Northern Ontario municipalities concerned about cuts

SUDBURY – The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) made their feelings clear they are not in favour of all the cuts that the province of Ontario outlined in its most recent budget announcements, especially since these cuts affect Nothern Ontario residents and that a downloading of costs for services onto municipalities means additional costs to municipal taxpayers. 

FONOM President Danny Whalen expressed those concerns after last week’s annual FONOM conference held in Sudbury. 

“There were a lot of topics up for discussion at the meeting, the reduction in public health units, changes to ambulance services, cuts in half to library funding to libraries and much more,” he said. “The province says they are making these changes and cuts to help taxpayers, but they need to realize that there is only one taxpayer, those taxpayers who live in our communities and pay taxes. With cuts comes costs and services being downloaded onto municipalities, who in turn have to ask their local taxpayers for more of their hard-earned money to make up these differences.”

Mr. Whalen pointed out the province has also announced it is freezing EMS (ambulance) funding. “The province is telling us that the funding is being frozen to 2018 levels, but in 2018 they were actually taken from 2017. So that means they are two years in the hole with frozen funding,” he continued. “The province is reducing the number of health units from 35 to 10 in the province—this is going to have a major impact.”

Mr. Whalen noted the FONOM delegates had the chance to have a sit down question and answer session with two provincial ministers, Steve Clark, minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Minister of Culture Michael Tibollo. “We certainly appreciated both these ministers showing up, but overall we were disappointed with the lack of participation by the province (ministers) as a whole.”

Derek Stephens, a councillor with the Municipality of Central Manitoulin said the sentiment he felt at the conference was one of “anti-government, even though the government hasn’t announced everything they are going to do or how they will put in place all the proposed cuts.” 

Mr. Stephens likens the political landscape  “to another Common Sense Revolution. The (Progressive Conservative) Mike Harris government was doing the same thing as the Ford government is now.”

“No, nobody is happy these days,” said Mr. Stephens, “and no one is willing  to wait to see how this will all shake out. For instance, we don’t know if the announced cuts are all going to be downloaded on municipalities, this hasn’t been announced yet. Let’s face it, this government was saddled with a huge deficit from the previous Liberal government and they are looking at what it can do to decrease costs, the same as us as municipalities. You can’t run on a deficit forever.”

Mr. Stephens said cuts should be made, for instance “in the Hydro One CEO salary, who is making $10 million a year. We (municipalities) have to do the same, look at where we can make cuts, in old schools and go for more cost efficient modern facilities. Sometimes tough decisions have to be made.”

According to an article in the Northern Life, May 12 edition, the two provincial cabinet ministers attending the FONOM session Friday made it clear to delegates that cuts to the provincial budget won’t be reversed. Mr. Clark said the Tories inherited a $15 billion deficit from the Liberals, so tough decisions are needed to get it under control. He said he is open to talking with municipalities on ways to reduce costs or find efficiencies, but a big boost in funding is not in the cards, he said, noting there is isn’t any more money in the provincial coffers. 

Mr. Clark added that the province’s focus on addressing the deficit while protecting frontline service is a challenging process, the Northern Life reported.