Gravity is such a wonderful thing. It is one of the only things in the universe that we can truly count on to be there and act with a predictable, consistent, known force. Since the very dawn of time, we have counted on gravity in so many aspects of our life. For example, gravity is partly responsible for bringing needed rain to the ground for our crops. It’s also responsible for the constant flow of our rivers and streams to fill the lakes and oceans. Scientists and inventors count on gravity’s consistency in creating some of the world’s greatest inventions or even simple ones like the old grandfather clock. Gravity keeps pulling down on the weights that keep the pendulum going in perfect rhythm.
Even politicians know how to use gravity. Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris was a master of utilizing the forces of gravity. His government was the one that chose to download so many Provincial responsibilities down to the municipal level. Now, I have no proof of this, but I have a strong belief that Harris based the municipal downloading concept on personal observations of “things” that he liked to send rolling downhill. Just ask anyone who holds a basic level position in a large corporation or organization about what the fastest “thing” in the world is that rolls downhill to them from higher ranking superiors.
In recent weeks, municipal leaders in Ontario have been calling desperately for funding and support to help them get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Municipalities across the province form part of the multifaceted front line to protect people from the virus. They have been forced to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to cover unexpected costs while at the same time experiencing historic loss of tax revenue. Municipalities now find themselves halfway through the fiscal year having to cover enormous monstrous bills but have few choices on how to recoup these funds other than by raising property taxes, user fees and charges. That and/or cutting the essential services that all of us truly count upon. Such cuts or property tax increases will only serve to hurt the very people that the federal and provincial governments worked so hard to protect during the pandemic. Clearly such plans are counterintuitive.
For two years before the pandemic, Doug Ford used a page from Mike Harris’s playbook and made deep cuts to municipal funding, including cuts to public health, ambulance services, and child care. Ford also took away municipalities’ promised share of the existing gas tax transfer.
After weeks of wrangling and bargaining between the Federal and Ontario Governments, Ford announced that Ontario would join with the feds in distributing one-time funding of up to $4 billion. Well, if this were just to kick things off as a longer term initiative, this might actually help get the economy going again. But Ford says this is a one-time shot in the arm.
As I said above, “things” roll downhill so very quickly until they hit bottom, leaving our municipal partners to do much of the heavy lifting. This heavy lifting includes funding public health, child care, municipal long-term care facilities and more. While the funding recently announced might give a bit of breathing room to municipalities that are hurting from pandemic costs, it falls incredibly short of what will be needed to protect jobs and public services over the long-term.
Municipal councils across the province are being forced to hash out how to cut costs right now. Such decisions can’t be delayed. They are having to talk about how to:
Provide needed support to children, families and seniors
Which essential services to cut or reduce, including such mainstays as fire, police and paramedic services as well as public health
Closing public parks, cultural venues and recreation programs
Cuts, layoffs and postponing hiring of needed municipal staff and associated services
Cancelling or further delaying critical infrastructure repairs and improvements and much needed community housing projects
Giving someone down on their luck in life $10 might address their immediate hunger, but they will need ongoing assistance to help them access shelter and training to be able to improve their overall situation. The people of Ontario have been hit like never before in the modern era. The situation for the down-and-out person is the same for Ontario municipalities.
Doug Ford’s cuts were deep. Without a long-term commitment to stable municipal funding, Ontario’s municipalities will be forced to impose steep property tax hikes, lay off more staff and make deep cuts to the services that people count on. That’s not a very prudent path to recovery.
I have to agree with a recent column by my federal counterpart, MP Carol Hughes. Carol noted that the common response by many fiscal analysts is that we all should be prepared for years of austerity as a result of the spending measures taken to save Canadian families, businesses and the overall economy. Carol stated that the idea that austerity will grow the economy is among the first misplaced concepts that needs to be abandoned if we are ever to recover from this pandemic. She’s right. Just as the ancient Roman poet and philosopher Titus Maccius Plautus wrote, “You have to spend money to make money.”
Yes, gravity is among the most reliable and predictable forces in the universe. But if we choose our paths wisely our government can lessen the certainty and force of being hit by what comes rolling down-hill at us.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député