POLITICS

Rob Ford: Ontario Liberals Balancing Budget On Backs Of Poor

06/27/2013 12:04 EDT | Updated 08/27/2013 05:12 EDT
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TORONTO, ON - JUNE 21: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford held a press conference at City Hall Friday afternoon in response to possible provincial funding cuts to the city. (Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO - Ontario's governing Liberals are trying to eliminate their $11.7-billion deficit on the backs of the city's most vulnerable residents, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford charged Thursday.

The province's decision to kill a special fund that helps pay for Toronto's social programs will force the city to make cuts to social housing that will have a "devastating impact," he said.

The Liberals told him to raise taxes "on the backs of hard-working Torontonians," Ford said.

"I understand the province is facing budgetary pressures," he added.

"However, the province wants to balance its books at the expense of Toronto's most vulnerable residents. I will not stand for that."

Ford said he's asked the city manager to prepare a special report for July 16 on the impact of the $150 million funding cut so the city can "brace" for what's ahead.

"The province says we are partners. They want to work with us. Unfortunately folks, I don't see that."

The Liberals are phasing out Toronto's so-called "pooling" compensation arrangement by 2016.

Toronto will get the same amount of money it was supposed to get this year, but it will get $42.5 million less than was promised in 2014 and $85.5 million less in 2015.

Toronto is better off in the end because the province is uploading costs like welfare, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday.

The Liberals say Toronto will get $364 million this year to pay for social programs, growing to $500 million by 2016. The province is also waiving a $200-million loan that the city appeared to have had no plans to repay.

But the penny-pinching mayor is accusing the deficit-plagued Liberals of punishing him for running an efficient government, saying they're trying to force him to cancel planned tax cuts and reinstate others.

"The city has already completed its budget forecast for this year," Ford said. "We are now left with $150-million hole to fill."

It comes at a time when the city is struggling with a $850-million repair backlog at Toronto Community Housing, he said.

The pooling arrangement was established in 1998, when the former Conservative government downloaded social program costs on municipalities.

The pooling burden was shared across the Greater Toronto Area, which local governments complained was unfair. The Liberals say they've now taken over the entire cost.

But they argue the money is no longer needed because they're gradually taking over the social program costs that were dumped on municipalities. It will also level the playing field among municipalities, they say.

Toronto is unique, Ford insisted. As Canada's largest city, it has always carried the heaviest load when it comes to providing social services, affordable housing and shelter support programming.

But Ford doesn't have to cut programs, said Susie Heath, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

"As we've said all along, the city has choices," she said in an email.

"Cutting funding for social housing is a choice the mayor is making, just as he has chosen not to benefit from land transfer or vehicle registration powers that he holds under the City of Toronto Act."

Ford killed the $60 vehicle registration tax soon after to took office in 2010, and was planning to cut the land transfer tax by 10 per cent.

The war of words has ramped up in recent days, following Ford's meeting Monday with Sousa.

Ford claims he was blindsided by the decision and Sousa refused to give him an extension or discuss alternatives.

The city was given a timeline by the province in 2008 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 Liberals say the city had plenty of warning and that Sousa's chief of staff tried twice to contact Ford's office before sending their letter June 13.

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