Olivia Chow meets Doug Ford as Prime Minister backs new financial deal to address budget deficits

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow take their seats in the Prime Minister’s office as they hold a meeting at the Legislative Assembly in Queens Park in Toronto on September 18 .Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has announced his support for a new financial deal that would address Toronto’s recurring budget deficits, while turning a cold shoulder to the city’s recent push for additional taxes.

The announcement of a municipal/provincial task force to determine how to resolve the city’s structural budget problems amounts to a change of tone for a politician who has long argued that Toronto’s problem is wasteful spending. expenses.

“They’re in a really difficult financial situation,” Mr. Ford told reporters Monday at Queen’s Park alongside Olivia Chow after a more than 90-minute meeting with Toronto’s mayor, elected this summer after the resignation of John Tory. “We will be there to support them every step of the way to secure sustainable funding. »

Toronto is facing several years of budgetary woes, a situation made worse by the pandemic but whose roots go back further. Mr. Tory began his third term last fall promising to devote it to finding a new financial deal for the city — a mission taken up in recent months by Ms. Chow.

Toronto is now projecting a $1.5 billion deficit in its operating budget for 2024. The city is prohibited by law from running an operating deficit. City staff also recently projected a funding gap of nearly $50 billion over the next 10 years.

In response to that staff analysis, Toronto city council voted this month to support new ways of raising money, including a municipal sales tax, which would require provincial approval. On Monday, Mr. Ford appeared to rule out both a new sales tax and giving the city a share of the existing HST, before later suggesting some potential openness to the latter.

For her part, Ms Chow said the form of funding did not matter.

“The City of Toronto doesn’t really care where the money comes from, as long as there is, structurally, a promise,” she told reporters. She pointed out that the city provides $1.1 billion in services such as public transit and social support, which have traditionally been the responsibility of higher levels of government.

“What we’ve seen over the last 20 years is that more and more costs are being placed on city property taxes, and that’s why structurally it’s not sustainable. »

The task force is due to report by the end of November and is charged with promoting effective delivery of public programs, protecting front-line services and not increasing taxes or fees.

Mr. Ford and Ms. Chow also urged the federal government to join the task force. The prime minister said it was “essential” that Ottawa step up its financial efforts.

Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, MP for Toronto, said Monday it was “appropriate and necessary” for the city and province to work together, but stopped short of promising that Ottawa would join this effort.

In July, Freeland rejected a bailout request from Toronto, instead suggesting the Ontario government is in an “excellent financial position” to help.

The province also announced $26.4 million in funding for Toronto on Monday through the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit, which helps subsidize private sector rents for asylum seekers and others homeless.

Housing for asylum seekers became a source of intergovernmental friction this summer after Toronto city council chose to restrict their access to shelters before Ms. Chow’s election. Dozens of asylum seekers ended up sleeping on the sidewalk outside a city shelter, sparking a wave of criticism. In July, the council reversed its own policy and made shelter beds available.

Monday’s announcement was billed by the province as seeking to create space in shelters by helping asylum seekers and others find more stable housing.

With reporting by Jeff Gray and Laura Stone

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