillors to sign form letters for MPPs demanding more funding for public transit and housing in the budget.

And at every opportunity in recent weeks, he repeated long-standing city demands for $864-million from the province to cover its share of a 10-year, $2.6-billion plan to repair Toronto Community Housing's stock of dilapidated buildings.

TCHC has warned that if more money from the other two governments does not materialize, it will be forced to condemn and shutter hundreds more units it cannot afford to repair, even as more than 80,000 households on are the waiting list. It's a similar story in other cities across the province, where aging social housing stock is also in a bad state.

"You are actually leaving 110,000 residents in this city, in every riding of this city, vulnerable," said Councillor Ana Bailao, an ally of Mr. Tory who heads city council's affordable housing committee. "You are leaving people out in the cold, literally, because you are not supporting us on maintaining those units."

Joe Cressy, a left-leaning downtown councillor, was equally blunt: "The Ontario government should be ashamed of themselves."

While Thursday's budget does contain money for new affordable housing and homelessness programs, there was no firm commitment of money for TCHC's needs – or any concrete funding for new public-transit projects, beyond the billions of dollars Ontario has already committed for new lines in Toronto, Hamilton and Mississauga.

However, officials say talks continue between the province and the federal government over new money that could eventually flow to Toronto and other Ontario cities for both public housing and transit.

Noting that Ottawa had recently committed $11-billion over 10 years across the country for various affordable housing programs, Mr. Sousa did tell reporters that his government would "match the degree of capital funding for the work that's being done by the federal government," but offered no specifics.

While Mr. Sousa's government is also providing money for energy efficiency retrofits for social housing across the province, Toronto officials say only a small amount of this cash will actually help with the massive repair backlog.

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"We're actually doing quite a bit for Toronto on a number of fronts," Mr. Sousa said when asked why he had denied Toronto's request for help with Toronto Community Housing in the budget. "… We're taking steps to support affordable housing."

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