The Progressive Conservatives want to download Ontario's Disability Support Program to the province's cities and merge it into the main social-assistance system. The plan, unveiled Wednesday, is one of a series of policy announcements likely to form the basis of the party's next campaign platform.
"What we're proposing will be controversial … to transfer the very large number of people who are on disability to the municipal level," said Toby Barrett, Tory critic for Community and Social Services, at a Queen's Park press conference.
Cities already run Ontario Works, the province's chief welfare program. Combining it with ODSP, the party contends, will save money by reducing administrative duplication and help disabled people access the job-placement help available to Ontario Works recipients. Such a move was recommended by a review of the province's social-assistance programs last year.
Mr. Barrett said a PC government would maintain the existing funding formula, which has the province covering the full cost of the disability benefit and 80 per cent of social-assistance cheques.
Whether cash-strapped municipalities will accept the plan depends on what mechanism Queen's Park puts in place to defray the extra cost of administering the disability program, civic leaders said.
"We're not averse at all to efficiencies," said Russ Powers, a Hamilton councillor and president of the Association of Ontario Municipalities. "But the devil's in the details – who is going to pay the piper?"
Gord Perks, a Toronto councillor, was more skeptical: "There's a lot of risk here. It's cuckoo bananas."
On Thursday, the Tories plan to release more proposals for reforming social assistance.