Thanks to Jackie Tanner for this update on the public deputations.
On January 8th, 9th, and 10th, the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee split into two subcommittees to hear deputations from over 250 concerned Toronto residents at City Hall and the five Civic Centres across the city. In addition to the verbal deputations, over forty written submissions were filed over the three days of consultations.
Budget Deputations, January 10, 2018.
Speakers focused on commitments made by City Council that are not funded in the 2018 preliminary budget. Deputants noted that major programs that are currently unfunded include Transform TO (Toronto’s climate change plan), Fair Fare transit pass for low income residents, the two-hour transit transfer, child care expansion, and the next phase of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, among others. Many residents commented that although Council adopted these important programs and promised the residents of Toronto that they would be implemented, these commitments remain, as yet, unfunded in the budget. [Update: Budget Committee took the good advice of residents and have added several of these programs to the budget. Read our post here for all the details.]
During the North York consultation, Budget Chief Gary Crawford remarked that some unfunded programs would be added to the final budget and that this is how the budget process works. Residents raised concerns about the current budget process as the preliminary budget has left many questioning what the Mayor and City Council’s priorities are and its level of commitment to make good on Council promises. Community members also noted that residents are unable to give their input while the budget is being crafted, and by the time public deputations are given, the budget is largely set in stone.
Several community members talked about how best to pay for the critical services that Council promised to deliver, suggesting the use of revenue tools that have been greatly debated but mostly left on the shelf and reducing wasteful spending on unnecessarily expensive projects like the Gardiner Expressway work. A number of residents questioned whether the reality of a fast approaching election is dissuading Council from increasing property tax to secure the funds necessary to make good on their promises.
A Sample of Resident Deputations:
Reverend Maggie Helwig of St. Stephens in the Field, Chair of the Social Justice Committee of the Anglican Diocese implored council to make good on its promises to address homelessness in the City of Toronto. "I am tired of coming here two or three times a year to say that I'm tired of watching people die. The homeless crisis, seeing people dying on our sidewalks is emblematic of the abandonment of the most vulnerable people in our society".
16 year old Caleb Woolcott, climate change advocate stated "I'm concerned for my future. I'm doing what I can do to build a safe future for my generation. All I'm asking is for you (council) to do the same. Please join me and do your part for my generation by supporting the Transform TO plan".
Mary Hynes implored council to utilize existing revenue generating tools to fund vital services. "Please increase my property taxes so my neighbours can get the services they need. Please increase my taxes so service fees don't go up for my neighbours who cannot afford to pay more. Your job is to spend wisely, to be wise custodians of our tax dollars and to spend for all of us".
Safia Parveen sees the direct impact that a lack of affordable housing has on herself and her community and asked council to fund these services in the 2018 budget. "For more than ten years since I have been in Canada I still cannot afford to move out of the one bedroom apartment that I share with my husband and two children. I applied for subsidized housing in 2007, and I am still waiting. Yesterday I called and they said that the wait list is thirteen years. Not having affordable housing directly affects the health of my family".
Elin Gouldin, a social justice and advocacy consultant, insisted that releasing a budget in this way pits people against each other by forcing them fight for scraps. She pointed out that climate change, the homelessness crisis, child care, and poverty reduction are not initiatives that should require triage, and that a civic vision that understands the importance of funding all of these areas is what Torontonians are asking for. She said that a civic vision does not end with votes; it needs to be fully funded.
After budget deputations, the Budget Committee met on January 12 and 23 where it added significant funds to the budget to support many community priorities in the 2018 City Budget. Check here for all of the details.
Next up … The Mayor’s Executive Committee meets on Tuesday, February 6 to review and make decisions about the budget. Toronto City Council has the final say at its February meeting. Two days have been set aside for the Council meeting on Monday, February 12 and Tuesday, February 13. Then it’s a wrap.