McNaughton says province not shuffling financial burden onto municipalities

The draft 2019 budget, the last of the multi-year budgets, is seen in London, Ont. on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Daryl Newcombe / CTV London)

LONDON, Ont. - Don't expect the province to bail city hall out of its current budget bind.

On the heels of releasing Ontario's fall economic statement, Labour, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton denies the province is shifting some of its financial burden onto municipalities.

“I have confidence in council locally and all councils right across Southwestern Ontario. Everyone needs to make tough choices at some times. We inherited a fiscal mess in Ontario,” he says.

London’s city treasurer estimates the cost of provincial funding changes and a decision not to double gas tax revenue will total about $10 million a year. That has helped drive the average annual increase to property taxes in London's draft budget to 3.2 per cent - including a 4 per cent increase in 2020.

Coun. Shawn Lewis is blunt about London’s budget crunch.

“If people want to hold somebody responsible, they need to look to their provincial government. They are trying to deal with a massive provincial debt and provincial deficit, but be a partner with us. Don't play a shell game with taxpayers and take it off of your taxes and onto property taxes.”

City council must now decide how loudly it will express frustration with the funding changes to the provincial government.

Knowing that the relationship between the province and a municipality is in a word, complicated, Coun. Michael van Holst sat with McNaughton at an event Thursday outlining Ontario's fall economic statement.

“We've got a challenge and the provincial government has a challenge as well, so rather than put pressure on them, we want to work with them,” he says.

On Tuesday, several members of council expressed a desire to push back against the province's funding changes, but that drew a warning from Mayor Ed Holder about what he called "anti-provincial dialogue.

“I talk with Mayor Holder on a regular basis. We have a strong relationship, strong partnership, as I’ve said, we've invested $104 million in transit,” McNaughton says.

Lewis calls for more cooperation to help municipalities through the funding changes. “Come and talk to us and maybe together we can find some ways to save everybody a little bit of money, but we can't do that if you are just going to dictate to us rather than partner with us.”

Council has asked city departments and outside boards and commissions to develop a list of possible service cuts to reduce costs.