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No surprises' in coming budget: Ford

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TORONTO—Premier Doug Ford said there will be “no surprises” for Ontario municipalities in his government's spring budget, sounding a conciliatory tone after his government stunned civic leaders with in-year cuts last year.

Ford made the comments during a speech at a conference of rural municipal leaders in Toronto yesterday, two months ahead of the release of his second provincial spending package.

He repeatedly praised the leaders during remarks at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association event, saying his government values their feedback.

“I've told the caucus and our ministers-no surprises," he said. "No surprises to municipalities, just lay it on the line. Get their input. 'Cause again, I walked a mile in your shoes. I was a municipal councillor. (There was) nothing I hated more when the province would come up and say, 'Do this, do that.'”

The remarks strike a sharp contrast to the actions of his Progress Conservative government which slashed public health and child-care funding to municipalities during its first year in power.

The in-year cuts outraged civic leaders who said the moves were made without notice or consultation and fought back, forcing the government to backtrack on the changes months later.

Instead, the new cost-sharing arrangements were implemented at much lower levels starting on Jan. 1, and municipalities were offered transitional funding as they dealt with the changes.

On Monday, Ford and his ministers announced $5 million in new funding for economic development partnerships with the province's rural communities and confirmed a current $500 million municipal partnership fund will remain in place through 2021.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips said governments learn as they go along and they have heard from municipalities about their need for fiscal certainty.

“What we learned is that working closely with our partners, and ensuring they understand the direction we're going in ... helps them do a better job,” he said.

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