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Premier Doug Ford has recently taken to characterizing those who oppose his massive retroactive cuts to Toronto Public Health. It’s just a “bastion of lefties” wasting “ridiculous amounts of money,” he said this week.
Let us, then, venture into this bastion to see these lefty spendthrifts in action, at Tuesday’s Toronto city council meeting, where a motion from the former leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, Mayor John Tory, was being debated. The motion called for the province to reverse the cuts immediately.
Councillor Stephen Holyday, of Ward 2 Etobicoke Centre, rose to speak.
“Nobody should be surprised, I’m one of the first councillors here to openly admit that I’ve questioned many programs in the city. And I question them fundamentally,” he said.
Indeed, he is a second-generation small-government skinflint. His father was for a long time young councillor Rob Ford’s mentor and only ally, and shared with the late mayor the opinion that almost no government spending was good government spending.
Stephen followed his old man onto council, and has hewed closely to the family ideology, steadfastly opposing bike lanes, LRTs, the King Street Pilot, road tolls. He’s said and made clear through action that his priority is keeping “government costs contained.” He publicly supported Doug Ford’s cut to the size of city council last year in the middle of the election. He is perhaps council’s most consistent vote against program spending of almost any variety.
“But I opened up the public health budget agenda item, because I thought that it was important to read and understand how all the numbers work. And I asked the medical officer of health some high-level questions about how does this all fit in.
“A couple things jump out at me. The provincial subsidy to Toronto Public Health is $183.5 million. It’s no small figure. Sixty-five million of that (the impact of the provincial cut in 2019) is very, very material.
“I contrast that to the net expenditures of Toronto Public Health,” he said — the amount the city contributes — “and their whole proposed operating budget was $64 million. So according to the staff’s number, the cut is larger than the amount we even give to Toronto Public Health,” he said.
“I’m quite willing to have a conversation about the different services that are in Toronto Public Health, but the conversation has to include understanding what exactly is ours to deliver by rule, and perhaps by rule of the province, and understanding what exactly those cost to deliver, what are the ones council has set and created on its own. And are those within our control to make changes? Perhaps, but there’s going to have to be a long process, through the budget committee.
“Where I have a big exception, is to change the funding mid-year. I mean this is baked in, $183 million worth of funding. And to rip $65 million out of them, I mean we’re getting shafted.
“I don’t know how we’re going to make that. I don’t know if anybody in this room knows how we’re going to make up that gap as proposed. It seems to me it’s just not practical and couldn’t happen that way,” he said.
“This is a very, very serious thing,” he said. “We’re in an untenable position,” he said. “That is just not an acceptable process, to switch things right in the middle of the game, and we need to send that message that it’s not workable the way that it is,” he said.
When Tory’s motion came to a vote, it passed 25-1. Those voting with Tory against Premier Ford included Holyday, as his speech indicated. They included Mark Grimes of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, who Rob Ford used to affectionately call “The Midnight Mayor.” They included Denzil Minnan-Wong of Don Valley East, who was a Progressive Conservative candidate for MPP under Doug Ford’s leadership in last year’s provincial election.
Some bastion of lefties this is, opposing the provincial plan for public health. It includes, apparently, the entire ideological spectrum of city council. It includes everyone, it seems, except one person — one lone supporter of Doug Ford’s cuts to public health spending. Who’s that?
A blood relative of the premier. His nephew, Michael Ford.
Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire