Austerity has made a mess of our city. It’s time to invest in building a Toronto we can be proud of.

In the lead-up to the final debate on the City of Toronto’s 2020 budget, 80 diverse organizations and agencies serving communities across the city signed an open letter calling on Mayor John Tory and Councillors to use every revenue tool at the City’s disposal to address the damage done by a decade of austerity.

Dear Mayor Tory and Councillors:

Imagine what our city would look like if it had not been starved of resources for the past decade.

Instead, the gap between rich Torontonians and the rest of us has widened even more, and many communities have been left behind. Toronto has:

  • an affordable housing crisis that is a daily struggle for hundreds of thousands of people,
  • a homelessness crisis that is taking lives,
  • a climate emergency that requires urgent action,
  • child care that is unaffordable for 3 of every 4 families,
  • a massively underfunded transit system that is deeply frustrating,
  • mounting gun violence that is claiming young lives,
  • a severe lack of access to recreation services, youth hubs, and libraries, and
  • streets that put pedestrians and cyclists in danger.

Meanwhile, the city has conducted major reviews over the years to find efficiencies and learned that there aren't savings of sufficient magnitude to solve our city’s problems. Now, as City staff and Council deliberate on the findings of the recent Ernst & Young Value Based Outcomes Review as a way to achieve new efficiencies, we must take into account the critical role of the municipal government in filling human service gaps that are not adequately addressed by other sectors.

The truth is that we have a revenue problem in Toronto. For a decade, Toronto City Council has chosen to keep property taxes at the lowest rate in the GTA (and lower than in other Ontario cities including Hamilton and Ottawa) and to reject other options to raise revenues for vital public services. Meanwhile, per capita spending (adjusted for inflation and population growth) has dropped over the past decade.

These choices have come at a cost for our city. To get out of this mess, we need to use every revenue tool at our disposal, as soon as possible.

It’s true that the Province and the federal government also have a major responsibility to address Toronto’s challenges — but that is not an excuse for inaction by the City.

Council has taken the first step toward raising revenues for needed infrastructure, but it’s long overdue, and the City has a lot of ground to make up after a decade of austerity. Increases to the City Building Fund have not eliminated the City's revenue problem on the capital or operating side. Despite this important infusion of capital funding, the City's state of good repair backlog is set to increase significantly over the next decade. Revenue raised through the tax levy for the City Building Fund covers capital costs only, which means other revenue sources are needed to improve operating funding for City programs and services.

We call on you to provide bold leadership and make better choices for the decade ahead, starting with the 2020 City budget. We must:


  1. Acknowledge past budget decisions that have caused some Torontonians to shoulder far more than others. For example, the Gardiner eats up 44% of the transportation capital plan, yet the TTC serves almost four times as many commuters and is the least subsidized transit system in North America. Similarly, more money goes to the Toronto Police Service budget — already one of the biggest line items in Toronto’s budget at over $1 billion — while community-led initiatives to prevent youth and gun violence have been unfunded because they were instead dependent on funding from other levels of government. The recent announcement of an additional $6 million for community-based anti-violence funding in this year’s budget is a long-overdue step in the right direction.


  2. Begin to address Toronto’s revenue problem by using every viable municipal revenue tool currently at our disposal. We can:
    • Reintroduce the vehicle registration tax. We lost $64 million a year when a $60 fee was scrapped.
    • Increase the municipal land transfer tax for mansions selling for over $3 million, raising $5.5 million a year.
    • Introduce a vacant homes tax. Anyone who can afford to leave a home empty can afford to pay the City a little extra. The City of Vancouver has raised almost $40 million a year in this way to pay for affordable housing.
    • Start planning now to implement additional viable revenue tools in 2021, including a commercial parking levy that would bring in $171–$535 million a year.


  3. Use the millions of dollars in new revenue to simultaneously address the climate emergency and prioritize the needs of those Torontonians who are struggling the most. This means building a city that supports Black, Indigenous, racialized, newcomer and LGBTQ2S+ communities, people with disabilities, and seniors. In particular women from these communities, who are often the primary caregivers of children and seniors and the lowest paid, are most likely to suffer from the lack of affordable child care and housing, inaccessible and expensive transit, dangerous streets, and the impacts of climate change. We need to apply equity and climate lenses to all budget decisions, building on the City’s Equity Responsive Budgeting initiative and the City’s recent climate emergency declaration. When a city protects its most vulnerable residents, everyone benefits.


  4. Legitimately engage Torontonians in the 2021 budget process. No other aspect of City business has more of an impact on the everyday reality of Torontonians than the municipal budget. Yet over the past decade the City has shown less and less interest in hearing what residents care about most and what tradeoffs we are willing to make for those priorities. At minimum, the City should:
    • Give residents and community organizations adequate time between the budget launch and deputation days. This year’s 5 business days blatantly demonstrated how little community input is valued.
    • Give Torontonians — in every single ward and before the budget launch — a say in budget choices with user-friendly tools that allow residents to understand the tradeoffs, constraints, and opportunities in budgeting for a better city.
    • Provide multiple channels, times, and locations for residents to have input.


  5. Provide transparent and comprehensive budget information. Community organizations, journalists, and others who serve as a bridge between the City and residents must have trust in the budget process. Yet the 2020 budget presentation included few details about millions of dollars in efficiencies and savings. Even City Councillors have to fight for briefing notes to understand the impact of changes. A budget is a policy document, an operations guide, a financial plan, and a communications device. Toronto should follow best practices, and Vancouver’s lead, by presenting a comprehensive budget document that allows Councillors and everyday Torontonians to easily assess budget impacts.


A better city — one that works and cares for all of us — is possible. Let’s not take another decade to invest in each other and build a Toronto we can be proud of.



  1. Afghan Women's Organization
  2. African Women Acting
  3. Agincourt Community Services Association
  4. Ansaar Foundation
  5. Bangladeshi-Canadian Community Services
  6. Black Creek Community Collaborative
  7. Campaign 2000
  8. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  9. Centre for Immigrant and Community Services
  10. Centre of Learning & Development
  11. ClimateFast
  12. CNIB Foundation
  13. College-Montrose Children’s Place
  14. Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change
  15. Community and Legal Aid Services Program
  16. CUPE Local 79
  17. Daily Bread Food Bank
  18. Davenport Perth Community Ministry Steering Committee
  19. Davenport Perth Neighbourhood and Community Health Centre
  20. Delta Family Resource Centre
  21. Emmanuel Life Management Center
  22. Faith in the City
  23. Family Service Toronto
  24. Flemingdon Park Ministry
  25. Fred Victor
  26. Hospitality Workers Training Centre
  27. Jane Alliance Neighbourhood Services
  28. Jane Finch Community Ministry
  29. Labour Education Centre
  30. Lawrence Heights Inter-Organizational Network
  31. Let’s Get Together!
  32. Massey Centre
  33. Mennonite Central Committee Ontario
  34. Millennial Womxn in Policy
  35. Mount Dennis Community Association
  36. New Haven Learning Centre
  37. Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
  38. Out of Bounds
  39. Park People
  40. Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre
  41. Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre
  42. Power in Community
  43. Progress Toronto
  44. PTP Adult Learning and Employment Programs
  45. Rexdale Community Health Centre
  46. Scarborough Civic Action Network
  47. Services in Action
  48. Sistering
  49. Social Planning Toronto
  50. South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
  51. South Riverdale Community Health Centre
  52. St. Felix Centre
  53. St. Stephen's Community House
  54. The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians
  55. The Dandelion Initiative
  56. The Neighbourhood Group
  57. The Neighbourhood Organization
  58. The Rhema Foundation Canada
  59. The Salvation Army
  60. Times Change Women’s Employment Service
  61. Toronto Community Benefits Network
  62. Toronto Community for Better Child Care
  63. Toronto Drop-In Network
  64. Toronto Education Workers/Local 4400, CUPE
  65. Toronto Environmental Alliance
  66. Toronto Neighbourhood Centres
  67. Toronto Public Space Committee
  68. Toronto Workmen's Circle
  69. Toronto Youth Cabinet
  70. TTCRiders
  71. University Settlement
  72. Urban Alliance on Race Relations
  73. Uzima Women Relief Group International
  74. VHA Home HealthCare
  75. Voices of Scarborough
  76. West Neighbourhood House
  77. West Scarborough Community Legal Services
  78. Women’s Habitat
  79. Workers' Action Centre
  80. YWCA Toronto
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