Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday May 23, 2019
Ford offers school boards and municipalities money to hunt for savings
After hitting municipalities with cutbacks in provincial funding, Premier Doug Ford says his government will now spend $7.35 million to help them find savings.
Toronto Mayor John Tory immediately panned the move, calling it a “$7 million public relations exercise by the government of Ontario.”
“It does us no good getting money for a line-by-line audit that we’re already doing without consideration from the province of the fact that these retroactive, mid-year cuts will seriously hurt residents and families,” Tory said in a statement of the estimated $178 million in funding clawbacks the city faces to public health, daycare and transit.
The mayor said he is “committed to finding more and great efficiencies” — but is urging the Ford government to halt the current cuts.
On Tuesday, Ford — repeating the “four cents on the dollar” mantra he used on the election campaign trail a year ago — said in a lunchtime speech in Ajax that the province will provide the money for cities and school boards to conduct in-depth financial audits to identify where they can trim budgets by 4 per cent.
Later, speaking to reporters, Ford said it’s not unfair for the province to impose clawbacks on the city well into its fiscal year.
“We’re asking to work with him as a partner,” Ford said. “We are working collaboratively with any municipality that wants to take us up on the offer.”
The premier noted that more than 90 per cent of provincial funding “goes to municipal partners and hospitals and universities. They’re our partners. We don’t have like Fort Knox sitting down at Queen’s Park, a whole bunch of gold sitting there. Ninety two per cent of our money goes to municipalities and other partners, so we’re asking them to work with us. And we’ll work with them and support them.”
Ford made the $7.35 million announcement speaking to members of the chambers of commerce in Whitby and Greater Oshawa, as well as the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade.
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, said boards “already operate very efficiently, because we’ve had to.”
She said it will be up to individual boards to take the province up on its offer, “but they’ll be hard-pressed to find 4 per cent in efficiencies” given about 80 per cent of funding is in staffing and contracts, and other pockets of money are “sweatered,” meaning they can only be spent on the programs they are intended for, said Abraham, of the Kawartha Pine Ridge public board.
But Ford said cities and school boards must do their part as the province tightens its fiscal belt.
“Our government was elected to fix 15 years of Liberal mismanagement, put the province on a path to balance and protect services like health care and education,” Ford said. (Toronto Star)