Toronto, now projecting a $1.8B deficit, says province must commit to more funding next year

·2 min read

As Toronto grapples with a historic deficit and an expected drop in revenues stretching well into 2021, the provincial government's latest budget doesn't explicitly indicate that any further financial assistance to the city is on the way.

"2021, we haven't heard anything about," Mayor John Tory said Friday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "And we haven't heard anything from the federal government either."

Toronto's projected deficit for 2021 stands at around $1.8 billion. That's due to a steep drop in revenue from services such as the TTC, and increased spending in areas such as public health and shelters.

The city has weathered those losses so far during the pandemic primarily through the Safe Restart Agreement, a $19-billion federal program that has supported Canadian municipalities and the restarting of Canada's economy.

Ontario is disbursing the money in two phases. Toronto has already received the first round and has applied for more in the coming second round.

Coun. Gary Crawford, who also serves as Toronto's budget chair, described the province's 2020 budget as "very supportive," but he said details about how the Ford government will support the city next year are needed, and soon.

The city on Friday launched its own 2021 budget process by revealing rate-supported budgets for the coming year.

"We need some specific numbers," he said, "and the quicker and sooner we can get those numbers, we'll be able to look at what our fiscal challenges will be."

Crawford said the financial pressures straining the city show no sign of letting up.

"We still face the same challenges, whether it's with the TTC, shelters, public health, seniors' services, long-term care," he said.

"As we're planning the year, it's always important to be able to have as much confirmed at the beginning of the year, or as soon as possible."

Municipalities in Ontario cannot run a budget deficit by law, and local officials have said they can't be reasonably expected to make up losses caused during the pandemic, barring measures such as drastic service cuts or tax hikes.

Toronto estimates that it has already saved more than $500 million during the pandemic through measures such as "workforce restraints" and lowered spending. Crawford said revenues from the TTC and the municipal land transfer tax are also showing signs of a rebound.

Ontario's 2020 budget states that the first phase of funding through the Safe Restart Agreement was "sufficient" for most municipalities, and says the second round will be made available for those in need of more support.

It does not specify how much individual cities can expect, or provide details about subsequent rounds of funding.

"That word we're looking for — just as much as the business sector or the health sector — is the word 'certainty,'" said Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie, chair of Ontario's Big City Mayors.