Questions about the status of funding for anti-racism initiatives are being raised in the Ontario legislature amid suggestions from the NDP that the government has earmarked $1,000 for anti-racism initiatives in 2019-20.
Treasury Board president Peter Bethlenfalvy tabled budget estimates last week, which provide a snapshot of the government’s spending priorities over the next year.
Ontario’s anti-racism directorate (ARD) was established in 2016 with a mission to hold public consultations on practices like carding and street checks. The directorate was also tasked with releasing reports that would help develop an anti-racism strategy for the province.
According to 2018 estimates published by the previous Liberal government, there was $800,000 for anti-racism initiatives. However, officials said there has been a change in accounting practices and that amount was lumped into an account called “services.”
The government noted in a section called “cost recovery items” that the figure of $1,000 is regularly used to demonstrate “nominal value.”
“In cases where the anticipated recovery of costs of an item is equal to or greater than the expenditures, the balance of the item is shown at the nominal value of $1,000,” the expenditure estimates table of contents said.
Global News asked for a detailed financial breakdown on Tuesday, but it was not provided by the time of publication. Officials declined to provide the breakdown Tuesday evening when asked again.
Overall, the directorate’s budget will be $4,920,000 in 2019, a decrease of $200,000 over last year.
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Kitchener MPP Laura Mae Lindo, the NDP critic for anti-racism, raised concerns about the small amount dedicated to anti-racism initiatives during question period on Tuesday.
“Can the premier please explain what work $1,000 can do to combat racism, which is sadly on the rise in the province?” she asked Premier Doug Ford.
Ford did not answer, and instead directed the question to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
“The member opposite is using numbers, frankly, that have no basis in fact,” said Jones.
“Let’s be clear: we are asking everyone in the province to play a small part in ensuring we bring Ontario’s fiscal health back to order. Lindo said that while more money is allocated towards staff and advertising, there is “no money to do the actual anti-racism work.” She also said significant work had been accomplished thus far.
“The story that these estimates tell us is that the Conservatives are just not interested in doing racial justice work,” she said.
Marion Ringuette, Jones’ press secretary, refuted Lindo’s questions in a statement to Global News Tuesday afternoon.
“The ARD’s budget decreased by $200,000 as a result of funds that went unspent by the previous Liberal government. The ARD’s budget is $4.9 million, as you can see in the estimates. Core funding has not changed,” she wrote.
“Our government has consulted with the team at the ARD as we’ve put forward the most ambitious agenda in Ontario’s history. The Minister and Minister’s office have worked directly with the ARD team, and will continue to do so.”
A few examples of consultations cited by the government included new policing legislation, recruitment of correctional officers and broader training for the Ontario Public Service.
Scarborough-Guildwood Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter echoed Lindo’s disapproval.
“The estimates just underscore the de-prioritization of the work of the anti-racism directorate and the need to invest more resources to combat this concern in our province,” Hunter told Global News after question period.
“Racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia are on the rise in Ontario. We’ve seen incidents occur and, at that time, we are seeing the Ford government make cuts to this directorate that is badly needed.”
Anti-racism activist Desmond Cole told Global News that he believes Ford doesn’t look at fighting racism as a priority.
“Look at his history,” Cole said.
“While he was a city councillor, he went after places that poor people and racialized people rely on like libraries, basic social programs; he saw these as efficiencies.”