Our Choices Will Determine If We Are Toronto the Good

Our Op-Ed in today’s Toronto Star argues that if Toronto truly is a “world-class city” or “Toronto the Good,” we must choose to move beyond slogans to action. Too many Torontonians are hurting.


Opinion: Our Choices Will Determine if We are Toronto the Good

By Devika Shah, Adina Lebo, and Cameron Watts

Wed., Jan. 23, 2019


Fourth largest city in North America. Global metropolis. World-class city. Diversity Our Strength. But Toronto the Good?

Hang Vo, a 58-year-old woman who was sleeping in an alley died on Jan. 15 after being hit by a garbage truck. A week earlier, on another frigid night, Crystal Papineau died trapped in a donation bin. These deaths are just the most public and horrific indicators of a broader reality: neighbours in this city are struggling.

Over half of Toronto’s workers subsist on part-time, short-term jobs with low wages and no benefits, struggling to make ends meet.

Three of every four families can’t afford what is the most expensive child care in the country, even if they can find a space.

Our transit system doesn’t come close to providing an acceptable level of service to our current and growing population, draining our daily budgets, productivity, and health.

Rents are skyrocketing, putting affordable, safe, and decent housing out of reach for more and more of us. The meagre amount of affordable housing built in the last decade is dwarfed by the ever-growing need.

Women’s shelters were full the night Papineau died.

As Torontonians, we like to think we’re a caring city, where no one is left behind. We like to believe in the slogans. They make us feel good.

The truth is, hundreds of thousands of us have been left behind, and every day that number grows. One of every four children, and one of every five adults in our city live in poverty.

We can choose whether we continue, or not, on this downward spiral.

Monday will mark a critical juncture for Toronto. The city will launch its preliminary 2019 budget, which will determine the funding of critical programs, services, and infrastructure and signal its priorities for the next four years.

The real test of what a city values is what makes it into its budget. If we are indeed a caring and inclusive city, the budget choices council makes should reflect that.

So far, the budget choices that we’ve collectively allowed Council to make seem to be inconsistent with our values as Torontonians.

Take taxes. We’ve been a lot less willing to invest in our collective well-being than many other Canadian cities. Year after year, council has celebrated keeping property taxes so low we don’t even keep up with inflation and also failed to adopt creative revenue options available to it through the City of Toronto Act.

At the same time, Toronto City Council has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in property tax breaks to developers for constructing commercial and industrial facilities, resulting in reduced revenues for critical programs, services, and community infrastructure. It is unclear that these generous incentives provided to developers have resulted in sufficient public value.

So far, the theory of “trickle-down” economics hasn’t quite delivered for us the jobs and prosperity it was supposed to deliver.

We’re seeing the consequence of those choices today — a city starved of resources for the infrastructure and services we all depend on for a livable, healthy, equitable, safe, and prosperous city.

We should no longer celebrate plans and strategies, but outcomes, progress and success. It’s time for Mayor John Tory and city council to move beyond talk, and fully fund the poverty reduction strategy, “TO Prosperity,” that council adopted four years ago. In the past term of council, we saw little forward motion to move from paper to action.

We can pay now, or we can pay a lot more later. People struggling in our city are already paying the price of inaction. In just the first few weeks of the new year, people struggling with homelessness have paid with their lives.

A better city is possible, but it’s a choice.

Either we can be satisfied with four more years of Band-Aids, a fraying social fabric, and needless deaths, or we can take bold action together and demonstrate that we really are who we think we are.


Devika Shah is the executive director of Social Planning Toronto. Adina Lebo is co-chair of Commitment TO Community. Rev. Cameron Watts is co-chair of Faith in the City.

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