Budget reductions deep and cruel, says MPP Mantha

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, pictured at a St. Patrick’s Day event, has received mixed reviews for his government’s first budget. Shutterstock

ONTARIO—Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha says cuts were definitely expected in the Ontario budget delivered last week. However, he said, the cuts made were especially deep and cruel and will affect areas like rural Ontario and particularly Northern Ontario. In line with the MPP’s opinion comes news from the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) that municipal land ambulance services are going to be significantly restructured.

In a letter to Ontario DSB CAOs and chiefs of paramedic services dated April 16, Pat Vanini, executive director of AMO wrote, “today we were told that it was MOHLTC (Ministry of Health and Long Term Care) intent to move 52 ambulance services to 10 through restructuring. This is apparently what the phrase ‘by integrating emergency health services into Ontario’s health care system’ means in the budget document.”

AMO is shocked with today’s news and deeply concerned,” wrote Mr. Vanini. “There is no ready information on the government’s plan to do this restructuring, how it was determined, let alone what happens to cost sharing among other governance and funding matters. Municipal governments contribute about $720 million and the province about $580 million to what has been a cost-shared service, although not a true 50-50 one.”

“Previous news that the province was improving dispatch and improving hospital capacity to receive patients was welcomed as both are the main contributors to ambulance service challenges. MOHLTC is contacting various stakeholder groups with an interest and we have advised MOHLTC that letters to each of the 52 service managers must go out urgently,” continued Mr. Vanini.

“You will no doubt have many questions—as does AMO,” wrote Mr. Vanini. “We will work to get additional information from the ministry on its decision and approach and what our own next steps might be.”

“For some, you already know the provincial budget was very clear on their intent to restructure public health—to move from 32 service managers to 10 by 2020/2021 and that it will also phase in an adjustment to the provincial-municipal cost-sharing arrangement for public health. This and some other matters will impact municipal governments in a substantive manner.” 

“What we are seeing is huge cuts to a variety of ministries,” said Mr. Mantha late last week after Finance Minister Vic Fedeli delivered the budget news for this year. “One billion has been cut from the Child, Community and Social Service ministry, $700 million from Training and Colleges for post-secondary education and a threat to university and colleges that as much as 60 percent of their remaining funding could be withheld—and health care funding is being squeezed out as well.” 

“There will be an increase in class sizes for secondary and elementary school levels as well as a reduction in teachers,” said Mr. Mantha. “We have also seen the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs budget cut significantly.”

“There is nothing for Francophone Services, or infrastructure investment; what happened to help for Northern Ontario? There is nothing for Northern Ontario, such as for the four laning of Highway 69, The Northlander or investing in the ACR (Algoma Central Railway),” continued Mr. Mantha. 

Mr. Mantha noted the Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs ministry has taken a $283 million cut, Ministry of Northern Development and Mines a $566 million cut and the government has signaled there will be more cuts to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry of $25 million. There wasn’t even lip service to the billion dollars in funding needed to build road to the Ring of Fire or a commitment to meaningful consultations with impacted First Nations and there are significant cuts in funding to the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. The government announced its intention to interfere with the successful Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.” 

“There will be pain and hurt for a lot of people and ministries for a long, long time,” said Mr. Mantha. “It was a dramatically, Liberal/Tory same old story type of budget.”

Among those seeing a cut in funding is Legal Aid Ontario, which saw a major hit in the budget, having $133 million pulled and the organization can no longer use provincial funds for refugee and immigration cases.

“Overall provincially, we have seen a 30 percent reduction in funds, with $133 million cut this year and larger cuts in the next couple of years,” said Michael Shain, of the Manitoulin Legal Aid Clinic. “How  will these cuts impact legal aid? It’s definitely going to have a negative impact. I can’t imagine there won’t be negative impacts on services. It will be significant.”

Glen Hare, Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation said, “the Ford government’s first budget out of the gate certainly set a tone of system changes and investments to a healthier economy while making good on their commitment to reduce the provincial deficit.”

“Notable in this budget is the reduction in capacity of the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs which is very disheartening,” said Grand Council Chief Hare. “The Anishinabek Nation has signaled that the priorities of our leadership towards improving the wellbeing of our communities will continue with vigor.”

“First Nations are familiar with tightening our belts and making the best use of limited resources,” he said. “In spite of this, many of our communities are forging ahead creating strong business and other opportunities and will continue to do so.”

“I am pleased the budget 2019 does contain promise in some sectors; that there appears to be intended inclusion related to economic opportunities, investments to long term care, and other notable commitments,” continued Grand Council Chief Hare. “The Anishinabek Nation has long advocated for opportunities that will benefit the lives of our children, families and communities—this budget contains very little in that regard. The proposed implications to the environment, social programs, education and health in the short term and over time are a deepening concern. Investments, collaboration and working in partnership are key to the ongoing effort to transform Anishinabek Nation communities from the status quo struggles we encounter to one full of potential and promise.”

As previously announced, Local Health Integration Networks will be replaced with a single super agency and a board of directors with a single CEO, reportedly saving the province $350 million a year. That agency will be responsible for overseeing everything from hospitals to community health, mental health services, cancer care, organ donations and home care. 

The 25 public health units will also be reduced to 10, resulting in another savings of $200 million, Mr. Fedeli said. 

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli tabled the $163.4 billion budget in the Ontario legislature last week, about $5 billion larger than the last budget, but one he said will be balanced by 2023-2024, the year following the next election.

“We have developed a reasonable path to balance,” Mr. Fedeli said. “Our path to balance in five years is a thoughtful and a measured approach to take. Our entire premise is to protect what matters most.”
Mr. Fedeli outlined that program expenses over the 2023-24 total review is projected to grow at an average annual rate of three percent, while program expense over the same period is expected to grow at an average rate of one percent. 

A new child care tax credit is in place, providing up to $6,000 per child; the government is also promising to create 30,000 child-care spaces over five years.

Free dental care will also be provided for low income seniors

Hospitals are receiving a boost of $384 million, which is an increase of 2.05 percent, however, the Ontario Hospital Association said the sector needs a 3.45 percent increase to maintain staffing levels.

Education spending is going to increase by 1.2 percent, however that is largely due to higher student enrolment instead of new programs. As has been reported, the province has announced education changes, including increasing high school class sizes.

The province has started looking at how to constrain growth in public sector wages for business, faster write-offs on capital investments are expected to provide $3.8 billion in corporate tax relief over six years. That allowance is being made instead of cutting the corporate tax rate from 11.5 percent to 10.5 percent as the government had promised in the election. 

The budget contains no new taxes, said Mr. Fedeli, who promised legislation that would require the government to develop a debt burden reduction strategy.