Ontario 2017 Budget, Pre-Budget Consultations

Dear Minister Sousa:

RE: Ontario 2017 Budget, Pre-Budget Consultations

It is my pleasure to submit comments to the Minister of Finance’s pre-budget consultations on behalf of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79. This submission is intended to complement the verbal remarks I gave at the November 21, 2016 consultation. Local 79 represents approximately 20,000 Members who work at the City of Toronto, Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), and Bridgepoint Hospital. Our members deliver front-line services in child care, employment and social services, public health and numerous other areas. Our members in long-term care homes and at Bridgepoint hospital are also involved in either directly delivering health care services or supporting those who do.

As front-line workers, our members are intimately familiar with the day-to-day needs of people living in Canada’s largest – and most unequal – city. Local 79 is proud of the advocacy work we have done in support of Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. We have always seen good jobs as the most important strategy for fighting poverty. In particular, we urge the Province – as we have urged the City – to take concrete steps to promote good jobs. This means the Province should promote jobs with living wages, stable, predictable hours and benefits (including sick pay). It should promote good jobs as a direct employer, as a contractor, through its procurement processes, and in its role as a funder for municipalities and the health care sector.

As a municipal union we are also familiar with struggles over funding and the urgent need for the Province to step up as a fiscal partner to Ontario’s municipalities. Funding squeezes in Toronto and elsewhere are forcing municipalities to make decisions that are not in the public interest, often turning to service cuts and contracting out. Local 79 is more than willing to step up and advocate for the services our members are proud to deliver.

Local 79 has been strongly advocating to protect the services our members deliver as Toronto’s City Council nears completion of its 2017 Budget process. However, although Council needs to do more to raise revenues, it is clear that Toronto – like municipalities across the province – needs access to fair revenue sources, including a share of income tax. Without revenue sources that grow with the economy and the population, Toronto has been left exploring regressive revenue tools such as road tolls. Even worse, Toronto’s increasing reliance on regressive user fees places an ever-increasing burden on workers and their families. Fair, sustainable and predictable revenues are essential for providing services and for supporting Toronto’s efforts to reduce poverty and income inequality.

Currently, Provincial subsidies make up 17% ($1.955 billion) of Toronto’s $10 billion Tax Supported Operating Budget. However, while Toronto has been keeping property taxes artificially low, the Provincial government has maintained its own low-tax regime. Strong communities need high-quality, properly funded public services. This means the Province, like Toronto, must either find new sources of revenue or expand existing ones. Municipally and provincially, public services are under increasing stress because politicians have chosen austerity and low taxes over support for the services people value and that make our cities and communities more livable. The Province’s fiscal outlook has also been jeopardized by the ill-advised decision to sell off a portion of Hydro One. Selling Hydro One means more increases to household utility bills (which the Province is already paying to offset) and reduced revenues in the future.

In tandem with a low-tax approach to revenue, Premier Wynne’s government has kept Provincial funding for public services below inflation and population growth. From 2013, that amounts to a $10 billion reduction in real funding for public services. Catching up will require a 5% ($6.3 billion) increase by 2018-2019.[1] These cuts have had serious impacts on Ontario’s communities.

A 2015 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives offers concrete suggestions for how the Province can improve its revenue outlook.[2] For example, reversing the 2.5 percentage point reduction in the corporate income tax that was implemented in 2009 would bring in $2 billion per year. Given that corporate tax rates are at historic lows while over $700 billion in corporate profits are being held rather than re-invested, this seems like an important start. Similarly, a single percentage-point increase in the sales tax – taking up room abandoned by the Harper Conservatives federally – would provide an additional $2 billion for health care, child care, social housing and other programs in desperate need of Provincial support.

While the impacts of austerity are felt in communities across Toronto, our submission will focus on a few key areas.

RECOMMENDATION 1: Increase funding for public services to account for inflation and population growth.

RECOMMENDATION 2: Consult directly with municipalities to determine the service levels our cities need and the funding required to provide those services.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Provide Toronto with access to fair revenue sources, including a share of income tax.

RECOMMENDATION 4: Keep hydro public. Stop the further sale of Hydro One.

Social Housing

As work becomes increasingly precarious and Toronto’s rental market becomes increasingly competitive, social housing is increasingly important for helping families escape poverty and preventing them from experiencing poverty in the first place.

The Province’s decision to phase out the Toronto Pooling Compensation fund has had a serious impact on social housing programs. The City used the $114 million fund to support legislated social housing obligations. The loss of that revenue has affected numerous divisions across the City.

This is part of a broader trend for governments at all levels to give more lip-service than concrete financial commitments to social housing. At Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) specifically, inflation-adjusted per-household subsidies (a combination of City and Provincial subsidies) have gone from $6,168 in 2005 to $3,785 in 2015. This puts considerable pressure on the TCHC, which is already under pressure from lack of capital funding for urgently needed repairs and the increasingly complex needs of many of its residents. About one-third of TCHC households have at least one member with a disability and approximately 25% of residents are 60 years or older.

Given the twin pressures created by reduced subsidies and increased complexity, the Province needs to provide more funding to support services and programs in the social housing sector. TCHC certainly needs capital funds and Local 79 would support new investments in TCHC infrastructure.

RECOMMENDATION 5: Restore the funding lost with the elimination of the Toronto Pooling Compensation Fund.

RECOMMENDATION 6: Provide new supports to both the capital and operating needs of TCHC.

Health Care

Ontario’s health care system has suffered under eight years of cuts. In fact, Ontario spends $353.96 less per person on hospitals than other provinces and territories. That’s a 25.3% shortfall and particularly egregious in light of the fact that ten years ago, the gap was only 4.3%.

Our members experience the impacts of this shortfall directly.

At Bridgepoint Hospital, which recently merged with the Sinai health system, there has been a concerted effort to force down wages. Local 79 is pleased that our efforts at the collective bargaining table have helped stop this process. A recent arbitration awarded our nursing and paramedical members a 1.4% increase and rejected the hospital’s efforts to obtain additional concessions.

Beyond downward pressure on working conditions, hospital staff also report that budgetary pressures result in short-staffing and other issues.

Local 79 has also been meeting with members and management at the City’s long-term care homes. In home after home, we hear the same thing: short-staffing puts employee’s health at risk and jeopardizes our members’ ability to provide high quality care.

RECOMMENDATION 7: Reverse health care cuts to ensure staff are able to safely provide high-quality care.

Public Health and Children’s Services

The Province also needs to step up its support for programs that are either cost-shared, legislatively mandated, or both. Although it is not unique to them, this problem is keenly felt in Toronto Public Health and in Children’s Services.

For example, a recent report to the Toronto Board of Health showed that the City is dangerously short of the resources needed to ensure food and water safety.[3]

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The chart above shows that Toronto has fallen short of the required number of food safety and water inspections for over a decade. This is highly concerning.

Aside from important safety concerns, Toronto Public Health and Children’s Services are key divisions in the City’s efforts to combat poverty. As income inequality grows, public health efforts take on an increasingly important role in mitigating inequality’s negative health outcomes. A 2015 report from Toronto Public Health found that 20 of 34 key health status indicators showed significant health inequities where low income groups had worse health. This is a trend that has persisted over time. In approximately 10 years, the differential outcomes persisted for 16 indicators and became worse for four indicators. [4]

The report also showed that increased health equity would have concrete results:

  • There would be 932 fewer premature deaths per year;
  • 62,111 fewer people would be living with diabetes;
  • There would be 1,720 fewer reported chlamydia cases among youth per year; and
  • 611 fewer babies per year would be born with low birth weight.

On the childcare front, Toronto currently has over 18,000 children waiting for a childcare subsidy and over 35,000 children on waitlists simply to get a space. Toronto’s childcare system is only able to provide care for 18% of children age 0-12 months and only able to provide subsidies to 28.7% of the families who need it.

The importance of these programs cannot be overstated. Affordable childcare in particular is widely recognized as essential for women struggling to escape poverty. We know, for example, that women’s participation in full-time employment increases dramatically when childcare is available.

 

RECOMMENDATION 8: Undertake a comprehensive review of public health programming and identify key areas that need increased funding. Food and water safety, along with anti-poverty measures, should be given priority.

RECOMMENDATION 9: Immediately increase funding to Toronto’s childcare system with the goal of eliminating the fee subsidy waitlist and expanding access to high quality, affordable child care for all parents.

 

Good Jobs and the Changing Workplace Review

Toronto – the provincial capital – is the most unequal city in the country. Last year, I presented to the Changing Workplace Review committee. In my presentation I made a number of points, including findings from a survey of our members that we had just completed. That survey found, among other things, that:

  • 6% agreed that income inequality is having a significantly negative impact on their community;
  • 7% agreed that income inequality is having a significantly negative impact on Toronto as a city;
  • 95% agreed that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased; and,
  • Many who responded pointed to the importance of employment supports for helping people escape poverty.

Although recent labour force statistics show that employment is increasing, the bulk of that increase comes from precarious and part-time work. The Province needs to do everything it can to reverse this trend and promote good, stable jobs. Local 79 is a strong supporter of the Ontario Federation of Labour’s $15 and Fairness campaign and its demands:

  • Decent hours to ensure workers earn decent incomes;
  • Paid sick day ;
  • Better protections from reprisals;
  • Easier access to unionization; and
  • Laws that protect everyone and that are proactively enforced.

The Province ought to ensure that it is promoting these principles as an employer, contractor and regulator. Moreover, as a funder for core services, the Province is indirectly responsible for the quality of jobs that municipalities and provincially-funded organizations are able to provide. I note, for example, that three CUPE Locals (2974, Library workers in Essex County, 4914 CAS Workers in Peel, and 2049, CAS workers in Nipissing and Parry Sound) have endured lengthy strikes and lockouts to protect the quality of their employment and the quality of the services they provide. The municipalities, universities, school boards and hospitals (MUSH) sector, which is provincially funded, needs to have the resources to deliver high quality services. Ensuring public sector workers have good jobs is a key part of ensuring quality service delivery.

Finally, outside its role as employer and funder, the Province can take a key step toward reducing poverty: raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. In many communities across the province (including Toronto), this would still not be enough to live on, but it would make life considerably easier for many individuals and families.

RECOMMENDATION 10: Develop and implement strategies to ensure all workers have decent hours, paid sick days, protections from reprisals, access to unionization and proactively enforced legal protections.

RECOMMENDATION 11: Ensure proper funding to implement the recommendations of the Changing Workplace Review.

RECOMMENDATION 12: Increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Conclusion

I appreciate the opportunity to advocate for proper investment in Ontario’s municipalities on behalf of the members of Local 79 and the communities our members serve. The recommendations we are making are concrete, modest, and viable. We look forward to working with the Minister of Finance in whatever way we can to clarify and implement these recommendations.

Sincerely,

Tim Maguire
President

[1]           Block, Sheila. Ontario’s early bird budget didn’t get the worm. http://behindthenumbers.ca/2016/02/25/ontarios-early-bird-budget-didnt-get-the-worm/

[2]           Tiessen, Kaylie. Fixing Ontario’s Revenue Problem: How to Restore Fiscal Capacity. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2015.

[3]           City of Toronto, HU 8.2: 2017 Operating and 2017-2026 Capital Budget and Plan Request (Presentation, p. 20).

[4]           City of Toronto, HL 3.2 – The Unequal City 2015: Income Inequities in Toronto (Staff Report, pages 3 and 8).