Doug Ford’s chaotic austerity
Why, when there’s so much money in Toronto, are services disappearing?
Toronto is, at the moment, awash in money. Multi-million-dollar houses attract bidding wars, the fanciest restaurants are booked for months on end, $1,000-a-ticket fundraisers sell out quickly and courtside seats for the Raptors—if you can get them—go for some $1,300 apiece. If you want to rent an office downtown, you’ll have to pay a fortune to sublet the corner of someone’s desk, where you can squat with your laptop for a few hours a week. Parking? Forget about it. Most downtown lots are now condo construction zones.
All this prosperity and economic activity, all the wealth trading hands on Bay Street, makes it hard to comprehend why, provincially, we are living in an age of austerity. If we can’t invest in health care and education now, then when will it be a good time? But Doug Ford was not elected to raise taxes. He was not elected to tap the prosperity of the country’s biggest city and invest in future generations. On the contrary, he entered Queen’s Park with a mandate to shrink government and erase the $7.4-billion deficit. And he promised to do all that without eliminating a single job.
It’s been a chaotic process. For the last year and a half, since Ford has been in Queen’s Park, he has made several big announcements about cuts, often without consulting stakeholders first. I wouldn’t recommend that strategy.
The response has been swift, fierce and vocal. People in charge of the services on the chopping block, as well as Ontarians who rely on those services, have mobilized, attended protests, drafted petitions and launched social media campaigns. And it’s worked. The premier apparently doesn’t like to be known as a heartless, out-of-touch ogre. On many files, in the wake of noisy opposition, Queen’s Park has backtracked.
In public health, children’s aid, child care, midwifery, subway management and government reforms, the Ontario government followed the same pattern: announce cuts first then change course after considerable outcry. I remember hearing that Ford had scrapped plans for Ontario’s first francophone university. Turns out the plans have been reinstated. The same thing happened with the transition child benefit program. It’s back on the books.
Occasionally, funding is even increased. Remember the anger that erupted when the Ford government announced its revamping of the Ontario Autism Program? Not only did Ford walk back those cuts, funding was doubled. Now budget-cut declarations out of Queen’s Park just seem like opening gambits. Make enough noise and they’ll go away. What a weird way to run a province.
Not every cut gets reversed, of course. And despite Ford’s election promise, jobs have indeed been lost. Funding that was cut for scientific research isn’t coming back. Legal Aid Ontario has been slashed. Environmental and conservation programs have been gutted. Many student loan programs and grants have disappeared. But because of all the flip-flopping, it’s a challenge to keep track of who is actually being affected by Ford’s decision-making.
That’s why we asked a crew of Toronto Life contributors to spread out across the city and find the real casualties of the spending cuts. The result is this month’s cover story: “The Ford Fallout,” an expansive (but not comprehensive) look at how Torontonians are experiencing the Ford era.
Sarah Fulford is the editor of Toronto Life. She can be found on Twitter @sarah_fulford.