POLITICS

Rob Ford, Charles Sousa Meet Over Contentious Funding Changes

06/24/2013 10:18 EDT | Updated 08/24/2013 05:12 EDT
Getty/CP
TORONTO - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he's furious that Ontario's governing Liberals won't reconsider their decision to make funding changes he claims will force the city to shut down social programs for Toronto's most vulnerable residents.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa told him to raise taxes to make up for a $150-million cut Toronto is now facing, a fuming Ford charged Monday.

"I'm very, very frustrated right now," he said after an hour-long meeting with Sousa, calling it a "waste of time."

"I'm getting punished for running an efficient government. That's exactly what's happening here. ... It's disgusting. It's absolutely disgusting."

The penny-pinching mayor said he won't hike taxes over one and three-quarter per cent, which means the city will have to make cuts to vital programs such as social housing.

"It's going to hurt them," Ford said. "They're suffering enough already. This is just adding insult to injury. This is adding salt in the wound."

But Sousa refused to even give the city a few days to figure out what to do, he said.

Ontario is ending Toronto's special "pooling" arrangement to pay for welfare and disability support programs. But Sousa said the city will actually get more money overall, since the province is uploading more costs, such as welfare.

"We listened, but I'm not sure the mayor heard us," Sousa said.

Toronto will get $364 million this year to pay for social programs, growing to $500 million by 2016, he said.

The province is also waiving a $200-million loan after the city missed 16 payments and appeared to have had no plan to repay.

Ontario had already started to wean other towns and cities off of funding for welfare as it uploaded more of the costs, but Toronto always had its own special arrangement, he said. Many municipalities complained it was unfair.

"I'm not playing political games here," Sousa said.

"I'm trying to provide an economic blueprint that is fair to all of Ontario, is fair to Toronto because Toronto is going to receive more money than they are now."

But Ford isn't listening, he said.

"He basically said, I'm not going to increase taxes, so you go ahead and do it," Sousa said.

But as the mayor said himself, "there's only one taxpayer," he added.

Toronto doesn't need to cut programs, Sousa said. It has posted budget surpluses and has special powers to levy taxes if it needs more money.

The province is also trying to control costs to eliminate a $11.7-billion deficit without hiking taxes, he said.

Ford insists there was no advance warning from the province. Officials in Sousa's office said they tried twice to contact the mayor's chief of staff before sending the letter outlining the changes, but there was no response.

The city was given a timeline by the province showing the special funding continuing until 2018, but Sousa said that was a "what if" scenario and no provincial money was committed beyond 2016.

"The phase down was always anticipated and it was discussed," he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said he would continue to upload costs for social programs, but maybe not as quickly as the Liberals have promised.

The Opposition leader wouldn't say whether he would eliminate the pooling arrangement with Toronto.

It's understandable that the city is fighting to keep the money, Hudak said.

"I don't blame them for trying," he said. "I mean, every time someone complains, it seems like the Liberals back up the money truck and throw more money on board."

The previous Tory government led by former premier Mike Harris — which included Hudak and Ford's father, Doug Ford Sr. — downloaded provincial costs for public transit and social services to municipalities in 1998.

Ontario is the only province in Canada that still hasn't uploaded the costs of social programs, according to David Siegel, a political science professor at Brock University.

The Harris government downloaded a lot of responsibility and a lot of the costs on municipalities, but also simplified a "spiderweb" of relationships between the two levels of government, said Siegel, who specializes in local government.

When the Liberals came to power in 2003, they promised to move it back to the provincial level.

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