Provincial budget denies Toronto $510 million in COVID-19 funding

Apr 15, 2023 | Canadian News, News

Toronto received no financial relief from the recent provincial budget after it didn’t provide the $510 million the city requested in pandemic-related costs to Toronto.

In total, a $1 billion deficit in the city of Toronto can be attributed to COVID-19, according to NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park Bhutila Karpoche, the party’s GTA issues critic.

The shortfall places a higher burden on taxpayers, including property tax increases, with Toronto’s expected to increase by seven per cent this year, as well as cuts to services, including the TTC, in order for the city to make up for the lost revenue.

Karpoche said the service cuts to the TTC began in late March, resulting in less reliable and less frequent service, and this has a large impact on all Torontonians.

She said a student she knows, after missing his bus and waiting for an extended period of time for the next one, ended up being half an hour late for his exam that day.

There will be transit-related costs because of low ridership and lost fare revenue due to the pandemic, as well as the cost of providing emergency housing for homeless people, said Jessica Bell, the NDP University-Rosedale MPP and housing critic.

“Overall, the city of Toronto has been forced to take on a significant burden of costs related to COVID,” Bell said.

Another reason for Toronto’s financial struggles which is projected to contribute to higher housing and transit costs, is Bill 23, adopted on Nov. 28, 2022. The bill, called the More Homes Built Faster Act, cuts developers’ fees while pushing the building of 1.5 million homes in the next decade.

Municipalities are projected to lose $5 billion in the next five years because of this bill, Bell said.

“The provincial government promised they would make up the difference to municipalities. However, they have failed to keep their promise. They’ve broken their promise,” she said.

The slashed fees provided funding for infrastructure, shelters, supportive housing, and affordable housing. Because of this, Toronto and Peel Region’s affordable housing plans are under threat.

Bell said this is a significant reason for Toronto being in such grave financial difficulty.

“In a time of escalating need, it is immoral that the provincial government has moved forward with Bill 23, to sever municipalities’ ability to provide affordable housing to people,” she said.

Karpoche said there is nothing in Bill 23’s legislation requiring the cancelled fees given to the developers be passed onto homebuyers.

“Even after a particular project is complete, there is no guarantee that the cost of that new development, the cost of the new home, for the people, won’t be lower,” she said.

Despite the increase in homelessness, mental health, and addictions issues, the Ford government does not spend enough on programs to reduce the number of people experiencing these problems, Windsor West NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky said.

Although the provincial government did provide $48 million in the budget for supportive housing costs to Toronto as part of its 2023 budget, Gretzky, the party’s mental health and addictions critic, said this is not enough.

Gretzky said $48 million is going to be “a drop in the bucket especially when you look at a city as large as Toronto.”

She said it will help some Torontonians, but not even close to enough.

She said with the increasing violence on the TTC, many victims are homeless and/or have mental health or addictions issues and are not receiving help. This is because the Ford government is not adequately funding supports for these people.

This puts the onus on the municipalities to fund these supports and fix the problems themselves, Gretzky said.

Karpoche said the $48 million given to Toronto is a step in the right direction, but in recent years, the overall amount of money going to municipalities for housing has gone down.

“And given the scale of the crisis, this really comes nowhere near what is needed in terms of addressing the homelessness crisis,” she said.

Gretzky also mentioned what she called a “slush fund” in the province’s possession. This funding was, in part, provided by the federal government to the province and was to be spent on COVID-19 relief for municipalities. Additional funding came to the province through tax revenues, which they said would be spent on health care, education, and fighting homelessness, poverty, and mental health and addictions.

The money existed, but Gretzky said the government simply chose not to spend it.

“They put it away because, as I said, it’s a slush fund. There’s no accountability. There is no transparency about that funding. The government will not say what that money’s put aside for or what they’re spending that money on,” she said.

Gretzky feels the government is apathetic to the poor and needy.

“To be blunt, I don’t think they really care about the people who experiencing homeless. If they did, they’d put the money behind helping them,” Gretzky said.

Municipalities such as Toronto are struggling to keep up with pandemic-related costs, despite the province promising to help.

“The municipalities took a huge hit during the height of the pandemic, and the government made a promise, and they didn’t follow through,” Gretzky said.

Since increased taxes are the result of the province forcing municipalities into independence in this issue, local residents will start struggling financially themselves, she said. There will be more crises in which people end up in the hospital for mental health-related reasons. In certain cases, this would be caused by the stress and anxiety of the risk of losing their home, or people living in poor conditions. This will cause a strain on the health care system.

“It’s not just about what you spend, [and] how much you spend, it’s about how you spend it, and this government is not spending the money wisely. They’re not making the direct investments into the people of the province as a whole but specifically Toronto,” Gretzky said.

Despite the provincial government committing to $200 million in affordable housing funding over two years, that is not new money, according to Bell. She said there is a $124 million reduction in funding for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s budget.

“That doesn’t even include the massive loss in development fee revenue that the provincial government is causing by Bill 23,” Bell said.

The Progressive Conservative party did not respond to a request for comment.