Opinion | COVID-19 was a “four-alarm fire” for Toronto’s finances. Province bailout does nothing to put out flames

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Large number: $$ 549.8 million, the amount the provincial government has committed to give to Toronto, with federal support, as part of the Safe Restart Agreement. It will cover about 41% of the total amount Toronto needs to fill its $ 1.35 billion shortfall at year-end. The rest is to be determined.

Mayor John Tory was in high spirits at a press conference last week, held just hours after the provincial government provided details on how much Toronto would receive from the COVID-19 rescue fund for municipalities.

“What we had just a few weeks ago was what amounted to a four-alarm fire when it comes to the impact of COVID-19 on our finances,” the mayor said. “And we called the people we needed to call for help in fighting this fire – the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada – and they responded.

It was an optimistic view of the news, a celebration of government cooperation in difficult times. I don’t feel the same optimism. I’m here to Debbie Downer this whole situation.

Of course, it’s a relief to finally know that Toronto will receive around $ 550 million in combined emergency funds for city and TTC operations, but this commitment is enough to keep Toronto’s budget from immediately exploding. in a blaze. It does not extinguish the flames.

The fire is still burning.

Worse yet, the bailout process has so far been a good illustration of the structural dysfunction of the relationship between the Toronto government and its provincial counterpart.

Why did it take more than four months from the day Tory first sounded the alarm about the COVID-19 financial crisis in Toronto before the province confirmed how much Toronto would receive? Why, after all this warning, does the committed amount – $ 404 million for TTC and $ 146 for general city operations – not even cover half of the $ 1.35 billion Toronto calculated that it needed to avoid a year-end operating budget deficit?

Provincial funding announcement last week promised a phase two bailout in the fall, but again offered few details. Kinga Surma, Associate Minister of Transport, told reporters that additional funds for public transit will depend on transit agencies working with the provincial government to “achieve shared transit goals” – suggesting there will have obstacles that the TTC must clear to obtain the remaining 300 million dollars needed to close its gap expected at the end of the year. In other words: no money if you don’t do what we say.

This kind of patronizing paternalistic approach has been an undercurrent throughout this whole rescue process. But the Toronto government did not create the conditions that led to this crisis. The mayor and councilors did not demand to be responsible for vital services like uploaded public transport and social housing. And they certainly did not ask to face these responsibilities while being prohibited by law from using available powers and revenues for other governments.

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