2022 City Budget: Strong Calls to Cut the Police Budget, Support Climate Action, and Fund Critical Services at Budget Deputations

The 2022 City budget process has advanced to its final stages with the Budget Committee concluding its work on February 7, the Executive Committee set to review the budget today, Friday, February 11, and Toronto City Council to meet for final budget votes on Thursday, February 17. At public hearings, residents and community groups spoke with frustration and anger about plans to increase the police budget while urgent action is needed to address mounting and multiple crises in affordable housing, emergency shelter and supports, overdose prevention, public transit, climate action, child care, long-term care, seniors services and more - none of which require the police.

Read our highlights from the public hearings on the 2022 City budget and SPT's deputation. Many thanks to SPT placement student Jarrod Ross for his reports on the public hearings.

Plan to Increase Police Budget Met with Anger and Frustration: emerging themes from day one of public presentations on the 2022 City budget

‘Toronto hates poor people,’ somberly remarked one mental health service provider at the public hearings on the 2022 City budget. The deputant spoke out against the proposed increase in the police budget, asserting Toronto favours criminalizing the poor rather than addressing the city’s affordable housing and shelter system crises.

These sentiments were echoed by many residents who spoke at the first day of public hearings on Monday, January 24, as the intended increase in funding for the Toronto Police Service came under much scrutiny. Climate action, affordable housing, poverty reduction, food security, homelessness, and Toronto’s collapsed shelter system were among the key concerns raised throughout the public hearings. As one young leader pointed out, none of these issues require police intervention to address.

Many residents expressed anger and disgust at the use of $2 million in public funds to remove 60 houseless people from park encampments this past summer – public funds used to support violent police action against vulnerable residents amidst a pandemic. As several deputants noted, at roughly $33,000 per person, these funds could have been used to provide proper housing and supports rather than criminalize and traumatize Toronto’s most marginalized residents.

Several speakers advocated for the diversion of police funding to support important and underfunded community services and combat issues of poverty, homelessness, and food security. Bill Worrell, chair of the Oakwood Vaughan Community Organization, rejected the City’s status quo and austerity budget, calling for police funding to be redirected to critical social services to promote community safety by investing in the social determinants of health. Reflecting on deepening crises in the city and in his community, the speaker urged Council to address the City’s longstanding revenue problem through incremental annual increases to property taxes to reach the average for the GTA.

Action on climate change featured heavily in the public hearings, with many residents calling for expansion of the TTC as a means to advance the City’s Net Zero 2040 plan. Residents supported an increase in routes and frequency of bus and streetcar service, the purchase of an electric bus fleet, lower fares, and full implementation of the Fair Pass program. Several residents suggested a return to the $60 car registration fee as one avenue to increase revenue needed for such initiatives.

Representation and inclusion within the budget and planning processes was also a common theme. John Rae, representing the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, highlighted that while 22% of Canadians have disabilities, people with disabilities fail to be represented or meaningfully involved in planning and decision-making processes. The speaker called on the City of Toronto to engage people with disabilities in the early stages of policy-making and throughout the process and to take steps to increase representation of people with disabilities in senior positions within the City.

In addition, residents stressed the need for accessible processes to support public participation and criticized the tight turnaround time between the presentation of the staff recommended budget and the opportunity for residents to take part in deputations.

Toronto Speaks in Chorus: Addressing housing, poverty, and climate change does not require an increased police budget - day two of the public hearings

On January 26, the second and final day of public hearings on the 2022 City budget, Toronto residents shared their priorities for this year’s municipal budget. Major themes on day two included calls for investment in affordable housing and poverty reduction, immediate action on climate change, and redirection of police funding to essential and underfunded community services.

Several residents contrasted the proposed $25 million increase to the Toronto Police Service with the City’s failure to address basic survival needs of unhoused folks. Representatives from under-resourced drop-in centres, a critical network of services for unhoused individuals, urged City Council to address these urgent needs, including additions to the budget to pay for basics such as food containers to distribute to-go meals and the provision of sanitary items. As speakers remarked, access to sanitary supplies is a matter of dignity.

Community members reflected on the City’s Net Zero 2040 strategy with a sense of pride but expressed concern that the proposed funding would not be sufficient to achieve its goals. Speakers stressed the need to tackle this initiative now, and with vigor. Residents called for investment in the TTC as an important means to achieve net zero emissions, including through increased routes and frequency of service, expansion of electric bus fleets, and affordable fares. Recognizing the TTC was one of the most expensive urban transit systems in North America, residents urged Council to fully implement the Fair Pass program, a discount fare program for people with low incomes. One speaker commented on the difficult choices that low-income families face between paying for food or fares.

Speakers ranged from 6th graders to seniors, representatives of organizations and alliances to folks representing themselves and future generations, and front-line workers to concerned members of the public. All emphasized the urgent need for action to respond to the multiple, compounding and intersecting crises faced by Toronto residents.

Presenting Social Planning Toronto’s deputation, Executive Director Jin Huh remarked, “The sheer crisis we are living in – where crisis has become the norm – calls out for urgent action. Residents are grappling not only with the pandemic, but multiple crises including poverty, housing, shelters and homelessness, mental health, the opioid crisis, and the climate emergency; longstanding, urgent challenges remain in childcare, transit, community services, racial, colonial and gender-based violence and injustice. Communities across our city are in the midst of a five-alarm fire. This budget does not reflect this urgent situation, nor does it create a viable pathway out of these multiple and intersecting crises.” She went on to outline recommendations for a better budget that meets the urgency of the moment.

Torontonians asked for equity and dignity, accessible and affordable housing, poverty reduction, and food security. Emotions ran high as residents brought to light the lack of enforcement of rental housing standards, rise in renovictions, and illegal practices by landlords. As one speaker noted, a failure to act on these emergencies is forcing out renters while leaving Toronto as a playground for the rich, losing its heart and soul in the process.

Increasing revenue was also on the mind of Torontonians. Common initiatives supported by residents included increasing the vacant homes tax to 3% in line with other comparable cities, introducing a luxury homes tax, returning to the $60 car registration fee, creating a municipal sales tax, and challenging the federal government to provide a share of income tax.

Overall, the public asked for the City to address the intersecting issues of poverty, housing and homelessness, climate change, and transit. Torontonians want to build a better Toronto that provides equitable space for communities to sustainably thrive. The public highlighted that this can be achieved through considered investment in community and infrastructure, not through policing.

Photo Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

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