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Download debate heats up

Lastman puts cost to city at $251.7 million; Harris puts it at zero

By Bruce DeMara and Rick Brennan
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

A day after Premier Mike Harris fired off an angry letter to the City of Toronto, Mayor Mel Lastman said an auditor will be hired to prove provincial downloading is costing the city $251.7 million annually.

“I know what I’m talking about, and my figures are right to the penny,” Lastman said an interview yesterday.

“Definitely, he (Harris) is not getting the right information. I think he’s being misled by being given the wrong figures,” Lastman said.

“We’re going to get an auditor and we’re going to get all the figures audited and let him (Harris) fight with the auditor - and let him say the world is wrong and he’s right.”

Lastman said finance department figures show the rearrangement of services that were covered by the city and the province before amalgamation costs the city $251.7 million.

Big-ticket items include provincially owned social housing and 50 per cent of GO Transit funding.

In addition, the federal government has forced the city to pay about $35 million annually of the cost of settling refugees, including health services such as tuberculosis prevention. That brings the total to almost $300 million a year, Lastman said.

In a letter to Lastman earlier this week, Harris scolded the mayor for complaining about the lack of provincial funding for public transit and continued complaints about the burden the province has placed on the city.

“I have often heard you use the term downloading, a term that is neither accurate nor fair,” Harris wrote.

Yesterday, Harris said the city should be thanking the province instead of complaining.

“Toronto was dying when we took office (in 1995); it’s now booming, it’s now leading Canada and indeed the province,” Harris said yesterday.

“Some pre-electioneering of some politicians in Toronto seem to be indicating it was hard done by under our government, and the facts are, Toronto is doing very well,” he said.

He said no independent audit is going to prove otherwise.

Harris also wrote that municipalities, through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, asked the province to give them total funding responsibility for public transit.

But Pat Moyle, the group’s executive director, stated flatly to city council that Harris was wrong. Moyle said president Michael Power was “extremely disappointed and very distressed” by the letter.

In a response letter yesterday, Lastman said he supports “a new partnership with our great province and our great country to alleviate some of the horrendous funding pressures on Canada’s largest city.”

While stating he doesn’t back secession, Lastman said he doesn’t want the city to stay a “municipal marionette.”

He said he would support putting the concept of a city state as a referendum question on the November ballot.

After debating the issue of a referendum question on secession or a city state yesterday, councillors deferred the debate for a future meeting.

But Harris made it clear the province would not permit such a question.

“No, I’m not going to have a referendum on busting up Canada.”