A $14 billion federal financial aid offer to all of Canada’s provinces and territories isn’t enough, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday, noting the cost of his province’s COVID-19 response alone is expected to be $23 billion.
Ford made his case for billions more in funding hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined the federal offer to the provinces and territories.
The premier said his government had ramped up spending in the health-care system and in long-term care, while buying personal protective equipment and supporting cash-strapped municipalities.
Ford said no province will be able to address the costs of the pandemic alone.
“The reality is we have a $23 billion problem in Ontario. And $14 billion for all of Canada, it won’t solve the problem,” he said. “$14 billion for all of Canada just won’t cut it.”
Trudeau said Friday morning there will be money to buy personal protective equipment for front-line health workers, for child-care facilities to be able to reopen safely, and for municipal governments to help keep city services like transit running.
How the money is distributed will depend on reaching what Trudeau calls a “safe-restart agreement” between the federal government and each province or territory.
There is likely to be some push back from some premiers over his attempt to direct the general areas on which it should be spent rather than letting them spend it as they see fit.
Making a difference in just one of those areas – municipalities – is a pricey proposition. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates communities across the country, which have been on the front lines of the pandemic, need $10 billion to $15 billion to make up for the loss of revenue resulting from reduced transit fares, user fees and deferred property taxes.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was pleased to see an acknowledgment from Ottawa that cities need help but appeared frustrated at the lack of detail on what his city might actually get out of the deal.
“Today’s first move represents an acknowledgement by the federal government that cities need support from the other governments and that they understand they must help to protect frontline services now,” Tory said in a statement. “Now, we look to the provincial government to indicate what role it intends to play in this partnership to help cities.”
Tory has already warned that a failure by both the federal and provincial governments to come up with a substantial assistance package for Toronto will mean huge service cuts or large tax increases or both, options he calls unacceptable.
“This isn’t just a Toronto issue. This is a major financial issue for all cities in this region and across Canada including Mississauga, Brampton, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Montreal,” said Tory.
“Financial instability threatens our ability to come back strong from covid-19 and to ensure our economy – from coast to coast to coast – comes back strong.”
On Friday, the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus of Ontario pressed for a commitment from both governments.
“This is a now problem, not a tomorrow problem. We need action, not words,” said Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie, who is chairman of the group. “On behalf of Ontario’s big city mayors, please, conclude your negotiations and start supporting our residents and the services we all need to support the recovery.”
The federal government has also said there will be funds for workers to get up to 10 days of paid sick leave if they don’t already have such benefits.
But Ford said when that idea was introduced by Trudeau on a conference call with Canada’s premiers on Thursday, there was very little support outside of British Columbia.
“I don’t support it,” he said. “We have legislation that protects jobs for people if they don’t feel safe. They don’t have to go into work. I’d rather put those funds into long-term care. I’d rather give those funds to municipalities.”
Opposition critics slammed Ford’s comments, with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath saying the sick days are critical to protect workers.
“Workers always deserved paid sick days, and Ford’s attempt to deny this simple public health and human decency measure is horrible,” she said in a statement. “He’s forcing people to make the choice between going in to work when they’re unwell and symptomatic, or being short on the rent or mortgage.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he was disappointed in Ford’s comments.
“The ability to stay home when you are ill should not depend on your wealth or your job,” he said.