Every year, members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in the City’s annual budget – sharing their priorities, concerns, and ideas for change with members of the Budget Committee. This year’s budget deputations took place at City Hall and the Civic Centres in Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough on January 20 and 21. In total, 177 individuals took part in the 2020 City budget deputations, including 91 at City Hall, 21 in Etobicoke, 35 in Scarborough, and 30 in North York. Several more made written submissions to the committee.
At this year’s deputations, Torontonians raised many concerns about their city. Many calls for action focused on transit, affordable housing, child care, and the climate crisis. At deputations across the city, residents spoke of a city that needs help. These residents gathered and voiced their concerns so that their elected officials could bring about change.
The need for reliable and affordable transit was raised by various speakers. Many shared their concerns about inaccessible transit due to the rising cost. Although the proposed budget does put more money into the TTC, it does not lower the fare riders pay. Members of TTCriders called for funding for new streetcars and buses, full implementation of the Fair Pass discount program for people living with low incomes, cancellation of fare increases and lower fares for all, full funding of the TTC service plan to improve service, and funding to keep the TTC in a state of good repair.
Many deputants spoke about the urgent need for affordable housing in Toronto. Elizabeth Nyburg and Penny Bettson from the Toronto Raging Grannies put it best: “Housing is a right, act boldly”. Through their colorful singing of the deputation, the Grannies put on a show for councillors and community. While their singing was enjoyable, their message was about the fears many people face in this city. With some residents paying upwards of 30%-50% of their income on rent, affordable housing for many is anything but a lighthearted tune.
Jane Mercer from the Toronto Coalition for Better Child Care spoke about the importance of providing more subsidized child care. The City is building new child care centres but many are concerned that these much-needed spaces will not be affordable. Jane explained that if new centres don’t include subsidized spaces, this will exclude families with low incomes and will drive up child care fees for full fee-paying families. She noted that centres may not be financially viable as a result. Referring to City figures, Jane noted that more than 17,000 children are waiting for subsidized child care in Toronto and called for action now.
On the issue of the climate crisis, Heather Marshall, Campaigns Director for Toronto Environmental Alliance, raised concerns about the City’s low levels of investment to tackle this significant problem. The 2020 budget is the first one following Council’s move to declare a climate emergency. Heather pointed out that Toronto spends about $7 per resident on the climate crisis, while Vancouver spends $80 and asked the simple question, “Why aren’t we spending more?”. Her deputation called for more funding for housing retrofits, investment in transit including the Fair Fare pass, more funding for green jobs, and adoption of financial tools, such as a commercial parking levy and a mansion tax, to pay for climate action. Read TEA’s deputation and budget analysis here, here, and here.
Participants at the budget deputations reflected the diversity that this great city is known for. From all parts of Toronto, residents came forward to voice their concerns. During her City Hall deputation, Reverend Maggie Helwig spoke about the city she loves as something that has “become increasingly like a kind of dystopia inhabited by the very rich and the desperately poor”. Torontonians gathered to express their desire to create a city that is affordable and accessible for all.
Many thanks to Riju Samuel for reporting on the 2020 City budget deputations.