'I have got a message to the new mayor:' Ford preaches fiscal responsibility as Toronto stares down billions in budget pressures
Published Wednesday, March 22, 2023 11:54AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 22, 2023 12:13PM EDT
Premier Doug Ford appears to be suggesting that the province will not be bailing out the City of Toronto as it stares down billions in financial pressures over the next decade.
An Ernst & Young report that was considered by Toronto’s executive committee on Tuesday warns that the city will face $46.5 billion in pressures over the next 10 years that could threaten its “fiscal stability and the sustainability of its service levels.”
The report noted that there is “not a single solution” that can fully address Toronto’s fiscal challenges, however Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie did tell reporters that the findings underscore the need for a “new fiscal framework” for Toronto.
Asked about the matter during an unrelated press conference on Wednesday, Ford said that it is “fair” for Toronto to request more money from the province but he seemed to suggest that an influx of funding wasn’t likely to materialize.
“We've given Toronto hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, actually probably billions of dollars. We bailed them out on numerous occasions. But I have got a message to the new mayor. You have got to be fiscally responsible. You're spending the hardworking taxpayers’ money. You can't be wasting money,” Ford said. “There's not one level of government that someone can convince me there's not waste, including the province, the federal government and the municipal government. We have to start driving efficiencies, thinking outside the box and doing things differently.”
The Ernst & Young report revealed that Toronto is facing a fiscal pressure of $880 million in 2023 but it warned of a “snowballing” effect in years to come, largely due to a growing capital backlog.
It also pointed out that the $1.1 billion that the city invests in federal and provincial responsibilities annually, such as housing, social services, and health services, “might no longer be viable” given its fiscal situation.
Speaking with reporters, Ford vowed to “stay out of” the mayoral race.
But he did say that Ontarians are “fed up” with tax increases and want elected representatives who will “drive efficiencies”
Toronto’s recent budget included a 5.5 per cent increase to the residential property tax rate, which was the biggest hike since amalgamation.
“Maybe I'm going back a little bit. But when (former mayor) Rob (Ford) and I went down there (city hall) the first question, the first thing out of the city manager's mouth was that you have an $780 million deficit and by the way you have to raise taxes 20 some odd percent. Well, we did the opposite,” he said. “We ended up driving efficiencies. We found a billion dollars of savings. We delivered a zero per cent tax increase. That's the difference of treating the taxpayers’ money like your own versus treating it like you just don’t care.”
It should be noted that while former mayor Rob Ford did freeze property taxes during his first year in office, he used $346 million in surplus money to balance that year’s budget.
Using surpluses to fill budgetary holes going forward won’t be an option for Toronto now, as the Ernsst & Young report warns that 97.4 per cent of that money has already been set aside for “legislated, contractually bound, or council-directed commitments.”
The city is also facing ongoing shortfalls related to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including hundreds of millions in lost revenue from the TTC.
“This is revenue structural issue which is a result of the mismatch between the responsibilities placed on Toronto by other orders of government. As a city we lack the legal and the revenue raising powers that are available to the province and the federal government,” McKelvie said on Tuesday.