Editorial: Toronto deal ignores rest of province

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow announced a new deal for the City of Toronto November 27. This new deal, once the required legislation is passed by the legislature at Queen’s Park, will see billions of benefits to that city at the expense of all Ontarians.

Over the next three years, Toronto will see at least $3.65 billion in capital and operations funding including new subway trains, new transit capital, money to combat homelessness and help house refugees. The province will also upload both the Don Valley Parkway and Gardners Expressway to Ontario’s highway network. The estimated capital value of those two highways is approximately $7.5 billion. This new deal is to help alleviate the fiscal pressures and a structural deficit of Ontario’s (and Canada’s) largest city. To be clear, this is a great deal, a sweetheart of a deal, for the City of Toronto and begs the question: What about the rest of Ontario?

Ontario has 444 upper-tier, lower-tier, and single-tier municipalities, all with financial challenges. Key among those is aging road infrastructure, aging water infrastructure, transit, housing, and land ambulances– just to name a few. Twenty-five years ago, most of Ontario’s two-lane highway system was downloaded to these municipalities, adding a significant burden to the municipal tax base. Social Services management is also a massive undertaking – more so now with the housing crisis facing all areas of Ontario. The province has “re-uploaded” some of the land ambulance costs, but that system is still locally-managed and a drain on municipal resources.

Every municipality has extensive infrastructure needs. In South Dundas, council heard November 27 of over $10 million in infrastructure needs just for the Morrisburg and Iroquois village plazas. This is the tip of the iceberg of South Dundas’ infrastructure needs. Over $13 million in bridge infrastructure needs have been identified, and the municipality has a looming garbage crisis that will cost millions. Add into that the annual operating expenses and capital replacement costs to maintain just the infrastructure that we have. Multiply these costs, across all 443 townships, counties, towns, and cities that are not Toronto – municipalities are going broke shouldering these costs alone and also need a new deal.

Going to the provincial government, cap-in-hand like Oliver Twist for piecemeal or one-off funding envelopes is only setting municipalities up for failure. As Premier Ford seems to be in a giving mood, and we are entering the giving season, maybe the Premier could think of these other 443 municipalities in their time of need?

As Premier Ford has gifted a new deal for Toronto, he needs to show leadership by correcting the downloading mistakes of his predecessor Mike Harris. Alleviating these downloaded burdens for municipalities will go a long way to addressing local needs.

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