Temporary relief for Peel as paramedic funding is unfrozen and offered a small 2020 boost
Photos by Mansoor Tanweer/Government of Ontario

Temporary relief for Peel as paramedic funding is unfrozen and offered a small 2020 boost

Confusion with a touch of good news was the theme at Thursday’s Region of Peel council meeting, where staff presented an update on provincial funding cuts. Councillors were told childcare had suffered a 20 percent funding gap since July, while downloaded costs in administration and public health will have to be shifted towards municipal and regional budgets. 

There was better news about paramedic services; the freeze in funding announced in May has been reversed, with a 4 percent increase promised for 2020 and 2021. This marks the latest about-turn for Doug Ford’s governing Progressive Conservatives. When the provincial funding freeze was announced, it was with the understanding that any “growth in service costs” would fall to municipalities and regional governments to cover. 

Paramedic services had received a 5.8 percent increase in 2017 and a 5.3 percent top-up the following year. Speaking to CBC at the time of the freeze, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that Ontario planned on “streamlining and modernizing the service by consolidating dispatch and service delivery into regional locations,” alongside the development of “sustainable and connected systems.” The government said it would consolidate Ontario’s 59 ambulance services into as few as 10. 


Health Minister Christine Elliott


However, following furious outcry from cities, including Mississauga and Brampton, the province has promised to offer minor year-on-year increases. “Finally some good news: council’s advocacy was successful,” Norm Lum, Peel’s director of business and financial planning, told councillors on Thursday. “The province has unfrozen [the paramedic] funding it had previously frozen at 2017 funding levels and has now committed to a 4 percent increase for 2020 and 2021.”

The news came at the end of a 10-minute presentation on further cuts from the province, one dominated by “ifs” and “buts.” “I do want to add that these figures are based on what we currently understand today, and it has been very difficult trying to assess the changes they [the province] have announced because there are few details,” Lum cautioned. “We probably won’t know what the ultimate impact will be until we receive the funding letters, which typically come out in the fall.”

As Lum’s comments suggest, the welcome rescinding of funding cuts to paramedic services is just the latest chapter in the province’s recent history of reversals. Peel’s 2019 budget goes as far as to list “uncertainty in Provincial funding allocation” as one of the three main pressures on paramedic services, alongside large increases in 911 calls — 12,300 more, year over year — and an aging population. To list bureaucratic and political pressures, alongside the practical issues paramedic workers face, hints at an alarming distraction being forced on Peel’s emergency responders. 



“Any time they restore funding, that’s always good news,” Councillor Karen Ras told The Pointer in a phone interview. “I think the challenge going forward is that we know that in 2020 we are still going to have a shortfall of just over $25 million.” Frustration is clear at the Region; Ras describes the current situation as being in “a little bit of a holding pattern.” 

“On the one hand, we kind of have to do a budget as usual, while on the other hand we’re waiting for the shoe to drop, to find out what’s happening for the future.”

The cuts saga is affecting more than the men and women who drive ambulances through Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon. Ford’s seemingly ill-considered plans have been subject to flip-flopping almost from day one. In May, close to $40 million in cuts to essential services  provided through Peel Region were reversed temporarily to allow the municipalities to adjust. 

With that wafer-thin promise, relief to all services is expected to be brief, and further changes could throw municipal and regional budgets into disarray. Ford’s plan to balance the Ontario government’s budget hinges heavily on cost-cutting, a process Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown have dubbed a “stealth downloading” of costs onto municipal governments. Ultimately, Queen’s Park has reversed some decisions to allow municipalities like Brampton and Mississauga time to adjust. More specifically, cities have been tasked with hiring auditors, using the province’s Audit and Accountability Fund, who will be asked to find “efficiencies’ in the municipal budget to make up the shortfall.

Responding to The Pointer’s request for clarification, a health ministry spokesperson acknowledged in an email that paramedic funding was changed in response to feedback from municipalities and regions: “The government has responded to its municipal partners who said the decision to provide stable funding for land ambulance services for the 2019 calendar year did not offer them enough time to plan without potentially impacting service delivery.”

The spokesperson also pledged that funding would remain in place after the new year, saying that “municipalities can expect continued growth in ministry [funding] in 2020,” with final confirmation to come through the 2020 budget.

Regional councillors and staff are proceeding with cautious optimism in planning for the 2020 budget. Uncertainty continues to dominate, with further announcements expected to come before the start of the budget process in November. And, with its status subject to change twice already this calendar year, they can take nothing for granted, even with paramedic funding.


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