On February 1, Mayor Tory released his 2023 budget for the City of Toronto, exercising his authority under the new ‘strong mayor’ powers. Despite urgent calls for the City to invest more in services — affordable housing, 24/7 warming centres, public transit, community services, climate action, to name a few — and reallocate police funding to build a strong, equitable and caring city, the Mayor has chosen to use the strong mayor powers to introduce his own budget, while making no substantive change to improve the lives of Torontonians. Where’s the love, Mayor Tory?
In fact, the Mayor’s budget is the same as the budget tabled by City staff on January 10, except for one minor adjustment: $6 million was identified as cost savings (a reduction to consulting expenses and a few other areas) and will be allocated to City services. City documents show:
The Mayor's proposed Operating Budget is consistent with the staff tabled budget with the exception of $6 million in reduction in Corporate Accounts through a focus on reductions to consulting expenses, revised estimates for Tax Deficiencies, and debt servicing costs reflecting final 2023 forecast of debt issuance timing. This $6 million in savings will offset a $6 million added provisional expenditure in Non-Program for emergent operating priorities.
In a press conference, the Mayor magnanimously announced he would permit Council, “as colleagues”, to decide how the $6 million would be used. He named several possible City priorities, including housing, transit, affordability, climate, community safety and wellbeing, community grants and other programming, where the funds could be allocated.
The $6 million in savings represents 0.037% of the City’s $16.16 billion operating budget. However you slice it, these new-found funds won’t go far.
Over 220 residents and community groups took part in the Budget Committee’s public deputations, thoughtfully preparing their remarks and sharing their ideas, priorities, and concerns. SPT penned a letter to the mayor on behalf of 300 organizational partners, grassroots groups and residents with additional thoughts on what Toronto needs. All this feedback hasn’t amounted to much in the Mayor’s budget.
Of the City’s over $16 billion operating budget, Councillors are in charge of just $162 million (the $6 million plus $156 million pertaining to telecommunication services where the Mayor has declared a conflict of interest due to his ties to Rogers). Not exactly a picture of democracy.
Strong Mayor Powers & the City Budget
During the press conference, the Mayor suggested that this year’s budget process is not much different than in previous years. That’s hardly the case. Until this year, the Budget Committee was empowered to make changes to the budget, reallocate funding and prioritize services — decisions that were then considered by City Council. Now the Budget Committee functions as an advisory group for the Mayor.
In the past, final budget decisions were based on majority rule. Under strong mayor powers, the Mayor can veto Council decisions, and it takes two-thirds of Council to overturn his decisions by veto. Majority rule is a basic principle of modern democracies. The disempowerment of Council and introduction of minority rule are far from business as usual.
Here are the details:
- On February 14, Toronto City Council meets to vote on the City’s 2023 operating budget and 10-year capital plan. Under the strong mayor powers, Council can pass a resolution to change the Mayor’s budget, based on a majority vote (14 of the 26 members of Council, if all vote).
- If a resolution is passed, the Mayor has 10 days to veto, or overturn, the decision of Council.
- If that happens, City Council can overturn the Mayor’s veto if two-thirds of Council agree. The Council vote to overturn the Mayor’s veto has to take place within 15 days after the 10-day time period expires for the Mayor to veto the Council resolution.
In December 2022, after the introduction of minority rule was announced, a majority of Council (15 Councillors) publicly condemned the move. Indeed, the Mayor needs to abandon these undemocratic powers.
Over the next couple of weeks we need to tell Mayor Tory and Councillors what loving our city really looks like. We’re asking you to send a tweet asking the Mayor and/or your local Councillor to Have a heart and fix/change something in the 2023 City budget! Learn more about how you can be a part of our #HaveAHeartTO campaign.