On January 17 and 18, over 220 residents, frontline community workers, staff and board members of nonprofits, and representatives from neighbourhood associations and business groups participated in the City of Toronto’s public hearings on the 2023 City budget. Deputants shared their priorities, expressed their concerns, and argued their case for a better budget and a better city.
Anger and frustration with police budget hike
Opposition to the $1.33 billion police budget, including the planned $48 million increase for 2023, emerged as a major theme across the two days of public hearings. Many deputants expressed concern, frustration, and anger over the size of the police budget — which takes up 23.8% of revenue from property taxes — Mayor Tory’s plan to increase the police budget in the name of “community safety,” and policing in general in our city.
Several community members challenged the idea that more police will mean greater community safety, describing experiences of police brutality, practices of racial profiling and racial discrimination targeting Black and other racialized communities, disproportionate use of force against Black and other communities of colour, and individuals killed by police. These deputants made it clear that the Toronto Police Service is not experienced as ensuring community safety — far from it. Instead it is experienced as a threat to community safety by many, including members of Black and other racialized communities and unhoused individuals living in encampments.
Calls for investment in proven and effective community services that address root causes
Many deputants rejected the notion that police are the appropriate response to address social issues such as Toronto’s mental health crisis, opioid crisis, and homelessness crisis. They called instead for investment in community services and supports, including expansion of the Toronto Community Crisis Service, which provides an alternative to a policing response for specific mental health–related 911 calls. TCCS covers 60% of the city; the 2023 City budget does not expand it at all to the remaining 40% of the city. City staff plan to bring forward a one-year evaluation of the service in October 2023, along with a proposal for expansion in 2024. Speakers urged expansion in 2023 and noted that expanding the number of crisis outreach workers, rather than police officers, would be both more effective and less costly.
Deputants described the conditions needed to support community safety, including improving the basic living conditions of Torontonians by providing affordable housing, good jobs, supportive strategies for mental health, youth supports, community hubs, restored and better shelter and public transit systems, and effective prevention and systemic responses to homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, and ableism. Residents advocated for increased investment in these critical areas and recognized ongoing underfunding of key services.
Lack of services and support + more policing, more surveillance for unhoused community members
Several deputants voiced concerns that the budget fails to provide life-saving services and essential supports for unhoused residents while funding more policing and surveillance for these communities. Many residents and frontline community workers called for more supportive and transitional housing, emergency shelter beds, 24-hour warming centres, support services, and housing that is actually affordable. City staff acknowledge that the 9,000 shelter beds budgeted for in 2023 won’t meet the need. The budget also fails to provide 24-hour warming centres, forcing unhoused individuals, community workers, and concerned residents to advocate, protest, and launch campaigns for opening warming centres each and every time dangerous weather conditions are forecast. But even when the warming centres are open, they have inadequate space to serve the unhoused population.
Accessible, reliable, and affordable public transit for all
Lack of affordable, accessible, and reliable public transit was a major deputations theme. Deputants spoke of lack of accessibility on transit, infrequent and unreliable service, service delays, compromised safety, and unaffordable and rising fares. Deputants also pointed out that this neglected service is a lifeline for many disenfranchised and vulnerable groups, including seniors, students, people with disabilities, racialized communities, newcomers, and women.
Several deputants recommended that the City adopt a commercial parking levy to raise much-needed funds for public transit. This tax would apply to large commercial parking lots, such as shopping mall parking, and would likely exclude small strip malls. A 2021 City staff report shows that a commercial parking levy could raise $191–$575 million annually. Without adequate investment, deteriorating conditions on the TTC will further lower ridership and deepen inequities within our city.
Budget falls far short of City’s commitment on climate action
Climate action was another major theme, with many individuals, community organizations, and environmental activists calling for preventative measures to reduce emissions, support for public services that advance climate resilience, and improvements to public transit. The budget fails to appropriately respond to the climate emergency, promising a worse — but more costly — transit service when the opposite is needed to meet climate goals, and prioritizing the Gardiner Expressway rebuild and car travel over the infrastructure needed to support public transit, active transportation, and safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Loss of majority rule and democratic decision-making + a poor public process
Deputants also spoke out about a loss of democratic decision-making under the new “Strong Mayor” powers and a lack of meaningful engagement, specifically the limited time available for residents and community groups to engage in the budget process. Under the strong mayor powers, decisions regarding the City of Toronto’s $16.16 billion operating budget and $49.26 billion 10-year capital plan sit primarily with one person, Mayor John Tory. The Mayor has veto power on budget decisions, and in order to overturn his budget decisions, two-thirds of Council must agree. As for the public process, this year is the worst in recent memory, providing the least amount of time for residents and community groups to review the budget and participate in public deputations. Many are concerned that the budget is largely “baked in” by the time community members take part in the process anyway.
Communities are calling for significant changes in this budget to support an equitable, inclusive, and climate-resilient city, and for a major transformation in the City budget process to put communities at the centre of decision-making.
Next up on City Budget Watch
We’ll provide the highlights from the January 24 Budget Committee wrap-up meeting. We'll also cover the “Mayor’s Budget,” expected to be released on February 1, and a final City Council meeting on February 14 to vote on the budget.
Many thanks to Damien Jeonghyeon Seo, SPT placement student, for his work on this blog post.
Photo: Resident Kaila Hunte implored the Budget Committee to listen to the hundreds of people who shared their stories, insights, and expertise.