With Toronto alone facing a $1.35B shortfall, feds and provinces reach deal on funding for municipalities
The federal government will provide provinces and territories with more than $19 billion in funding with some of that money earmarked for helping municipalities that have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement during a news conference in Ottawa on Thursday afternoon with Premier Doug Ford later confirming that Ontario would receive about $7 billion.
The announcement comes after a months-long campaign from a number of big city mayors, who have spoken out about the impact that COVID-19 had had on their budgets.
Toronto Mayor John Tory has been among the most vocal, telling reporters earlier this week that the city would have to begin the process of implementing a series of “grim” cuts as early as this summer in order to cover a shortfall that is expected to reach $1.35 billion by the end of 2020.
The funding announced by the federal government on Thursday is supposed to go to seven distinct areas and Trudeau said that there are conditions in place so that provinces can’t “just take money from one bucket and put it in another.”
Some of the money, for example, will go towards expanding child care spaces so parents can return to work while additional funds will go to other priorities brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic like purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE), expanding testing and contact tracing and instituting a national sick leave plan.
Nonetheless, Tory struck an optimistic tone when talking about the impact the investment would have on the city’s finances during a hastily-called press conference at city hall on Thursday.
“The financial beneficiaries of this new investment will be the federal and provincial governments themselves as cities and towns drive that much needed recovery but the biggest winners will be the cities themselves and more particularly the 80 per cent of Canadians who live in them,” he said. “This will help us to support those people with good services and supports rather than being entirely consumed with financial instability.”
Tory waiting on 'fine print'
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters at Thursday’s press conference that the money will “provide billions in support for our towns and cities" over the next six to eight months, though she did not say precisely how much of the $19 billion investment would be directed to municipalities.
That means that the devil will be in the details when it comes to how far the funding will go towards addressing the financial crisis being faced by cities like Toronto.
Speaking with reporters, Tory said that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the agreement reached will ultimately help the city avoid a series of devastating cuts, though he cautioned that it would be “premature to declare victory” without “seeing the fine print” first.
In Toronto, the TTC alone faces a $700 million budgetary pressure, mostly due to reduced ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city also expects to lose out on $249.2 million in budgeted Municipal Land Transfer Tax revenue in 2020 as a result of real-estate slowdown that accompanied the pandemic.
“This is absolutely the right thing to do and it is my hope that once we review all the details it will be clear that this will ensure that our city is going to be in a better position to support a strong recovery,” Tory said.
During a stop at Craven Farms in Chatham earlier on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford called the agreement with the premiers and the federal government “historic” and said that it will ultimately pave the way for “billions of dollars flow to the provinces to support municipalities, transit systems and healthcare systems at a time when it is needed most.”