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Liberals say they won't budge on contentious funding changes for Toronto


TORONTO - Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he's furious that the province won't reconsider its decision to make funding changes for Toronto's social programs.

He says the changes will mean cuts to vital services that affect the city's most vulnerable residents.

The conservative mayor was fuming as he left his meeting with Finance Minister Charles Sousa, saying the province is trying to make him raise taxes.

Ford says he's being punished for running an efficient government, while the governing Liberals continue to spend in the red.

Sousa announced last week that the province is ending a special "pooling" arrangement for Toronto to pay for welfare and disability support programs.

He said other municipalities have complained that the arrangement is unfair.

Ford and council knew the program was being phased out as the province uploads the costs itself and Toronto will still get more money overall, Sousa added.

The province had already started to wean other towns and cities off of funding for welfare as it uploaded more of the costs, but Toronto always had its own special arrangement and it's now being phased out, Sousa said.

But Ford insists there was no advance warning from the province and that Sousa couldn't even tell him who he contacted in the mayor's office.

The city was given a timeline by the province showing the special funding continuing until 2018, but Sousa said that was a "what if" scenario and no provincial money was committed beyond 2016.

The city claims it would get $150 million less under the changes, but Sousa said Toronto will get $364 million this year to pay for social programs, growing to $500 million by 2016.

The province is also waiving a $200-million loan after the city missed 16 payments and appeared to have had no plan to repay.

The minister said he knows Ford wants to keep taxes low in Toronto, but the province must also control costs to eliminate a deficit of $11.7 billion.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak says he would continue to upload costs for social programs, but it may not be as quickly as the Liberals's target of 2018-19.

The previous Tory government led by former premier Mike Harris — which included Hudak and Ford's father, Doug Ford Sr. — offloaded provincial costs for public transit and social services on to municipalities in 1998.

But Hudak wouldn't say whether he would eliminate the pooling arrangement with Toronto.

"Before you ask your neighbour to actually tighten their belt, don't you have a responsibility to lead the way, first and foremost," he said.

"So it seems like the Liberals have plenty of lectures for everybody else, when they themselves are going in the opposite direction."

Given that the Liberals have already caved to the province's teachers and LCBO workers, it's understandable that the city is fighting to keep the money, Hudak said.

"I don't blame them for trying," he said. "I mean, every time someone complains, it seems like the Liberals back up the money truck and throw more money on board."

Ontario is the only province in Canada that still hasn't uploaded the costs of social programs, according to David Siegel, a political science professor at Brock University.

The Harris government downloaded a lot of responsibility and a lot of the costs on municipalities, but also simplified a "spiderweb" of relationships between the two levels of government, said Siegel, who specializes in local government.

When the Liberals came to power in 2003, they promised to move it back to the provincial level.

But some complain that they don't get what they're promised, Siegel said.

"That's the sort of thing that municipalities complain about: that yes, you're giving me money with one hand, but you're either taking away money with another hand or giving me some additional responsibilities," he said.