Ontario premier Doug Ford was elected on a platform that promised to find billions of dollars in efficiencies in Ontario’s provincial budget. For a year after he and his majority Conservative government were sworn in, we’ve kept a running tally on what exactly the Ford government has cut (or is intending to cut) and what the consequences might be. June 7 marks the first year of Ford’s premiership—and Queen’s Park is about to go on a 144-day break from passing legislation until after the federal election in October—so take a moment to catch up with all the cuts and changes here.
Cancelled: The 10-year contract with the Beer Store
Queen’s Park passed the bill ending Ontario’s 10-year contract with the Beer Store on June 6. The contract was first signed in 2015 between the Liberal government and the Beer Store, which is owned by three multinational companies—Labatt, Molson and Sleeman. Under the agreement, with few exceptions, only the Beer Store can sell packs of beer larger than six-packs (not even the LCBO can) and beer is only available at a limited number of grocery stores. Ford wants to allow all convenience stores and grocery stores to make beer sales by cancelling the agreement, which the PCs argue will give people more convenience and choice when it comes to buying beer. However, the Beer Store argues the move will cost jobs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has warned Ontario against it for concerns of scaring investors and based on reports, breaking the contract could cost the province somewhere around $1 billion.
Frozen: Public sector wage increases at 1%
For the next three years, public sector jobs—such as university and hospital employees, for example—will have their annual wage increases limited to one percent. The recent average increase for public sector workers is currently reported at 1.6 percent, while Statistics Canada says inflation is at two percent. Treasury Board president Peter Bethlenfalvy says the move is “protecting jobs” by “ensuring sustainability of government programs and services.” Meanwhile, union leaders are concerned that the wage cap will threaten their bargaining power—the announcement came after the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario began their bargaining processes.
The @OntarioPCParty government's austerity push comes two months after the record $163.4B budget was tabled. Affects hospitals, school boards, colleges and universities, long-term care facilities, Ornge air ambulance, and children's aid societies. #onpoli
— Robert Benzie (@robertbenzie) June 5, 2019
Proposed: An end to building height limits in Toronto
Toronto is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States and Canada and to accommodate that growth, the provincial government want to override the city’s existing development plans, which are based on years of work and consultations. They’ve proposed revisions that would increase height restrictions on buildings in some parts of the city and allow high-rises to be built in more parts of downtown and midtown. Mayor John Tory called out the premier for again not consulting with the city before proposing changes. City councillors raised concerns that the province’s plan would favour developers, and would not foster sustainable development.
Reinstated: Half a billion dollars in municipal funding
On the morning of May 27, Ford announced he would be backpedalling on several recent funding cuts that had hit municipalities after their 2019 budgets were finalized. According to CBC, “Ford has reversed this year’s cuts to municipal funding, including child care, public health and [ambulance services], but future cuts will continue as planned.”
Unsurprisingly, many of Ontario’s mayors, including Toronto mayor John Tory, had criticized these cuts, which the City of Toronto said amounted to $177 million in 2019. Officials in London, Ont. estimated their budget had been slashed by $4 million, and in Ottawa, the shortfall was also in the “millions.”
And Ontarians weren’t happy, either. Last week, CityTv reported that a new poll found Ford’s popularity had “fallen even lower than Kathleen Wynne’s before the last election.” (His net favourability rating is currently -53.5%, while Wynne’s was -35.3% in April 2018.) And a second poll by Ipsos found only “three in ten people approve of what the PC government has been doing since it took office last June, with men showing stronger support for Ford than women.”
While this announcement is good news, the cuts may only be reversed for *now*. This morning, Ford told reporters: “We’ve come up with a conclusion that we’re going to work together. We’re going to maintain the funding throughout this year. Every mayor I talked to said they can find savings. So that’s good news. But they said they needed more runway.”
Eliminated: An Ontario Arts Council-funded Indigenous Culture Fund
The Ontario government is cutting tens of millions of dollars in funding to the province’s arts sector, including a recently established Indigenous Culture Fund. According to CTV, “culture programs are budgeted at $235 million this year, down from nearly $295 million last year, including cutting ‘arts sector support’ from $18.5 million to $6.5 million.” The Ontario Arts Council specifically is receiving $10 million less in funding this year, and, as the Globe & Mail reports, half of that “comes from axing an Indigenous Culture Fund.”
Proposed: Ending the Transition Child Benefit
On May 26, the Toronto Star reported on yet another cut that was buried in April’s provincial government, this one to social services for families with low incomes. As of November 1, Ford’s government plans to eliminate the Transition Child Benefit, which “helps families on welfare feed and clothe their kids.” It provides up to $230 per month, per child for families who receive welfare, but don’t receive the Canada or Ontario Child Benefit. Read: parents who have recently lost their jobs or refugee claimants who have been in Canada for less than 18 months.
According to a May 9 memo from Toronto city manager Chris Murphy, “Toronto’s family shelter system may experience increased demand from families who lose TCB and become unable to secure or maintain their housing.” The Star says critics are characterizing this cut as the “‘nastiest’ attack on children.”
Cut: Millions to artificial intelligence research
The Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) have put Canada on the world map for AI research, with the Vector Institute founded in part to attract innovators to Toronto and away from Silicon Valley. However, the Toronto Star reported on May 19 that the Ford government is cutting $20 million from the Vector Institute and $4 million from CIFAR, despite advice that supporting AI research will create jobs in Ontario. Vector confirmed that the cuts will not affect jobs at the institute and CIFAR will continue to receive funding from “the federal government and private sector sponsors,” according to the Star.
Cut: 70% of provincial funding to the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre
On May 17, the National Observer reported that the government cut 70% of its funding to the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre (A/OFRC). The centre is responsible for providing non-partisan scientific information to help First Nations manage their natural resources and protect endangered wildlife. Funding came from the Transfer Payment Agreement, which was created to help First Nations work with the government to make conservation decisions. The A/OFRC’s budget is now $250,000—down from $860,000. Their staff was not informed about the cuts until April 12 and their fiscal year is already underway, leaving the organization “scrambling” to seek alternate funding and keep their projects going. The cuts are the result of Ford’s government doubling down on Transfer Payments, because an audit last September said that it is an area that they “can exert the strongest control.”
Cut: Annual funding for stem cell research
The Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine is losing its annual $5 million in funding from the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, beginning next March. According to the government, scientists can just look for private funding, but researchers told CBC that private investment comes at the “late phase” of studies. During the early stages of research, government grants are crucial.
Cut: An unclear amount of funding from violence against women shelter services
On May 14, the Toronto Star reported on MPP Randy Hillier asking Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod about why “women’s shelters and supports for victims of violence” saw $17 million cut from their funding since last year’s spending estimates.
Although last year’s estimates under the Liberal government stood at $172,123,400 and this year’s estimates are at $155,037,300, the ministry told FLARE in an email that, “The government’s actual spend from the previous year shows an increased investment in violence prevention initiatives this year—roughly a 2 per cent increase.” They also said that “the [$17 million] figure is not accurate as it isn’t based on what was actually spent last year,” referring to MacLeod’s rebuttal to Hillier that the alleged cuts are not the result of actual changes in funding. Instead, MacLeod told Hillier that they come from “the elimination of unfunded and unallocated resources from the Liberal campaign budget,” calling the numbers “a fictitious budget.”
The controversy comes shortly after a new national study led by Women’s Shelters Canada found that one in five shelters (out of 400 polled) have not had a funding increase in at least ten years, there are major gaps between urban and remote community support and that shelters are turning away increasingly more people. The uncertainty over whether Violence Against Women (VAW) supports are losing funding is already having concrete effects on shelters—CTV reported that Windsor’s Hiatus House, for example, cut six of its beds and their executive director points out that they haven’t had a budget increase in ten years.
Hillier’s questions also drew attention from other politicians including Toronto city councillor Paul Ainslie, who wrote a public letter to MacLeod, urging her to reconsider the changes. “As a result, our city staff advise we can expect a service gap for women and their children who have experience violence, are housing vulnerable and require the critical services VAW services provide,” he wrote.
The Province has announced a $17 M cut to Violence Against Women shelters and support funding. This is going to impact women and children seeking supports in #CityofTO! I urge Minister @MacLeodLisa and all Scarborough MPPs to have these cuts reversed. See my letter below. #ONpoli pic.twitter.com/DBBYEe6tJe
— Paul Ainslie Ward 24 (@Ainslie_Ward24) May 16, 2019
Proposed: Phasing out Ontario’s enhanced driver’s license program
On May 14, the provincial government announced a proposal to eliminate Ontario’s enhanced drivers licenses, which allow Canadians to enter the U.S. at land and water crossings without a passport. According to the Star, this option was introduced in 2009, but “hasn’t seen the anticipated uptake.” (Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Bob Nichols says only 60,000 out of 10.2 million Ontario drivers currently have an enhanced license.) The program brings in $182,000 in revenue, and eliminating it will save the province about $100,000 in administrative costs—and, Nichols says travellers have several other options for easy border crossings, including NEXUS, FAST and ePassports.
Cut: eHealth budget
On May 9, the PC government cut $70 million from the eHealth budget. (eHealth Ontario focused on digital health programs.) The press secretary to the Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care said in a statement that the cuts are related to the province’s earlier decision to combine Ontario’s healthcare into one super agency. On May 8, the Ontario Telemedicine Network (which delivered healthcare through videoconferences between nurses, doctors, and their patients) laid off 14% of its staff, or 44 jobs, which the organization says is a result of provincial funding cuts.
Cut: Health policy and research funding
In addition to consolidating the province’s healthcare, which resulted in funding cuts, the Ford government is also cutting research funding. Health policy and research will see a $52 million total reduction in funding, including a significant cut to the Health System Research Fund, which contributes research for provincial policy-making.
And Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, which researches problem gambling, is facing a $2.5 million cut. As a result, the organization will shut down by mid-July. The Ford government says that this cut comes from efforts to increase front-line services, but the logic is confusing as the organization and its research provided resources to front-line workers. As the CBC points out, this move comes just as the PC party plans to allow free alcohol in casinos and to expand online gambling.
Cut: The Ministry of Labour’s prevention office budget
The prevention office, which is responsible for preventing workplace injuries, death and other occupational health hazards, is losing $16 million from its budget. But as the Toronto Star reported, the office is funded by the workers’ compensation board—not taxpayers—so it “does not impact the government’s bottom line.” Health and safety associations will also be impacted (they’re losing $12 million from their budgets) as well as occupational hazard research. Critics told the Star that the cuts will hurt workers, as fewer funds go to potentially life-saving research, work safety education and aid in accessing workers’ compensation, among other programs.
Cut: Tourism budget for Ottawa and Toronto
Ottawa Tourism and Tourism Toronto reported that they are losing all of their provincial funding, with Ottawa out $3.4 million and Toronto out $13 million. Toronto Mayor John Tory pointed out that tourists bring in tax revenue for the province, not the cities, and called the move “bad for Ontario.” The minister of tourism, culture and sport said that the government has a new tourism strategy on its way.
Cut: Tech startup funds
Innovation and startup companies are facing cuts in funding, which has critics concerned that jobs may move out of the province. Critics told the CBC that the government grants boosted the province’s growing digital economy. They’re concerned this could make Ontario less competitive, as companies worry that they may see staffing changes (read: potential layoffs). There are also concerns that the timing of the cuts could greatly impact young people searching for summer jobs.
Proposed: A $46-million decrease in spending for the OPP
In the government’s expenditure estimates for the year, there is a $46 million decrease in spending for the Ontario Provincial Police, most of which come from “field and traffic services.” The press secretary and issues manager for the office of the Solicitor General says that no jobs will be lost. Meanwhile, the opposition party has raised concerns about the funding cut coming after the PCs recently announced raising speed limits to 110 kilometres an hour for sections of three 400-series highways.
Cancelled: $50 million fund meant to help child care centres cover costs for parents
Another day, another cut. On May 1, it was announced that the provincial government has officially ended a $50 million fund meant to help child care centres across the province. The funding, which ended as of March 31, was meant to help cover increasing labour costs without passing the expense on to parents and families.
According to City News, the cancellation has already led to increased expenses for parents, with one child care centre in Peel Region telling parents that their fees will increase by up to $72 per month for full-time infant care.
“It’s supposed to help control child-care fees for Ontario families, so if it’s being cut by $50 million, that’s going to have a direct impact on costs for families,” Carolyn Ferns of the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care said. “The impact is going to be that parent fees are going to go up and Ontario families already pay the highest child care fees in the country.”
A February 2019 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that cities in and around the GTA and Metro Vancouver continue to have the highest fees for infants, with Toronto topping the list at $1,685 per month or $20,220 per year.
Cut: Funding for all think tanks in the province, including the Mowat Centre
After 10 years reporting on immigration, Indigenous education and the differences between rural and urban Ontarians, The Mowat Centre is going out of business after the provincial government pulled funding for all think tanks.
We regret to announce that we will soon be closing. We thank all our partners, current and former staff, and supporters for helping us make important contributions to policymaking and informed public discussion over the past 10 years. For more information: https://t.co/iPNU7RoZLB pic.twitter.com/HYIr61UdCF
— Mowat Centre (@MowatCentre) April 29, 2019
Just before making these cuts, the Ford government used the Centre’s research as a source for their provincial budget regarding job losses in Southwestern Ontario. According to the National Observer, two ministers’ offices were unable to comment on that irony.
That said, Trade Minister Todd Smith’s secretary, Christine Wood, did state that the services of Ontario think tanks may be consulted via one-time contracts. Wood also said that there are many think tanks in Ontario that don’t operate on taxpayer’s dollars, but then named C.D. Howe, which did report almost half a million dollars in government funding for 2017.
As per The Mowat Centre’s year-end statements, they received $1 million annually, along with $1.8 million for salaries and benefits, from the government.
Cut: $8 million from The Ontario Music Fund
On April 28, CBC reported, per The Canadian Press, that funding to the Canadian Independent Music Association’s Ontario Music Fund would be reduced by over half. This cut will take the funding down from $15 million to $7 million.
The cuts come as the government says they’re looking to modernize the program.
In a statement, a spokesman for Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Tibollo, said, “The government will work with Ontario Creates to modernize the Ontario Music Fund to focus on activities that bring the biggest return to the province, and refocus its investments into emerging talent to create opportunities to achieve success.”
The cuts weren’t totally unexpected, according to Stuart Johnston, the Canadian Independent Music Association’s president. “I wasn’t surprised that the fund was going to receive a cut, I was surprised by the depth of the cut. I think that took everybody by surprise,” he told CP.
This loss in funding will almost certainly impact Ontario’s music industry. NDP culture critic Jill Andrew says homegrown talent will have more difficulty flourishing. “[Premier] Doug Ford has hit another bad note on the culture file, this time ripping away opportunities from everyone from aspiring artists to the domestic music companies that nurture their budding talent,” she said in a statement. “This showcases just how out of touch the Ford Conservatives are with how important it is to support the local cultural sectors that contribute so much to our economy.”
Cancelled: The 50 Million Tree Program
The latest casualty of Ford’s 2019 budget: $4.7 million in annual funding for Forests Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program. The goal of the program was to plant 50 million trees by 2025, which would improve soil quality, cut back on erosion, increase wildlife habitat and mitigate the effects of climate change across the province.
Rob Keen, the CEO of Forests Ontario, told CTV News that, “40 per cent forest cover is needed to ensure forest sustainability, and the average right now in southern Ontario is 26 per cent, with some areas as low as five per cent.” Keen also explained that part of the $4.7 million went to Forest Ontario’s planting partners, like conservation groups and First Nations who worked with landowners to get more trees planted.
According to Ed Patchell, the CEO of one of the nurseries that works with Forest Ontario, this budget cancellation will likely also lead to layoffs throughout all the organizations that partner with Forest Ontario. “It may be a way for the government to save some money, but it’s very short-sighted and it’s going to cost us a lot more in the future,” he said.
Proposed: Ending OHIP coverage for travel outside Canada
On April 24, the government announced a proposal to end OHIP coverage for Canadians who travel outside of the country. Per the proposal, the amendment “aligns with [the] government’s commitment to implement changed to restore accountability and trust in the use of taxpayer dollars and to bring greater modernization, efficiency and transparency to OHIP to benefit both providers and patients.”
While the cut would affect travellers (OHIP currently covers up to $400/day for out of country inpatient care), the government stressed that Canadians abroad can continue to obtain travel insurance from third party companies “who already cover 94 per cent of reimbursement for eligible costs related to emergency care services out of country,” the proposal says.
According to City News, if the amendment passes, the proposed change will start on October 1, 2019.
Cut: $1 billion from Toronto Public Health over the next ten years
In order to save $1 billion over the next ten years, the provincial government is making huge cuts to Toronto Public Health, which, unsurprisingly, seems like a bad idea. Joe Cressy, a Toronto city councillor and Chair of the Board of Health released a statement explaining that those cuts will affect “disease prevention, water quality testing, immunization monitoring and surveillance, prenatal support, overdose prevention, food safety regulation, infectious disease control, student nutrition [such as school breakfast programs], and more.” He says that people will die from the cuts, referencing high-profile health crises of the past, including 2000’s E. coli crisis in Walkerton, as well as the SARS outbreak.
Mayor John Tory called it a “targeted attack” on Toronto and pointed out that there wasn’t any consultation with the city, before trying to explain why public health programs are important.
The Toronto Public Health budget has historically been funded by the province for a reason: these are programs which protect people's health and many programs which keep people out of hospitals and, ultimately, saves health care costs.
— John Tory (@JohnTory) April 18, 2019
The exact details of the cuts remain vague, as The Toronto Star’s city hall reporter Jennifer Pagliaro found. But Minister Christine Elliott’s spokesperson has accused Cressy of fearmongering and clarified that the province made the cut in order to strengthen the role of municipalities.
Proposed: Decrease protections for at-risk species due to changes to the Endangered Species Act
After a 10-year review of the act, the government has decided to create a Species at Risk Stewardship Program, which it says will fund “academics, communities, organizations and Indigenous peoples across Ontario to implement on-the-ground activities that benefit species at risk and their habitats.” However, the funds for the program will come from municipalities and developers, who can pay a fee into the program directly—instead of taking steps to protect at-risk species in order to receive a permit.
Other changes include delaying the time it takes for new species on the at-risk list to receive protection. Instead of implementing protections within three month of the listings, Environment Minister Rod Phillips says a year is more realistic. The minister will also have the power to make the committee in charge of putting species on the list reconsider their decision based on the minister’s interpretation of the scientific information. None of which sounds like a good thing for Ontario’s wildlife.
In fact, conservation group Ontario Nature released a statement saying, in part, “the proposal will give industry a free pass to exterminate species in Ontario.”
Cut: Payments to flood management programs
Despite scientists projecting increased floods as a result of climate change, CBC reported that conservation authorities that help ensure flood-resiliency in communities will lose half of their funds—which go towards flood plain management and flood response measures, as well as flood warnings.
Cut: 50% of Ontario Library Service funding
In addition to education cuts, the Ford government is also cutting 50% of library funding for Ontario Library Service North (OLSN) and the Southern Ontario Library Service (SOLS). On April 26, SOLS is ending its interlibrary loan service, and the cuts may also threaten e-book access. But the impact will go beyond reading material. Libraries are a rare free space in communities, so they are often a first stop for seniors, young people, homeless individuals and newcomers alike—and librarians often operate as de facto social workers. With the cuts, librarians will lose funds for training on working with vulnerable members of communities. Noticeably, these cuts primarily affect rural and remote populations.
Cut: All legal aid for refugee and immigration cases and 30% of the general legal aid budget
The Conservatives are cutting all legal aid to refugee and immigration cases and deferring the costs to federal funds—but those funds don’t meet Ontario’s needs. By abruptly losing support, refugee claimants have found their applications put on hold and risk deportation back to the countries where their lives are at risk. Asylum seekers cannot work for six months when they get to Canada, so legal aid is especially necessary. Legal Aid Ontario is also no longer accepting new claims. Regarding the 30% cut to general legal aid, Legal Aid Ontario will likely be facing layoffs. Overall, the government looks to save $45 million per year by further marginalizing refugees and immigrants, and $133 million from cutting back on the rest of legal aid.
I asked Ford what he'd say to Janos Timku, a Roma man scheduled for deportation who can't afford a lawyer after legal aid cuts
Timku said "I will die if I go back to Hungary"
— Jack Hauen (@jackhauen) April 16, 2019
Cancelled: The Compensation for Victims of Crime Act
The act offers victims of crimes up to $1,000 a month or a lump sum of up to $25,000 in financial aid to help them pay for needs resulting from crime such as hospital bills and funeral fees. Coverage applied to people who were injured by criminal acts and family members of those killed by crime. In Ontario’s new budget, the province has decided to cap compensation for pain and suffering at $5,000 and raising the lump-sum maximum up to $30,000—for now.
Eventually, the government has proposed dissolving the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (date TBD), which makes decisions about how much victims receive, in the belief that moving decisions to an administrative body would make payments come faster and the process more efficient overall (the average wait time for a board hearing is 11 months), with the added bonus of saving the government $23 million per year. After it is dissolved, the government says there will be an “enhanced victims’ financial assistance program” through the Ministry of the Attorney General.
However, The Toronto Star reported that, “the board had the most discretion to consider the impact of the crime” under the pain and suffering category and with the $5,000 cap, victims will have fewer options. Additionally, having board hearings meant even if a domestic violence survivor didn’t have medical receipts or a sexual assault survivor wasn’t able to see their attacker convicted, they could still make a claim for compensation.
Cut: Thousands of full-time teaching positions
On April 5, CBC Toronto reported that the provincial government plans to significantly reduce the number of Ontario teachers, starting this fall. The memo details that there will be 1,558 fewer teachers for the 2019-2020 school year, and the following year, 3,475 teaching jobs will be cut. The change will reportedly save the government $851 million, and Education Minister Lisa Thompson has stated that there will be “no involuntary job losses.”
The announcement comes on the heels of other controversial decisions regarding education, including increasing high school class sizes from 22 to 28 students on average, instituting mandatory e-learning courses and overhauling the autism program to introduce funding caps.
“Cramming more students into every classroom and having fewer adults in every school is going to hurt kids,” Ontario NDP education critic Marit Stiles said in a statement.”By taking away thousands of teachers, Ford is taking away one-on-one help when students need it. He’s taking away courses like band, technology and trades classes. And he’s taking away opportunity—and Ontario’s students deserve more opportunity, not less.”
In response to the changes in education, students across Ontario held a mass walkout on April 4. After news broke about the impending cuts to teaching staff, thousands of students and educators gathered in front of Queen’s Park for a rally, organized by multiple unions representing education workers across the province, on April 6.
Cut: Funding for two safe injection sites in Toronto, and one in Ottawa
On April 1, CBC reported that the Ontario government will be defunding three safe injection sites, two located in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood. According to the report, Ford said that the decision to do so was made after residents who live near the two sites complained. The third site is located in Ottawa and run by Ottawa Public Health.
This decision was met with concern from both municipal governments and Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health. “The opioid overdose crisis here in our city is the defining health crisis of our time,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said at a news conference on Monday. “These are life-saving services. There is clearly a need.”
She’s right, of course—the opioid crisis is real, and more than 1,200 people died from overdoses in Ontario in 2017 alone. The busiest safe injection site in the province, called This Works, reversed about 750 overdoses since August of 2017. It is also under review by the province and could potentially be shut down.
The province will be funding 15 consumption and treatment services sites, the new alternative to supervised injection sites. Part of the reason why the three sites are being closed is because they didn’t make that list of 15 sites.
Both Toronto and Ottawa’s city councillors are working to keep the three defunded sites open, including diverting city funding toward them.
Dissolved: 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and six health agencies
On February 26, Ontario health minister Christine Elliott tabled new health legislation—called the People’s Health Care Act—which proposes the dissolution of 14 LHINs (which oversee home care and manage nursing home wait-lists at the local level) and the merger of six health agencies—including Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario—into one central agency called Ontario Health.
Proud to announce our Government for the People's long-term plan to fix and strengthen the public health care system by focusing directly on the needs of Ontario’s patients and families. https://t.co/e7exz6T5HM pic.twitter.com/shbBCLuh6E
— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) February 26, 2019
Under this new central agency, as many as 50 regional Ontario Health Teams (responsible for as many as 300,000 patients each) will “connect health care providers and services around patients and families.” The goal, according to a Ministry of Health press release: to better facilitate patient transitions between various local healthcare providers—such as hospitals and home care providers—and streamline health records and care plans.
As part of the health legislation, the government also pledged a $3.8 billion investment in long-term care for seniors and addiction services. As well, patients will have improved access to secure digital tools such as health records.
In a statement, Elliott said that the measures outlined in the new legislation should reduce wait times and end hallway health care. There is no word on how many jobs will be lost in the overhaul.
The legislation is expected to pass this summer.
Cut: Free tuition for low-income students
On January 17, the Ontario government announced that it was eliminating free tuition for low-income students. The previous Liberal government had increased the number of Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) grants, but recently the province’s Auditor General warned that costs associated with the OSAP grant program had risen by 25%. As a result, the Conservatives have reduced the family income threshold required to qualify for OSAP funding; eligible low-income students can still qualify for funding to cover their entire tuition fees, but part of it will now be a loan as opposed to a grant.
At the same time, Ontario also announced a 10% decrease in university and college tuitions for the 2019-2020 school year. (These cuts mean college students will pay approximately $340 less in tuition, and university students approximately $660 less.) Schools will be forced to absorb the loss in revenue, which will amount to $360 million for universities and $80 million for colleges.
As well, students will now have the option to choose what additional fees—which can add up to an additional $2,000—they want to pay in relation to funding for campus organizations and clubs (although fees for health programs, athletics and some other services will remain mandatory).
Also included in the changes: interest will now be charged during the six-month grace period on OSAP loans post-graduation—something the Ontario government alleges will “reduce complexity for students.”
Read the full slate of changes to OSAP funding here.
Proposed: Eliminating 14 regional health agencies
Also on January 17, CBC News reported that the Ford government will replace 14 local health integration networks (LHINs) with five regional oversight bodies. According to CBC, LHINs “co-ordinate health care at the local level,” and oversee nearly $30 billion in funding that is disbursed to Ontario hospitals, long-term care homes and community health centres.
Cut: $25 million in funding for specialized school programs
On December 15, the Toronto Star reported that the Ford government has cut funding for “programs that provide after-school jobs for needy teens, classroom tutors for kids, ‘student success’ supports for racialized youth as well as a project focusing on Indigenous issues” in elementary and secondary schools across Ontario. The cuts amount to $25 million.
The province’s 72 school boards were informed of the changes via an email sent at 5 p.m. on a Friday with a list of programs set to be cut or to receive reduced funding. The funding for these programs was initially allocated to the schools by the Liberal government in March 2018 in the form of grants, leaving educators concerned about whether or not money has already been spent.
“We would certainly hope that the government is going to keep the school boards whole, that the money that has been spent up until now will be provided by the government because that information is not clear yet,” Robin Pilkey, chair of the TDSB, told CP24.
In an email to CBC Toronto, Kayla Iafelice, press secretary for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said that the school programs getting scrapped were not an effective use of funds. “Despite only accounting for less than 1% of school board funding, this fund has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments,” wrote Iafelice. It is not clear if these programs will be replaced by other initiatives.
Cancelled: Ontario Arts Council funding
On December 14, broadcaster and writer Jesse Wente tweeted that the Ford government had cut funding to the Ontario Arts Council’s Indigenous Culture Fund, which commissions projects that “support First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, culture and way of life,” and whose creation was a response to recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
It appears @fordnation and the Ontario Government have cut the Indigenous Culture Fund from the Ontario Arts Council. Staff have been laid off.
The fund was a response to the TRC.
This is shameful.#ForThePeople, but not Indigenous people.
— Jesse Wente (@jessewente) December 14, 2018
Later that day, NDP culture critic Jill Andrew tweeted that the Ford government has cut $2.25 million from the Indigenous Culture Fund and $5 million from the Ontario Arts Council’s base funding. These cuts have led to job losses.
The government's cut of $2.25 million to the Indigenous Culture Fund at the Ontario Arts Council is a disturbing step back from the TRC's Calls to Action. This and the $5 million cut to @ONArtsCouncil's base funding is an alarming attack on arts and culture. #onpoli #Culture https://t.co/4mRfTm3qVZ
— Dr. Jill Andrew (@JILLSLASTWORD) December 14, 2018
Proposed: Buyouts for non-unionized public staff
The Ford government is offering buyouts to non-unionized public staffers in order to cut costs, according to an internal government memo obtained by multiple media outlets. The buyout package has been available since 2013, but is now being expanded to non-union employees, as reported by The Canadian Press. Staff can apply for buyouts between January 1 and February 28; the memo states that this kind of buyout is being implemented to address “fiscal challenges” without resorting to firings.
Cancelled: Funding for the Ontario College of Midwives
On December 12, Ford cut all provincial funding for the Ontario College of Midwives, which had received government support for the last 25 years. The College is a regulatory body that oversees more than 950 midwives who deliver 15% of the province’s babies. Those registered midwives also care for more than 12% of Ontario’s expectant mothers.
A statement from the College explains that the province revoked its operational grants retroactively from April 1, 2018. It had requested $750,533 in funding this year and it received about $799,000 in 2017.
While the statement notes that “careful stewardship” of its resources means that the cuts will “have no impact on the public,” it is likely that member midwives will see an annual fee increase.
Proposed: Changes to childcare, environmental and labour regulations
As part of an omnibus bill—which proposed changes designed to reduce red tape across a variety of businesses—tabled on December 6, the Ford government wants to increase the number of kids that at-home and unlicensed daycare providers are allowed to care for. The proposed changes would mean that:
- unlicensed and at-home providers could care for three children under the age of two (as opposed to two, as it currently stands)
- an at-home provider with two caregivers could care for six children under the age of two (as opposed to four, as it currently stands)
- providers won’t have to include their own children in the total number of children under care once their child turns four (as opposed to once their child turns six, as it currently stands)
The Ford government says these changes will make it easier for daycare operators to run “viable” businesses and also for parents to find childcare spaces and get back to work, while critics suggest they will put kids at increased risk due to inadequate supervision—such as what happened to two-year-old Eva Ravikovich, who passed away in 2013 after being left in a hot car for several hours by her unlicensed daycare provider in Vaughan, Ont. The provider had 35 children in her care at the time of Eva’s death and was later sentenced to 22 months in jail.
As part of the same bill, the Ford government also proposed changes that would allow municipalities to exempt commercial and industrial developers from regulations related to the environment—including anti-sprawl legislation—and also rules that protect the Great Lakes and other sources of drinking water. (As it stands, municipalities wishing to bypass these regulations for developers must post public notice and hold hearings before doing so.)
After 7 people died, 2,000+ got sick in Walkerton, the province created the Clean Water Act. Nearly 19 years later, new @fordnation rules would circumvent those protections. A Walkerton resident & environmental advocates say it would be a massive setback: https://t.co/t8JPWo7WSF
— Jennifer Pagliaro (@jpags) December 10, 2018
Also as part of the same bill, the Ford government has proposed loosening current rules that require municipalities, and institutions like hospitals and universities, to use unionized contractors for infrastructure projects.
The omnibus bill will be up for debate in Ontario legislature in February 2019.
Not up for debate (according to Doug Ford): The recognition of gender identity
On November 19, Ford told reporters that Resolution R4—to debate whether or not the party should recognize gender identity, which was passed during a three-day PC convention this past weekend—is “non-binding, so it’s done.” As the Toronto Star notes, it’s unclear how Ford can halt a resolution that has already been voted on, but a spokesperson for Ford has said he “will explore every option as leader of the Ontario PC Party to prevent this resolution from moving forward.”
Up for debate (according to the Ontario PC Party): The recognition of gender identity
On November 17, the Ontario PC Party passed a resolution to debate whether or not the party should recognize gender identity (a.k.a. “our deeply held, internal sense of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither”). The resolution posits that gender identity theory is “a highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology.’” If passed into policy, the Ontario PC government has said it will remove the teaching and promotion of gender identity theory from Ontario schools and sex-ed curriculum.
#BREAKING: Sources tell @globalnews the @OntarioPCParty just passed Resolution R4. @TGranicAllen resolution that says gender identity is not real & “an PC government will remove the teaching and promotion of “gender identity theory” from schools and its curriculum” #ONpoli
— Travis Dhanraj (@Travisdhanraj) November 17, 2018
The resolution—officially named Resolution R4—was passed during a three-day policy convention held in Etobicoke, Ont. and will be debated at next year’s convention.
Resolution R4 was originally put forward by former Ontario PC candidate Tanya Granic Allen. (Allen was dropped by the PC party before the 2018 general election after a 2014 video surfaced in which she spoke negatively about gay marriage.)
Trans advocate Jayce Carver says that even debating gender identity is “dangerous,” as it can make youth feel afraid and as though they can’t exist within the school system. Speaking to CBC, Carver said, “We have a government currently in power that’s trying to erase our identities…That is scary.”
Cancelled: Rent control in new buildings, three provincial watchdog positions and more
In a fall economic statement delivered on November 15, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli announced multiple cuts, including:
- The elimination of rent controls for tenants moving into new buildings (though there will be no changes to existing rent control at this time). Fedeli says this is intended to spur the construction of new, affordable rental units
- Three of Ontario’s nine legislative officer positions, including the child and youth commissioner (which monitors and investigates abuse within the province’s child welfare system) and the environmental commissioner (a watchdog position that ensures the provincial government abides by provincial environmental laws), as well as the French language commissioner
- A proposed French language university
- A planned surtax on high-earning Ontarians proposed by the Liberal government that would have generated $275 million in revenue
- Per-vote subsidies for political parties in time for the 2022 election (the small—around $2—subsidies that a political party receives for each vote, provided it receives at least two percent of the popular vote)
In addition to these cuts, Fedeli announced a new tax credit for low-income earners called LIFT (low-income individuals and family tax credit), which he says will mean that most individuals who earn less than $30,000 a year will not pay Ontario personal income tax.
Finally, Fedeli also announced that the LCBO and Beer stores will now be able to open from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days a week.
Once again, the Conservatives blamed the cuts on the $15 billion provincial deficit it says it inherited from the Wynne government.
Cancelled: Funding for three university satellite campuses
On October 23, the Ontario Conservatives cancelled funding that the previous Liberal government had promised for three planned satellite campuses: $90 million each for a Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton and a Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton, as well as $127.3 million earmarked for a York University/Seneca College campus in Markham.
Cancelled: Labour reform (Bill 148)
- guarantees part-time workers will be paid the same rate a full-time workers doing the same job
- orders employers to pay workers for three hours if their shift is cancelled with less than 48 hours notice
- gives workers three weeks of vacation after five years of employment, as well as 10 personal days a year—two of which must be paid
It’s also the same bill that introduced the minimum wage increase to $14/hour in 2018 (from $11.60), followed by an increase to $15/hour that was scheduled to happen on January 1, 2019. (Scrapping the $15 minimum wage was a campaign promise that provincial finance minister Laurie Scott said the PCs would keep in a September 14 opinion piece in the Financial Post.)
Ford’s justification for scrapping Bill 148? He considers it to be a “job killer” that he alleges has already cost the Ontario economy 60,000 jobs.
That said, his government has yet to take any formal steps to repeal or replace the bill, notes Pam Frache, the Ontario coordinator of the Fight for $15 and Fairness.
Cancelled: Nearly half of Toronto city council
Ford initially announced his plans to reduce the size of city council in late July.
On September 10, Justice Edward Belobaba ruled against Ford’s proposed Bill 5—an act that would cut the number of Toronto city councillors from 47 to 25—due to it being unconstitutional and infringing on candidate’s and voter’s right to freedom of expression as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In response, Ford said he would not accept that ruling and planned on invoking the “notwithstanding clause”—a legal loophole that allows federal or provincial leaders to enact laws that go against sections of the Charter. Essentially, it allows political leaders to not follow legislation that they don’t agree with. Before Ford’s latest actions, this clause had never been used by the provincial government in Ontario. (In fact, it’s only been used around 15 times in Canadian history)
On September 19, Ontario’s Court of Appeal sided with the Ford government, with its three-judge panel noting in its decision that “unfairness alone does not establish a Charter breach.” This means that there will indeed be 25 wards instead of 47 in Toronto’s upcoming municipal election on October 22.
Cancelled: The Basic Income Project
On August 1, Children, Community and Social Services minister Lisa MacLeod announced that the PCs would be ending the Liberal government’s pilot project into providing Ontarians with a no-strings-attached “basic income.” The pilot involved 4,000 people earning less than $34,000 annually who were given up to $17,000. Unlike traditional welfare, the payment not conditional upon employment status. Couples would receive up to $24,000 and those with disabilities were eligible for up to an additional $6,000. The experiment began in April 2017 and was set to last three years.
In her announcement of the pilot cancellation, MacLeod said that it was scrapped because it wasn’t working, although she was unable to provide any data to clarify what that meant. There were also no details on how the program would be wound down for those currently supported by it. This comes on the heels of another announcement on July 31, when MacLeod said the government would increase disability support rates by 1.5% instead of the 3% promised by the Liberals before the election.
“We need to do more than just help people remain mired in poverty,” MacLeod told reporters. “We’re going to hit the pause button on the previous government’s patchwork system and replace it with a system that helps stabilize people in need and support them to succeed.” She went on to say that the government had set itself a 100-day deadline to formulate a plan to revamp the social assistance system in Ontario.
Cancelled: Changes to sex-ed curriculum
Starting this September, Ontario schools will revert back to teaching the 1998 sex-ed curriculum. On July 11, the newly-appointed Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, announced that the Ontario government would repeal the changes made to the sex-ed curriculum introduced by the Liberal government in 2015. The updated curriculum aimed to better reflect the issues children face today, including topics such as same-sex relationships, online safety and gender identity—all of which are not part of the 1998 curriculum that students be taught in September. Ford and the Ministry of Education plan to consult parents on how to update the sex-ed curriculum moving forward.
Cancelled: Hydro One’s CEO and its board of directors
On July 11, Ford announced the retirement of Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt, effective immediately. Schmidt will leave with a $400,000 lump sum payment, a far cry from the estimated $10.7 million severance he would be entitled to if he was removed by the board of directors. According to a statement from Hydro One, Schmidt will not be entitled to severance. The remaining Hydro One board members will resign and be replaced on a staggered basis over the next month.
During the election campaign, Ford promised that Schmidt would be removed from Hydro One (reportedly “livid” over the CEO’s salary), even if it meant replacing the entire board. “I’m happy to say we kept our promise. The CEO and the board of Hydro One, they’re done, they’re gone,” Ford told reporters outside of his Queen’s Park office.
Cancelled: Writing sessions to revise Indigenous education curriculum
The Conservative government will go ahead with planned revisions to Ontario’s curriculum, updated to reflect the experiences of Indigenous Canadians. These updates were a key recommendation of 2015’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and will include teaching the dark history of residential schools. What they have cancelled, however, are the curriculum writing sessions—which were supposed to happen this week—to further update the curriculum. The Ministry of Education has said that the cancellations are the result on the new ban on non-essential travel.
Cancelled: Hiring in the public sector
Even before he was sworn in as premier on June 29, Doug Ford announced a hiring freeze across the public service. Additionally, Ford shut down all discretionary spending, so no non-essential travel, for instance, or food at meetings. This freeze will be in place until the Progressive Conservatives have done a line-by-line audit of the province’s finances. (Frontline workers, like fire fighters and the police, are exempt. And teachers and doctors don’t actually work for the public service, so this doesn’t apply to them, either.)
Cancelled: Free prescriptions for children and young adults with private coverage
On June 30, the Ford government’s health minister Christine Elliott announced that the PCs would be dialling back the Liberal OHIP+ extension. When the program came into effect last year, all Ontarians under 25 qualified for free prescriptions to 4,400 medications covered under the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. Under Ford, however, this will now apply to only to under 25s who don’t already have drug coverage under private insurance. (Those who do have private insurance will bill their insurers first for prescription costs, and the government second.)
Cancelled: The cap-and-trade program
One of Ford’s key campaign promises was to lower the price of gas by 10 cents per litre. The primary way he planned to achieve this was by scrapping the cap-and-trade program. Basically, this is Ontario withdrawing from a joint marketplace with Quebec and California in which companies could buy and sell credits that allowed them to produce carbon emissions. The idea behind the program was that companies would have to “pay” to pollute, and so would be incentivized into maker greener investments in their businesses. The extra cost to businesses to buy these carbon credits was passed on to consumers, and again, this was designed to spur people to make more conscious, environmentally-friendly choices. Cancelling the program was Ford’s first act as premier. When he did so, he said in a statement: “Every cent spent from the cap-and-trade slush fund is money that has been taken out of the pockets of Ontario families and businesses. We believe that this money belongs back in the pockets of people. Cancelling the cap-and-trade carbon tax will result in lower prices at the gas pump, on your home heating bills and on virtually every other product that you buy.”
Cancelled: The Green Ontario Fund
The Green Ontario Fund was financed (to the tune of around $377 million) by proceeds from the cap-and-trade program, and was designed to help people retrofit their homes and businesses with green technologies via a rebate system. The rebates applied to things like smart thermostats, more energy-efficient windows and other improvements to reduce a building’s carbon footprint. The government announced in June that it would wind down by September.
Cancelled: $100 million in funding for school repairs
Another consequence of cancelling the cap-and-trade program is that school boards across Ontario are suddenly short $100 million in money earmarked for repairs to its facilities via the cap-and-trade-backed Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. The Toronto District School Board, for example, has a $300 million annual budget for repairs, of which $25 million came from this fund. It has a total repair backlog of $4 billion.
With files from Rachel Chen, Katherine Singh, Jessie Borsellino and The Canadian Press
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