Budget Process Concludes with Minor Tweaks, Leaving Big Challenges Ahead for City Council and the Next Mayor

On February 15, the Mayor and City Council met for a marathon 12½ hour budget meeting, resulting in a final 2023 budget that looked much like it did when it was launched just over five weeks ago. 

Welcome but Minor Tweaks

A majority on Council, including the Mayor, supported an amendment, allocating $7 million to enhance select programs and services using savings identified by City staff and funds from a non-program account. An additional $1 million from a non-program account was used to expand eligibility for property tax cancellation and deferral and water and solid waste rebate and deferral programs for qualifying low-income households. Several councillors across the political spectrum worked together to craft this ‘consensus motion.’

Some highlights from the motion moved by Councillor Carroll: 

  • $800,000 to “open one additional 24/7 warming centre until April 15." At present, the City has warming centres that open for overnight service under certain inclement weather conditions, but no 24/7 warming centres. According to the City’s cost estimates, $800,000 will support one 24/7 warming centre for 50 people for a two-month period. Widespread public demand for 24/7 warming centres led to this victory. However, we know it’s not enough to meet the need and doesn’t include funding for next winter or provide resources to open cooling centres in the summer months with rising heat waves.
  • $1.7 million for an “above-inflationary increase” to nonprofit community organizations under the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP); SPT calculated a 6.6% inflationary increase for CPIP would cost $1.65 million. Rounded up to $1.7 million puts the increase slightly above the rate of inflation. This funding will help community organizations to meet rising costs but won’t support expanded programs for communities or provide the needed resources to address the nonprofit HR crisis. 
  • $1 million to expand the Rent Bank program to help tenants with deposits and rent arrears to allow them to access and maintain their housing. The budget tabled on January 10 included $6.2 million for the Rent Bank which would aid an estimated 2,400 households. Based on these figures, an additional $1 million could support an additional 387 households. Far more is needed to tackle the desperate situation many renters face.
  • $800,000 for SafeTO anti-violence programming and for “on the street” funding through TOwards Peace program in North Etobicoke and the Jane-Finch area 
  • $500,000 in one-time funding to expand mental health supports on the TTC.
  • $900,000 to support youth cultural organizations with a “proven track record of engaging underserved youth." This work will be carried out in partnership with Toronto Arts Council.
  • $300,000 for youth hubs in Danzig and Empringham.
  • $100,000 in additional funding for the 519 Community Centre.

Councillor Matlow also moved a successful motion to expand the RentSafeTO program:

  • $846,040 to hire 8 new full-time staff for the RentSafeTO program through a modest increase to the registration fee that apartment building owners pay as part of this cost-shared program. RentSafeTO is a bylaw enforcement program aimed at getting landlords to maintain their apartment buildings in a state of good repair. 

While welcome, these small tweaks to a $16.16 billion budget don’t address the multiple crises impacting the city. 

Other modest attempts to deliver critical programs and services were defeated by a large majority on Council:

  • $900,000 for 24/7 warming centres provided in partnership with nonprofit community partners with expertise in the delivery of these services, using funds from a small portion of the police budget increase. Councillor Bravo moved this motion, arguing that one 24/7 warming centre for two months was not sufficient to meet the need and that the police could make a sacrifice for the greater good, reducing non-officer related costs, such as their podcast budget or TikTok expenses. Councillor Bradford asked if she was “defunding the police.” In case you were wondering — if Councillor Bravo’s motion had passed, the police budget increase would have been $67.3 million (gross; from all revenue sources) instead of $68.2 million. (Motion failed)
  • $2.2 million to expand the Tenant Support Program to establish a renoviction assistance program, using funds from the capital plan which would have resulted in a minor increase in debt funding. Councillor Matlow moved this motion. The Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations commented on the motion: “This would have helped the estimated 40-60K tenants getting fraudulently evicted every year, losing hundreds of $millions to illegal landlord activity.” (Motion failed)
  • $500,000 to expand funding for Indigenous-led and Black-mandated community organizations, reallocating funds from international trade activities, such as travel expenses. Council has adopted an Indigenous funding framework and a Black-mandated funding framework to address underspending. Councillor Matlow’s motion was intended to make progress toward the City’s commitments regarding reconciliation and action on anti-Black racism. (Motion failed)  

The full motions and Council voting records are here. Find motions at the bottom of the page.

Under strong mayor powers, Council no longer has the right to vote on each part of the budget. Instead, members of Council moved motions to amend parts of the budget. After they voted on the amendments, the Mayor’s budget was ‘deemed adopted.’ Then the Mayor indicated to the clerk that he would not veto any of the amendments, bringing the 2023 budget process to a close. Within the hour, John Tory submitted his resignation to the clerk indicating his resignation would take effect on Friday, February 17 at 5 p.m.

In the end, our elected Councillors had little say over most of the budget. That’s not democracy. 

For a return to more democratic processes, mayoral candidates need to commit to rejecting these anti-democratic powers and tell us what steps they’ll take to get this provincial legislation rescinded. The next Mayor of Toronto also needs to commit to a better budget process — a more democratic, transparent, and inclusive process, with meaningful civic engagement and greater accountability to the people of Toronto, especially those most impacted by the multiple crises in our city.

Mayoral Transition Process 

The city clerk released information on the mayoral transition process. Once the mayor’s resignation takes effect on Friday, Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie will assume most roles and responsibilities of the mayor. The clerk notes that the deputy mayor will take on these roles but will not become an ‘acting mayor’ or ‘interim mayor.’ The deputy mayor will also not have strong mayor powers and will not automatically ‘assume the mayor’s seats on boards.’ Those board seats will remain vacant until a new mayor is elected.

At the next scheduled Council meeting, Council will declare the mayor’s position vacant and pass a bylaw to hold a by-election to fill the mayor’s position. At the same meeting, the city clerk will set a date for the close of nominations between 30 and 60 days after the passing of the bylaw. The election will take place 45 days after the close of nominations. The next scheduled Council meeting is set for March 29. According to the Toronto Star, “more specific key dates for the byelection will be announced shortly.”

That’s a wrap for our City Budget Watch blog for the 2023 City budget season. If you’re signed up for the City Budget Watch newsletter, we’ll keep you in the loop for the 2024 budget. You can also sign up for SPT's updates, which includes a bimonthly newsletter and occasional updates between newsletters (such as the release of new reports and research), to stay in the loop with SPT throughout the year. 

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