Ontario Premier Doug Ford, two-time candidate for mayor of Toronto, made his feelings known about his home city very quickly after his election in 2018. Without warning or consultation, his Progressive Conservative government cut the number of seats on the city council from 47 to 25.
It was an undemocratic and vindictive move. It also came out of nowhere: At no time during the election campaign had Mr. Ford even hinted he would reduce the size of council if he were elected.
In retrospect, Mr. Ford’s capricious strike against Toronto – and only Toronto – was a harbinger of his government’s first budget, tabled last month. In it, the "government for the people” has undertaken a series of moves that will have a steep financial impact on the city, one disproportionate to that hitting other cities in the province.
Those include the Ford government’s decision to cancel a planned increase in the portion of the provincial gas tax that goes to municipalities. While that affects every city and town, the consequence for Toronto is that it could forego as much as $1.1-billion in revenue over 10 years, most of which was earmarked to maintain its transit system – which is already the least taxpayer-supported transit system on the entire continent.
Worse, Mr. Ford’s election campaign included the promise to advance this money, which prompted Toronto to budget for it in good faith.
Toronto is being hit with other budget blows. The biggest is in public health, where Queen’s Park is cutting its contribution while insisting that municipalities maintain the same level of services. For no reason, other than politics, it is also cutting a bigger share from Toronto’s budget than any other city.
In 2019, the city is looking at a $65-million shortfall for Toronto Public Health, $84.8-million for Children’s Services and $3.85-million for Toronto Paramedic Services, according to the city manager. Combined with the gas-tax betrayal, the total shortfall for this year is $177.7-million. The gap will grow next year, and beyond.
It’s as if Mr. Ford doesn’t like his hometown and its so-called “elites,” a term no one can define, but which as far as we can tell means anyone who doesn’t vote Progressive Conservative. There are a rather a lot of those people in Toronto, relative to the rest of the People’s Republic of Ontario.
But in going so far in its effort to prove that it will do Toronto no favours, the Ford government is guilty of practising short-sighted policies that ignore reality.
Toronto proper is a city of three million people; the Greater Toronto Area is home to nearly seven million. One in two people in the province live in the GTA. Every Ontarian should have an equal claim on the attention of the provincial government, which is why it’s ridiculous that the province is so intent on aggressively short-changing residents of the fourth-largest city in North America.
In the era of the rise of the knowledge economy and the contraction of the manufacturing sector, Greater Toronto is where the vast majority of jobs have been created in Ontario over the past decade. Of the 47,100 new jobs in Ontario in April, announced to great fanfare by Mr. Ford’s government on Friday, 42 per cent were in the Toronto census metropolitan area.
The Toronto area is also where most immigrants and refugee-claimants settle. It’s where the services they need are concentrated. The federal government acknowledged as much on Friday when it gave the city $45-million to help house a spike in newcomers brought on by the surge in unauthorized border crossings in Quebec.
These factors and others put tremendous pressure on Toronto to provide health and social services and housing, and to move huge numbers of people to and from work on a functioning transit system – including to the more than a half-a-million jobs in the city’s downtown. Toronto has issues of a scale no other city in the province can imagine.
It is in the entire province’s interest to have a booming, liveable Toronto that generates billions in tax revenues for the government.
Yet, instead of cheerleading for his province’s greatest economic asset, Mr. Ford beats it with a stick at every opportunity. That may bring a smile to some of his voters. But in the long run it will hurt the city, and the province.