Ontario’s big-city mayors say they are encouraged by Thursday’s emergency COVID-19 funding announcement made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The pledge from Ottawa would see $19 billion for provinces and territories to support “a safe restart” of the Canadian economy, which includes $2 billion to cover municipalities’ operating costs.
The Ontario government is expected to match the funding to help its cities’ budgets.
Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie, who chairs the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO), said his group which represents 70 per cent of Ontarians is happy to hear help is on the way.
“On behalf of Ontario’s big-city mayors, we appreciate that Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Ford have responded to our calls for support and applaud their leadership in addressing this vital issue,” Guthrie said in a statement.
Since April, LUMCO, along with several other organizations representing Canadian and Ontario municipalities, have been calling for emergency funding to cover operating deficits caused by the pandemic.
Municipalities are not allowed to run a deficit in their budgets and must find ways to balance the books.
Revenue dried up when cities closed municipal buildings such as recreation centres and cancelled programming. Amid safety efforts to curb the spread of the deadly virus, some cities made public transit free and some deferred tax payments.
On July 6, Guthrie and other Ontario mayors had warned there would be tax increases, layoffs and cuts if they did not receive support from the upper levels of government.
While it’s unclear how much funding each municipality will receive, LUMCO had asked for $4 billion to be split among Ontario communities.
“While we recognize that there is still work to be done, we are optimistic as we await further details about the terms of the safe restart agreement,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie said the City of Guelph is projecting an operating deficit of $4 million to $8 million, while Toronto Mayor John Tory said his city has faced $1.5 billion in pandemic-related costs.
Tory said Thursday that the deal will have a positive impact on the city’s finances, but added he is also still waiting for details.
“It is my hope that, once we review all the details, it will be clear this will ensure our city is going to be in a much better position to support a strong recovery, both locally and nationally,” he said.
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the impact on the city’s financial budget is expected to be around $15 million.
“This agreement is a welcome start,” he tweeted.
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger also said they also have “extraordinary expenses” and lost revenue due to COVID-19.
“The devil is in the details and we await specifics on how it will be applied,” he tweeted.
The federal funding will help provinces fund things like health care, child care, contact tracing and personal protective equipment.
The agreement also includes sick leave, fully funded by the federal government.