Toronto suspends some city work due to COVID-19 budget crunch
July 6, 2022
Major road repairs, the upkeep of public park facilities, flood protection on the Toronto islands and public transit infrastructure are among the work the city has either already put on hold or will soon have to suspend if it doesn’t receive more pandemic funding from other levels of government.
That’s the conclusion of a city report released Tuesday that details which capital projects are being affected as the city seeks as much as $300 million in cuts to its capital budget, which it says will be necessary to bridge the budget shortfall caused by COVID-19 this year unless Ottawa and Queen’s Park commit additional assistance.
The city has already paused some capital projects, and elected officials are warning that putting off work required for Toronto’s roadways, transit network and other public amenities will have negative long-term consequences, because repairs that are delayed will only grow more expensive and increase financial pressure in future years.
Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4, Parkdale-High Park) predicted that unless the city finds a solution to the pandemic financial crunch, “just about every service that Torontonians rely on will get worse.”
The city’s capital backlog “will compound and compound until we’re in a hole so big we can’t get out,” he cautioned.
According to the report, from the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 to the end of last year, Toronto has received almost $3 billion in COVID-19 support from the province and feds. An additional $525 million is expected this year.
But the city is still projecting its pandemic-related shortfall at about $815 million for 2022, assuming it is reimbursed for public health related costs.
City staff say that unless Toronto receives additional commitments, it will have to cut its 2022 capital budget by $300 million. The remaining $515 million shortfall could be filled by making a draw on a COVID-19 reserve fund.
The report includes a preliminary list of about $260 million in capital work that has either already been suspended or could be scaled back this year.
The city said Tuesday it was unable to specify which of the projects have already been paused. But according to the report, the TTC and the transportation department will be the hardest hit if the proposed spending reductions are fully implemented, with each slated for about $87 million in cuts this year.
Spending on major road rehabilitation would be slashed by nearly $16 million, while local road repairs would be cut by $13 million. Work on sidewalks and bridges would also be deferred.
Parks and the city real estate division would also face cuts in the tens of millions of dollars. Rehabilitation and maintenance for park facilities would be reduced by almost $25 million, while spending for a $1.1 million berm on the north shore of Algonquin Island would be put off to future years.
The TTC has yet to provide a detailed list of transit work that could be affected.
The city’s total approved capital budget for 2022 is about $5.5 billion.
All of the spending reductions would affect the city’s capital programs, not its operating budget, so service levels for the TTC and other city divisions wouldn’t be directly affected.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at city hall on Tuesday afternoon, Mayor John Tory said residents likely wouldn’t have noticed work that’s already been deferred because they are smaller projects.
But he acknowledged that delaying the projects could make them harder to complete. “If you don’t do them in 2022 then you have them on the list in 2023 and the list gets longer,” he said.
Tory said the city has shown it’s willing to take steps to reduce the pandemic shortfall, but it needs to get the other governments to come to the table, and he hoped his meeting with Trudeau would be “a good start.”
Perks said that given the urgency of the problem, the mayor should be doing more to pressure the provincial and federal governments. “The meetings he’s been having aren’t working,” he said.
Asked whether Ottawa plans to provide additional COVID-19 aid to Toronto, the press secretary for Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that throughout the pandemic the federal Liberal government “has provided significant extraordinary funding to municipalities,” including $2 billion for COVID-19 operating costs under the Safe Restart Agreement.
A spokesperson for the Ontario PC government didn’t immediately return a request for comment. But in a letter to Mayor Tory in May, Premier Doug Ford said the province had indicated to its federal counterparts “that we are ready and willing to contribute more to support municipal partners, but Ontario cannot do this alone.”