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Toronto urges residents to push Ottawa to fill city funding gap

Toronto deputy mayor Jennifer McKelvie sits in the council chamber ahead of the budget meeting on Wednesday, Feb.15, 2023. The City of Toronto is doubling down on its demand the federal government help cover a massive pandemic-related budget shortfall by encouraging residents to contact their local MP. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — The City of Toronto is urging residents to call on the federal government to provide $235 million to help the municipality cover a massive pandemic-related budget shortfall.

In a written statement released Tuesday, the city said the federal government had committed to match provincial funding to cover expenses largely related to reduced transit revenues and increased shelter costs during the pandemic.

Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie said the city is now asking residents to contact their local federal representative — by sending an email the city has provided a template for — to demand Ottawa support Toronto. 

"We are standing up for Toronto — Canada’s economic engine — and asking residents to join us in this fight," she wrote in the statement.

"The City of Toronto does not have the resources or revenue tools to address the unprecedented financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. We need the Government of Canada to keep Prime Minister Trudeau’s election campaign promise."

Toronto's budget that was approved by council in February was balanced on the assumption the provincial and federal governments would come up with a combined $933 million to bail out the city's pandemic-related shortfalls.

The city email template residents are being encouraged to use states that without the federal funding, "future frontline services will be affected."

A spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister and federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday the Liberal government has contributed more to Toronto "than any federal government in Canadian history."

"With regard to further funding in response to budgetary shortfalls, the provincial government has both the responsibility and the fiscal capacity — as a result of significant federal financial support for Ontario and Toronto during the pandemic — to support the city," Adrienne Vaupshas wrote in a statement. 

In late March, Freeland had said Toronto had received "massive support'' from Ottawa throughout the pandemic, including $1 billion as part of a program to help municipalities recover lost revenue.

Coun. Gary Crawford, who is also the chair of the city's budget committee, said Toronto has tried its best to cover its pandemic-related expenses.

"Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have identified more than $2.5 billion in city-led savings, offsets and mitigation efforts," he wrote in a statement Tuesday.

"This year, we introduced the largest residential property tax increase since amalgamation, and we have increased other taxes and fees ... It’s time for the Government of Canada to keep its promise."

McKelvie has previously said the city's next mayor will have to oversee cuts to services if help from other levels of government isn't secured. 

The city said it recently received $235 million in funding from the provincial government and noted Ontario has committed to providing $37 million in additional transit funding. Toronto said it has asked Ottawa to provide "at minimum" a matching $235 million to help with the budget shortfall.

Toronto votes in a mayoral byelection on June 26. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2023.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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