Premier Doug Ford announced an initiative to find efficiencies on Tuesday by offering municipalities $7.35 million to pay for third-party audits in a bid to cut overall spending by four per cent — an efficiency that would take $19 million out of the Guelph budget.
The Progressive Conservative Party premier said he cannot balance the budgets and eliminate a deficit that stands at about $11.7 billion without transferring some of the cuts to cities and other public sectors, explaining that 92 per cent of provincial spending “comes through municipalities and other agencies.”
Mayors across the province have expressed their strong disapproval of the provincial government’s cuts to funds normally set aside for cities. Mayor Cam Guthrie, as the chair of the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario, wrote a letter critical of Ford’s moves on April 30.
Guthrie was quick to confirm that he heard the announcement and criticized it in an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics show, saying “those aren’t efficiencies, those are cuts”.
He later tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that Ford’s suggestion of finding 4 cents on every dollar would mean that $19 million “sucked out” of Guelph’s annual budget.
The Guelph Post reached out for comment but the mayor’s office said that Guthrie is at meetings and was not able to respond immediately.
Mayor Cam Guthrie appeared to be anticipating the Tuesday afternoon announcement as a step in the right direction.
In response to a letter from Toronto Mayor John Tory, Ford’s office said on Monday he is “always interested in sitting down with municipal partners to discuss how our two levels of government can work together to find efficient and respect taxpayers dollars.”
The premier’s press secretary said that an announcement would be made by Ford on Tuesday “in support of our municipal partners”, news that Guthrie welcomed in a retweet saying “I look forward to hearing what this path forward will be.”
“This is exactly what #LUMCO has been requesting,” Guthrie added.
Guthrie on April 30 wrote a letter on behalf of the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario, that he leads, to Queen’s Park criticizing the premier for “downloading by stealth” after annual budgets have already been passed by city councils across Ontario.
Audits from Ajax
The premier made funding announcement from Ajax where he met with chambers of commerce from Oshawa and Whitby and the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade.
The government is specifically providing several million via the Audit and Accountability Fund for large urban municipalities — which include Guelph — and district school boards “interested in conducting line-by-line reviews to identify potential savings” while maintaining “front-line services”.
“Our government was elected to fix 15 years of Liberal mismanagement, put the province on a path to balance and protect services like healthcare and education,” the premier said.
Ford, a former Toronto city councillor, went on, saying the Liberals were “using the credit card to pay the mortgage and, with interest payments costing our province $38 million a day, we can’t do it alone.”
The government said in a press release it is “empowering” municipalities and school boards to work towards the “shared goal of returning the province to fiscal balance while making sure vital programs and services are maintained.”