TORONTO – Ontario is planning to cut about $46 million this year from the provincial police budget, as the Progressive Conservative government tries to trim the province’s deficit.
The government’s expenditure estimates for this year show the funding drop, as well as scores of other cuts, including to health research, Legal Aid Ontario, library services and tourism offices.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the Ontario Provincial Police leadership understands that the province’s fiscal health needs to be restored. Ontario’s deficit is at $11.7 billion, which the government doesn’t expect to eliminate before the next election.
“We have some very creative, proactive things that the OPP are doing, like a very simple basic thing of adding more oil changes to our fleet of cars that will allow them to stay on the road longer,” Jones said in the legislature Monday.
“I have great faith in the leadership of the OPP to be able to manage these challenges within their existing allotment.”
The largest funding cut comes from “field and traffic services,” with corporate and strategic services also seeing a sizable hit. The budgets for investigations and organized crime and fleet management are being increased.
A spokeswoman for Jones said no police officers will lose their jobs.
“We’re confident community safety will be enhanced, as the OPP is better managed and renews their focus on protecting our families, standing up for victims, and holding criminals accountable for their actions,” Marion Ringuette said in a statement.
“The reduction relates to the OPP becoming more efficient by streamlining corporate offices, improving maintenance so vehicles last longer, and making financial reallocations of funds from field and traffic to other areas within the OPP.”
The former Liberal government’s spending put the sustainability of community safety work at risk, she said. The Liberals balanced the budget in 2017-18, but then increased spending in a number of areas ahead of the 2018 election, plunging the province back into the red.
Later Monday, Jones announced $20 million toward the construction of a new OPP highway safety division detachment in Mississauga.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the overall funding cut “doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
“At the same time as we are having experiments with the increased speed limits on highways, you would think the government would think twice before cutting back on the OPP budget,” she said.
In question period, Jones dismissed a suggestion that a pilot project to raise speed limits to 110 kilometres an hour on sections of three 400-series highways will have “devastating impacts.”
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Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he was surprised to see the funding cut, given how often government members talk about being pro-police. He called it “completely ironic” that Environment Minister Rod Phillips recently decried an extra $1.4 million he said the federal carbon tax will cost Ontario’s correctional facilities and OPP detachments by 2022, but then cut their budgets.
The expenditure estimates also show a $36-million cut to the correctional services program.
Ringuette said the government is investing in staff mental health, building a new jail in Thunder Bay and the eastern region, enhancing security and addressing the problem of drugs in correctional institutions.