Prime Minister Ford cancels meeting with Mayor Sutcliffe

Mayor Mark Sutcliffe’s first official trip to Queen’s Park on Tuesday was one less meeting than expected after Prime Minister Doug Ford’s cancellation.

Sutcliffe told councilors last Thursday that he was going to Queen’s Park on Tuesday to meet Ford and Toronto’s Municipal Affairs and Housing Secretary Steve Clark to discuss a variety of issues, including fiscal shortfalls and some county housing initiatives.

The mayor met with Clark, as well as several other ministers. But Sutcliffe’s meeting with Ford, scheduled for 4:30 p.m., was called off for unspecified reasons.

“Unfortunately we had to cancel today’s meeting with Mayor Sutcliffe unexpectedly, but we look forward to meeting with the mayor in the near future,” the prime minister’s spokesperson wrote in an email.

Ford called Sutcliffe last month after the election. That call was more of a congratulatory nature than an in-depth policy discussion.

In a statement sent Tuesday evening, Sutcliffe said he had met Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Sylvia Jones and Children, Community and Social Services Minister Merrilee Fullerton.

The mayor stated that he had discussed a wide range of issues with provincial officials, including the controversial ones More Homes Built Faster Act — known as Bill 23, city funding shortfalls related to the pandemic and the devastating derecho storm in May, and the Social Services Relief Fund — a program the county initiated during the pandemic to help municipalities support vulnerable residents. He also raised the issue of zero availability of paramedics.

“I am pleased with the open and productive nature of the conversations I had today with senior members of the Ford administration,” said Sutcliffe. “As I said during the election, it is important that all leaders work together to deliver on the priorities of the people of Ottawa. This approach includes not only the city council, but also the state and federal governments.”

The mayor also met with Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy at his office at City Hall on Friday.

“Partnering with the county government is imperative to make Ottawa an even safer, more reliable and affordable place to live,” Sutcliffe said in his statement Tuesday night. “I will be liaising with provincial ministers and the premier to ensure we meet our targets and address our ongoing challenges in the city of Ottawa.”

Unclear what progress has been made

The city will need serious financial support from higher levels of government by the end of the fiscal year, and it’s unclear what assurances Sutcliffe received from the county for help during his recent meetings with ministers.

The city expects an $85.5 million shortfall for OC Transpo this year, as the 2022 budget was based on riders not turning out. And the unbudgeted cost of dealing with last spring’s derecho storm totaled about $50 million, including $30 million in Hydro Ottawa costs.

Now city officials believe Bill 23 could be costly to taxpayers — or leave communities short of amenities.

Among other things, the bill sets a goal for Ottawa to build about 160,000 new homes over the next decade, and will waive multimillion-dollar fees the city charges for infrastructure and parkland.

Sutcliffe’s statement made no mention of discussions with the county over the new Better Municipal Governance Act, which gives the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto the power to pass certain statutes with only one-third of the council’s support. The mayor of Ottawa has already said he will not use strong mayoral powers.

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