Originally published: July 11. Latest update: Jan. 18, 2019
Before he was elected premier of Ontario, Doug Ford made an array of ambitious campaign promises—from middle-class income tax cuts to repealing the cap-and-trade program to scrapping the discovery math curriculum in public schools. He vowed to create a “government for the people,” and part of that would mean cracking down on spending.
In his first weeks in office, Ford’s government acted quickly—announcing several cuts across different sectors. These decisions are raising concern throughout the province about what the next four years under Ford could look like. The Official Opposition, a role now held by the NDP, has criticized his opening acts as premier as a “series of closed-door, back-room decisions hidden from the public.”
Here’s a look at the cost-cutting measures Ford has taken so far.
- School building repairs
- Legislature, parties and government operations
- Health-care coverage
- Renewable energy/energy conservation
- Employment and social services
Education and universities
- Ford has cancelled three summer curriculum-writing sessions for educators throughout the province, including one that fulfills recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and two others related to American sign language and Indigenous languages for kindergarteners. The TRC’s calls to action urged schools to make the history of Indigenous people, residential schools and treaties a mandatory part of their curriculums.
- The government has cut $25 million from the EPO fund (Education Programs—Other), which will reduce or cancel grants for programs in schools across the province. The move will put an end to a number of specialized initiatives, including after-school jobs for youth in low-income neighbourhoods, tutors in classrooms, leadership programs for racialized students, daily physical activity for elementary students and secondary students and Indigenous-focused collaborative inquiry.
- Ford’s government has cancelled more than $300 million in funding for three university and college expansions, citing fiscal restraints. York University, partnering with Seneca College, was preparing to open a campus in Markham; Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College were setting up a campus in Milton; Ryerson University and Sheridan College had their eyes set on Brampton.
- In his first fiscal update after taking office, Ford announced that Ontario’s plans to open the province’s first-ever French-language university would be scrapped. The new campus—scheduled to open in downtown Toronto in September 2020—was projected to cost about $80 million and focus on technology, business and health sciences. Ford said: “This has nothing to do with [anything] personal against any Franco-Ontarians. They’re great people. But we also cancelled three other uinversities, English-speaking universities.”
- The government has also eliminated free tuition for low-income students, while reducing tuition fees by 10 per cent. In December, the auditor general warned that the cost of the tuition grant program could climb to $2 billion annually by 2020-21. Merrilee Fullerton, the province’s training, colleges and universities minister, said the family income thresholds for grants would be lowered; most grants will now be reserved for students from families with an income of less than $50,000 (under the previous program put in place by the Liberals families with up to $175,000 annual income qualified for some funding). Post-secondary institutions must absorb the estimated $450 million loss in revenue due to the 10 per cent tuition cut.
School building repairs
- The province has cancelled a $100 million fund meant to fix dilapidated school infrastructure—this coming after the cancellation of the cap-and-trade program, part of which helped pay for energy-efficient renovations in schools. Ontario schools currently face a repair backlog of nearly $16 billion.
Legislature, parties and government operations
- The Ford government will no longer allow food and coffee—and other drinks, like alcohol—to be served at staff meetings or events attended by provincial government employees. Government workplaces throughout the province will also be required to cancel all paper-based newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Most travel outside of the province is now restricted; Ontario says it expects to have a “reduced attendance at intergovernmental meetings.”
- It turns out that the province’s cutbacks come in all shapes and sizes. The office of Finance Minister Victor Fedeli has removed 24 telephone landlines and two fax lines. Robert Gibson, Fedeli’s press secretary, says the move will save taxpayers $11,582.40 per year, adding that they will be keeping “three landlines for conference calling purposes.”
- The province plans to introduce amendments to the Election Finances Act that would reduce taxpayer subsidies to registered political parties and constituency associations in 2021, with plans to eliminate all allowances by 2022. The proposed changes resemble federal government rules on contribution limits—eligible political parties in Ontario currently receive subsidies for each vote received. But the province is also increasing the threshold for party status from eight seats to 12 in the legislature. Ford’s government has said the changes to party subsidies will save $5.6 million in 2021-22, savings that are expected to increase to nearly $15 million annually the following year.
- Ontario has scrapped three independent officers who report to the legislature: the environment commissioner, French-language services commissioner and provincial children’s advocate. The fate of the staff in those offices remains unknown, as does how much the move will save taxpayers. Mélanie Joly, the federal minister of tourism, official languages and la Francophonie tweeted that the Ontario PCs are “disrespecting the 600,000 Franco-Ontarians and the millions of francophones across the country with their inability to protect the French language.”
- The province is offering voluntary buyouts to thousands of Ontario public service workers, as it looks to reduce costs by downsizing its workforce. Ford’s government circulated a memo to non-unionized employees, saying its “time-limited transition exit initiative” and “voluntary exit program” are part of Ontario’s plan to “address its fiscal challenges” while “avoiding involuntary job losses.”
- Under changes enacted in 2017 by the Liberals, the pharmacare program offered free prescription medication to people under 25. The day after Ford was sworn in, his government announced that youth with private coverage will no longer be able to access these benefits.
- Ford has followed through on his vow to slash the size of Toronto’s city council from 47 councillors to 25. A judge had previously ruled that Ford’s attempt was unconstitutional. But the premier pushed back, threatening to invoke the notwithstanding clause to overrule the decision, and won on appeal in the end. Ford has described Toronto City Hall as “dysfunctional” and claims that cutting it nearly in half would save $25 million over four years. Competing claims suggest that the cost-cutting measure would save less than $6 million, according to an affidavit from Toronto’s deputy city manager.
Arts and culture
- The Ontario government slashed the base funding for the Ontario Arts Council, an agency that provides grants and services to Ontario artists and arts organizations, by $5 million. The OAC confirmed on twitter that its funding will drop from $69.9 million for 2018-19 to the 2017-18 level of $64.9 million.
- On the same day as the cuts to the OAC, the province suspended $2.25 million in spending from the Indigenous Culture Fund, a program that was established by the Liberal government in 2017 with an annual investment of $5 million. It was set up in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls for action. After the news of the cutback, NDP culture critic Jill Andrew tweeted that the measure was “a disturbing step back from the TRC’s Calls to Action.”
Renewable energy/energy conservation
- Tory house leader Todd Smith has said that the government plans to end the White Pines Wind Project in his own riding of Bay of Quinte, a wind turbine venture that has been in development for the past 10 years. It has been staunchly opposed by several local groups in Prince Edward County, but Ian MacRae, the president of WPD Canada, the company behind the project, warned that its cancellation would cost ratepayers more than $100 million.
- Ford has axed the Green Ontario Fund, a $377 million non-for-profit agency that was financed by proceeds generated from the cap-and-trade program. The fund was launched last August and was meant to help homeowners, renters and businesses make their properties more energy-efficient, in an effort to reduce both residents’ carbon footprints and their hydro bills. Ford quietly ended the fund before he took office.
- Another such casualty is the rebate program for buyers of electric and hydrogen vehicles. Also funded by the cap-and-trade program, the program’s cancellation, province says, is part of its commitment to bring gas prices down by 10 cents a litre. It comes at a time when Canadian electric vehicle sales have soared in recent years.
Employment and social services
- Ford has scrapped social-assistance changes made by the former Liberal government. In her pre-election budget, Kathleen Wynne approved three per cent welfare increases over the next three years, but social services minister Lisa MacLeod has said the number will be reduced to 1.5 per cent—describing the move as “compassionate.” It’s unclear how much this change is expected to save.
- On the same day, the government ended Ontario’s basic income pilot project after Ford promised it would go untouched. Launched in 2017, the program set aside $150 million over three years and was meant to provide financial support to 4,000 low-income people in three Ontario locations. MacLeod said the project was “quite expensive,” adding that it’s “clearly not the answer for Ontario families.”
- Ford has also put an end to the Roundtable on Violence Against Women, a panel of experts that provided advice to Ontario on the issue. It was founded under the previous Liberal government in 2015, and with the exception of the group’s co-chairs, was made up entirely of volunteers. Last year, the group successfully advocated for paid leave for people experiencing domestic or sexual violence, or the threat of it, to be included in the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (better known as Bill 148). Ford has said he will scrap that legislation.