What would a budget with a heart look like? Harm reduction, community services, child care, and public transit options

The 2023 police budget includes a $48 million increase, using revenues from property taxes.¹ Meanwhile, vital public and community services that make neighbourhoods safer, healthier, and more livable are being cut or frozen — which is also effectively a cut when inflation is factored in. 

This is the third and final post in our series examining alternative ways to spend $48 million. Check out our first post on housing options and our second post on supports for unhoused individuals, homelessness prevention, and tenant protectionIn this post, we consider the alternate ways that $48 million could be used to improve critical services in four key areas: harm reduction, community services, child care, and public transit.

With an additional $48 million, we could use:

  • $10 million for harm reduction, prevention and support services to address the opioid poisoning crisis;
  • $15 million to increase the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP), resulting in a 60% increase in funding to community services provided by nonprofits;
  • $10 million to create 1,000 child care fee subsidies;
  • $13 million to reverse some of the planned public transit service cuts

Support lifesaving harm reduction strategies to address the opioid poisoning crisis

The opioid poisoning crisis in Toronto has reached record levels, with a deeply troubling and dramatic rise in opioid toxicity deaths since the pandemic. Preliminary figures show 591 people died from opioid toxicity² in 2021, almost twice the number of deaths compared to 2019. Between January and October 2022, preliminary data show 368 people died from opioid toxicity³ with additional probable cases.

The Toronto Board of Health has repeatedly called on the provincial and federal government to fund critical programs, adopt policies, and make legislative changes to address the crisis and support proven and effective harm reduction measures. Despite the urgency of the situation, five opioid poisoning related services included in the 2022 Toronto Public Health budget were removed from the 2023 budget due to lack of funding from senior orders of government. Staff note the funding could come through during the year but at this time the funds have not been committed.

Services removed from the budget include the following: enhanced resources for the Toronto Drug Strategy Secretariat, enhanced programming for The Works, expansion of outreach overdose team, enhanced data and improved data sharing, and support for mobile supervised consumption services. In total, these proposals removed from the budget amount to less than $3 million.

The federal and provincial governments need to do their fair share to address this dire situation. But imagine if $10 million from the $48 million increase proposed for the police was reallocated to harm reduction strategies, prevention, and support? The City could easily maintain the services removed from the 2023 budget and expand these lifesaving programs. Rather than using funds for police to respond after an opioid poisoning, the City could put some of those resources to use preventing opioid poisoning in the first place.

Increase funding for community services provided by nonprofits, help address the HR crisis, and expand service access

The City is an important partner with the community sector and funder of community services. Under the Community Partnership and Investment Program (CPIP), the City funds nonprofit organizations to provide programs and services that advance the City’s social, economic, and cultural goals. Through this program, the City also develops partnerships with funders and provides support to Indigenous-led and Black-mandated organizations and resident leadership initiatives. The 2023 budget includes $25 million for CPIP. There is no increase to the CPIP budget — effectively a cut after factoring in inflation at 6.6%.

The Community Services Partnerships (CSP) funding stream is the largest component of CPIP. CSP supports community organizations to deliver services that “improve social outcomes for vulnerable, marginalized, and high risk communities.” In recent years, the City has worked with Indigenous and Black communities to co-design an Indigenous Funding Framework and Black-mandated Funding Framework to guide its community investments, increase investment in Indigenous-led and Black-mandated organizations, and advance its commitments to reconciliation and equity. Resident leadership and capacity building initiatives are also supported through CPIP.

The City summarized the impact of CPIP funding streams in 2019/20:

Imagine the impact of an additional $15 million, or 60% funding increase, for CPIP? This investment would allow for the expansion of community services and capacity building through grassroots initiatives, with a focus on struggling, marginalized, and vulnerable communities. It would support community safety, violence prevention, community cohesion, poverty alleviation, and neighbourhood well-being. It would increase support to Indigenous-led and Black-mandated organizations, advancing the City’s commitments to reconciliation and action on anti-Black racism. These funds would support service expansion so organizations can meet the increasing needs of communities, cover the rising cost of living, and provide resources to address the HR crisis in the nonprofit sector.

The mayor has claimed that his budget prioritizes community safety. But any budget that truly prioritizes community safety would invest in the public and community services that strengthen neighbourhoods in ways that prevent violence and address poverty and other root causes of violence. 

Improve access to child care for low-income families

Access to high-quality, affordable child care is essential for Toronto families. The federal government’s introduction of $10/day child care is changing the child care sector and the situation of parents and children for the better. However, while it is making child care more affordable for full fee-paying families, there are still barriers to accessing child care. There are no new resources being invested in fee subsidies for low-income families. As of November 2022, there were 17,413 children on the waiting list for a child care fee subsidy in Toronto. More efforts are needed to increase access to affordable child care for low-income families.

An increase of $10 million would create child care fee subsidies for an additional 1,000 children from low-income families.⁴

Reverse planned cuts to public transit service

The TTC budget promises less for more: transit service cuts at the same time as a fare hike. The service cuts will result in less frequent service during off-peak hours and more crowded vehicles. Transit advocates note that these cuts will only discourage ridership, contributing to the TTC‘s revenue problems, and compromise safety with longer waits for transit in off-peak hours at sparsely populated transit stops.

At the January 9 TTC board meeting, TTC staff indicated that $61 million⁵ would be needed to restore transit services to pre-pandemic levels. 

Reallocating $13 million from the police budget to public transit isn’t enough to restore services to pre-pandemic levels, but it could reverse some of the planned service cuts. In addition, TTCriders and the Toronto Environmental Alliance have called for the introduction of a commercial parking levy which could raise half a billion dollars or more to fund public transit services.

Next up … City Council votes on the budget on February 15 — a recent change to the schedule. We’ll provide an update on the final votes.

Wondering how you can take action on these issues? Learn more about our #HaveAHeartTO campaign. Over the next week 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! And come out to the City Budget Rally on February 15 at 9 a.m.


[1] The 2023 budget includes a gross increase of $68.2 million to the police budget, from all revenue sources including provincial grants. The net increase is $48 million using revenues from property taxes.

[2] This preliminary figure is based on confirmed opioid toxicity deaths and may underestimate the actual number of people who have died as a result of opioid toxicity. Suspected drug-related deaths from all drug types is higher.

[3] Confirmed cases.

[4] The 2019 City budget included 210 new child care fee subsidies at a cost of $2.058 million, $9,800 each. Earlier city documents show child care fee subsidies at a cost of $10,000 each. We have used the $10,000 figure for our calculations. https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2019/bu/bgrd/backgroundfile-124659.pdf

[5] S. Pizey-Allen, personal communication, February 3, 2023.


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