Without federal or provincial help, Toronto will have to fire cops, shutter libraries and close subway lines

Mayor John Tory has laid out in the starkest terms so far what it would mean if the higher levels of government don’t come to the table with significant help for Toronto and Canada’s other financially devastated cities.

In a news conference Friday, the mayor laid out a bleak picture of a city that would have fewer subway lines, less frequent transit service, hundreds fewer police officers and less help for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“I believe it is important for everyone, especially Toronto residents and residents of the GTA who rely on Toronto and stable local finances in their own cities, to know how terrible and devastating these cuts would be – like nothing we’ve ever seen if the other governments don’t decide to step forward and invest in the well-being of our cities,” Tory said.

Toronto is facing a best-case scenario shortfall of $1.5 billion in lost revenue this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city would have to raise property taxes by an estimated 47 per cent in order to make up that shortfall, Tory said, adding that such a hike would be “unacceptable.”

In Canada, municipalities fall under provincial jurisdiction. Ontario law prohibits municipalities from running operational deficits, meaning the city cannot simply borrow money to make up for shortfalls in its budget.

Without help from other levels of government or a massive property tax hike, the only remaining option would be drastic cuts to city services.

Among the cuts, more than half-a-billion dollars would be slashed from the TTC’s budget. That would mean service on lines 1 and 2 would be cut in half, while Line 3 (Scarborough) and Line 4 (Sheppard) would be completely shut down.

Service on the city’s busiest streetcar and bus routes would operate only every 10-20 minutes and the city would provide 4 million fewer Wheel-Trans trips.

Millions would also be slashed from the police force, fire service and shelters. Recreation programs, libraries and city-owned long-term care homes would also be cut.

In all, Tory said, some 19,000 city employees would lose their jobs.

The city would also be forced to cancel youth hubs that were set to open in September in order to address the roots of gun violence in the city.

The mayor has been pleading with Ottawa and Queen’s Park for weeks to announce some sort of relief for Canada’s hard-hit municipalities.

So far, his pleas have mostly been greeted with "encouraging words," but not much else.

“I’ve had a lot of encouraging words, but encouraging words don’t buy child care and they don’t buy transit and they don’t buy help for homeless people; they don’t buy anything, quite frankly,” Tory vented Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said little about what help Canada’s cities can expect. Premier Doug Ford, whose government is responsible for Ontario’s municipalities, has said that help for municipalities will be a “big ticket” item and that Ontario can’t help cities unless Ottawa comes on board.

Tory didn’t rule out property tax increases, but said he doesn’t believe they should be necessary if other levels of government come to the table in a proper way.

Asked for a timeline on when the cuts might be implemented, Tory said “the days of reckoning are approaching” and suggested that some cuts might have to be implemented by September without any reassurances of alternate revenues.

The mayor said that even if the projections are off one way or another, thousands of city employees would lose their jobs, a situation that would be “devastating” for the GTA.

“You can cut it any way you want, you can use any number as the base number. The bottom line is this would be a disaster in terms of a working humane, livable city which we’ve created here and there’s no reason for it,” Tory said.

He said when the pandemic first struck, he was reassured that help for cities would come after individuals were helped, but there has been no word since then.

“Plenty of other groups have gotten help from the other governments and I’m very happy about that,” Tory said. “I supported that strongly and still do. But I think that cities, given everything they do to deliver on a lot of the services people rely on – including the most vulnerable people – are in need of that help now.”

According to Tory, the city could be facing the following cuts without help from other governments:

  • $575 million reduction to the TTC
  • Service on line 1 and 2 would be cut in half
  • The Sheppard and Scarborough subway lines would be shut down entirely
  • Streetcar and major bus service would be half as frequent – roughly every 10-20 minutes
  • $73.6M reduction to Wheel-Trans service, eliminating 4 million Wheel-Trans rides per year
  • Toronto Fire Services - $23 million cut
  • Toronto Police Service –$31.3 million would be slashed from the budget, eliminating 500 frontline officers
  • $40 million cut to child care subsidies, eliminating 40,625 subsidies to families
  • $101.5 million would be slashed from shelter services, resulting in a 50 per cent reduction in shelter space
  • $40.8 million would be slashed from the city’s recreation budget, meaning a roughly 50 per cent reduction in recreational services, the closure of 61 community centres and/ or loss of 600,000 hours of recreational programming
  • 50 per cent reduction in spaces in city-owned Long-term care facilities, saving $12 million ( 1,320 spaces would be cut)
  • Library branches would close
  • Subsidies for Toronto Community Housing would have to be reduced
  • New investments that were set to go into effect for youth hubs and spaces to fight the roots of gun violence would have to be cancelled.
  • 19,184 city employees would lose their jobs
  • $451 million in capital projects would be slashed, including transit projects