The Ontario government is slashing Toronto Public Health's funding by $1 billion over a decade as part of a plan to consolidate local public health units across the province, says the chair of the city's board of health — a move that's prompting an outcry from city officials.
Chair Joe Cressy said the board was informed of a change in the cost-sharing structure from Premier Doug Ford's government on Thursday afternoon, which he said amounts to an immediate $86-million hole in its latest budget.
The funding cut will impact various programs, he added, including infectious disease initiatives, communicable disease surveillance, immunization programs, food safety and water quality initiatives, as well as sexual health promotion.
"People will die," Cressy said. "People are going to die."
In last week's provincial budget, the Ford government first outlined plans to chop the number of local health units from 35 to 10 over the next two years, coupled with an annual overall funding reduction of $200 million.
TPH alone has a gross operating budget of more than $250 million, with roughly three-quarters of the funding coming from the province — an element now set to change.
Cressy said various TPH programs fully funded by the province are eventually going to be hit by a 50 per cent cut. Other programs funded roughly 75 per cent by the province and 25 per cent by the city will also drop to a 50-50 split.
Starting immediately, he said, the cost-sharing will be a 60-40 split, with a different model for other units across the province.
Units 'properly funded,' province says
In a statement Mayor John Tory called the change "a targeted attack on the health of our entire city" — one he says the city will work to see reversed.
"This change, hidden in the provincial budget and imposed without any consultation whatsoever, will hurt the health and wellness of Toronto residents," Tory said.
Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said Toronto Public Health is "extremely disappointed" by the move, citing school immunization programs, keeping beaches and drinking water safe, and inspecting restaurants as part of the city's public health services.
NDP member of the Legislature Marit Stiles called the news "alarming," saying the cuts "will make the millions of people who live and work in Toronto less safe."
"We've been down this road before. It isn't pretty," echoed Coun. Shelley Carroll in a tweet, citing the deadly SARS outbreak and E. coli contamination of the water supply in Walkerton, Ont., in the early 2000s.
But all public health units across Ontario, including Toronto, will "continue to be properly funded," the province maintains.
"We are working directly with our municipal partners as we slowly shift the cost-sharing funding model over the next three years to reflect municipalities' stronger role," said Hayley Chazan, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, the province also enacted new health-care legislation, which will integrate multiple provincial agencies — including Cancer Care Ontario, Health Quality Ontario, eHealth Ontario, and 14 local health integration networks, or LHINS — into a single agency dubbed Ontario Health.