TORONTO — Premier Doug Ford says the province is willing to pay for large municipalities and school boards to review their budgets in an effort to find savings.
The offer of up to $7.35 million for the reviews comes as municipalities and school boards have warned that recently revealed provincial cuts will result in layoffs and service reductions.
Ford says the reviews are needed as the province tackles an $11.7-billion deficit and a debt that sits at approximately $347 billion.
But Toronto Mayor John Tory says his city already does such annual reviews and another one won’t mitigate damage done by provincial cuts.
Other large municipalities have said they may have to raise taxes or reduce services due to the cuts that will likely equal well over half a billion dollars in lost annual funding and foregone revenue.
Ford says dealing with the province’s fiscal situation is a priority.
“Municipalities and district school boards now have the tools they need to find real savings and protect what matters most to the people of Ontario,” Ford said in a speech Tuesday to a business audience in Ajax, Ont.
“Our government is ready and willing to roll up our sleeves and work with anyone who shares our priority of returning Ontario to fiscal health.”
The province says it will pay for the reviews through a newly established Audit and Accountability Fund.
Large municipality mayors have said the province is attempting to balance its budget on the backs of local taxpayers. They also noted that the cuts are coming long after municipalities, which operate on calendar and not fiscal years, have passed their budgets.
The City of Toronto alone estimates that the cuts will cost it $178 million this year and will impact things like childcare, public health and library services.
“If all the province says they’re willing to do is to give us some money to do a line-by-line audit …. without any willingness to discuss both a way in which we save money, but also both particularly when these cuts take effect or when any cuts take effect of any kind, I would view it then more as a public relations stunt,” Tory said.
School boards have also warned that they will have to address funding pressures resulting from the reduction or elimination of provincial grants.
The Toronto District School Board has said it may have to eliminate jobs, some programs and end some student busing to address a multimillion-dollar funding gap created by provincial cuts.
Meanwhile, trustees for the Peel District School Board warned Education Minister Lisa Thompson in a letter that their schools will be “significantly impacted” by cuts to funding, planned class size changes and other changes.
Thompson said the letter is an example of why the government will begin governance reviews of school boards later this year.
“That nonsense that’s coming from that board is absolutely mean-spirited,” Thompson said last week. “They’re purposely creating anxiety for students and parents and teachers alike.”
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press