“People will die.”
That’s councillor Joe Cressy’s reaction to the provincial government’s decision to slash a billion dollars from the agency over the next decade.
The chair of Toronto Public Health calls the government’s move “cruel” and “short-sighted.”
Cressy says provincial funding for water quality, food safety, infectious disease and tobacco prevention will be reduced by 50 per cent in Toronto while prenatal support and immunization tracking and surveillance as well as student nutrition will be slashed by 25 per cent.
“This announcement was made despite an indisputable body of evidence suggesting that the best way to prevent hallway health care and improve the health of Ontarians is to invest more, not less, in public health,” said Cressy, who confirmed that the cuts were relayed to all medical officers of health and board chairs during a late afternoon conference call with Ministry of Health officials.
“I say this without an ounce of exaggeration – because of today’s announced cuts, people will die. That’s not rhetoric, it’s a fact.”
The Ford government calls Cressy’s comments an attempt to “fear monger and sow confusion.”
“We are working directly with our municipal partners as we slowly shift the cost-sharing funding model over the next three years to reflect municipalities’ stronger role,” Hayley Chazan, a spokesperson for the Minister of Health said in a statement provided to CityNews.
“We have every expectation that all public health units across Ontario will continue to be properly funded, including Toronto.”
Cressy accuses the Ford government of trying to downplay the seriousness of cuts.
“You do not announce cuts to vital, life-saving health care programs late in the afternoon before a long weekend unless you don’t want people to know about them.”
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health expressed disappointment in the government’s announcement.
“The province indicated their intention to reduce their share of public health funding for Toronto from 75 per cent to 50 per cent,” Dr. Eileen de Villa said in a statement. “This change will have significant negative impacts on the health of Toronto residents.”
The Ministry of Health said it is not in a position to “validate or invalidate” anyone else’s numbers when it comes to how much provincial funding would be cut from Public Health.
Toronto Mayor John Tory condemned the funding cut in a statement late Thursday afternoon, saying while all health units will be impacted, the changes to Toronto are particularly punishing.
“It is impossible not to see this as a targeted attack on the health of our entire city and, in particular, the health of Toronto’s most vulnerable people,” he said. “It is inconceivable why the Ontario government would want to single out Toronto, Ontario’s capital and economic engine, for harsher treatment when we know a healthy city is a prosperous city.”
Tory said he intends to voice strong opposition to the cut and called on the province to back down.
“This is a dangerous way to curtail expenditures and we will be working hard with Toronto residents to see it reversed,” he said.
NDP MPP health critic Marit Stiles said the cuts are irresponsible.
“These are not areas where we can cut corners, this is crucial funding,” she said. “The fact this information is leaking out late on Thursday evening before a long weekend, I think that is no coincidence. The government needs to come clean about these cuts.”
Former councillor and chair of Toronto Public Health Joe Mihevc sounded the warning last weekend, telling CityNews the provincial budget cuts were taking public health to a “dangerous place.”
“It really is a crisis moment in the public health world,” said Mihevc. “This is an area where you want to add resources. There are all kinds of studies out there that a dollar invested in public health saves up to $10 in curative health later on.”
According to Mihevc, if the cuts go forward and the city isn’t able to convince the province to restore the funding, the Medical Officer of Health has the authority to impose a budget on the municipality.
The provincial government previously announced plans to consolidate 35 public health agencies across the province into just 10 as part of its plan to help deal with the province’s $11.7-billion deficit.