January 12, 2023

A Budget Worth Raising Hell About

While this year’s budget doesn’t have much new to offer from a cycling perspective, it is overall the biggest disappointment since Mayor John Tory took office in 2015 and one every Torontonian needs to raise hell about. Especially when we look at the budget’s impact on marginalized communities. Let's look at Toronto’s budget shortfalls, the police budget increase, TTC service cuts, and how you can get involved.

Continued Budget Shortfalls

The City of Toronto has a $484 million funding shortfall for 2022 along with an additional $933 million COVID-19 funding impact for 2023. These funding pressures are expected to reach $1.5 to $1.7 billion by 2024 without accounting for the Ford government’s Bill 23 which could deprive Toronto of $230 million annually in developer charges. Something which prompted GTHA municipalities such as Vaughan and East Gwillimbury to float the possibility of doubling the property tax rate.

Mayor Tory is making a big mistake by relying on provincial and federal governments to cover Toronto’s shortfalls while only raising property taxes by 5.5% – or 7.0% including the 1.5% increase for the city building fund – amidst an annual inflation rate of 6.6%. If Mayor Tory were serious about balancing the books, he would have looked into other revenue tools such as a commercial parking levy which Councillor Dianne Saxe has called for. Instead, his ”Plan B” is to defer much needed capital projects which could have catastrophic consequences for climate action, transit, and housing. Not to mention, we are already too far behind on bikeways as is with only 101 kilometres installed from 2015 to 2022.

Irresponsible Police Increase

Despite the budget shortfalls, Mayor Tory announced an irresponsible $48 million increase in the annual police budget; amounting to a slap in the face for marginalized communities. In June 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement called out the disproportionate police treatment towards Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) and called for defunding the police with funds reallocated towards community care programs that help prevent crime.

Police conduct was once again questioned in July 2021 when homeless people were evicted from encampments at Lamport Stadium and elsewhere. Most recently in Summer 2022, Toronto police officers ticketed people riding bikes in High Park while doing very little to address chronic speeding by people driving on nearby Parkside Drive. This most recent example prompted lawyer Dave Shellnut to organize Toronto’s cycling community to demand an end to the ticketing practice, as well as improve the safety of our streets.

Despite strong community opposition expressed at Monday’s meeting, the Toronto Police Services Board unanimously approved the budget increase which will go to City Council in mid-February. Seven recently elected councillors penned together a letter calling for a focus on community-led crisis response instead of policing as part of the budget. On Tuesday, January 24, Desmond Cole and several advocacy groups representing marginalized communities will be hosting the "Another Toronto Is Possible" protest in front of City Hall to demand the reallocation of half of the police budget towards community-based support systems. For a road safety perspective, a shift towards automated enforcement could help reduce costs, though the placement of such cameras could still pose risks for marginalized communities.

TTC Riders Given the Shaft

Another case of misaligned priorities lies with the TTC budget which was debated by the TTC board on the same day as the police budget. Transit fares could increase by ten cents after being frozen for the two previous years while service could be cut by 9% including reducing subway frequencies to every ten minutes during off-peak hours. In keeping with Tory’s security focus, the budget calls for the hiring of 50 special constables. All of these measures could have a disproportionate impact on low-income and racialized people. Councillor Chris Moise attempted to have these changes reversed – as called for by dozens of community members who spoke – but was unsuccessful in his efforts.

Given TransformTO calls for 75% of trips under 5 km to be made by walking, cycling, and transit, Cycle Toronto has teamed up with TTC Riders to call on Torontonians to contact the Mayor and their city councillor to stop these TTC cuts. The efforts of TTC Riders were recognized on Another Toronto’s website; a testament of how organizations and advocates of different backgrounds must work together to stop Mayor Tory’s austerity agenda. Especially with his “strong mayor” powers.

How to Raise Hell

With public deputations scheduled for Tuesday, January 17 and Wednesday, January 18, Torontonians are encouraged to register to speak (by Monday, January 16 at 4:30 PM) or send a written submission to buc@toronto.ca to oppose the police budget increase and TTC cuts. Don’t forget to copy Mayor Tory and your city councillor. Torontonians are encouraged to attend budget town halls if their local councillor hosts one, while Progress Toronto will be hosting training sessions focused on the budget.

Even if you do not have an accounting background, your voice matters with this budget more than ever. You can focus your deputation on your lived experiences, as well as your primary advocacy interest whether it be social justice, housing, transit, or safe streets. Safe streets advocates can call for increased automated speed enforcement, as well as expanding Open Streets (or ActiveTO) beyond two Sundays annually. Transportation Services could be made more efficient by getting more delegated authority to install cycling projects with reduced need for public consultation and subsequent City Council approval.

UPDATE 2023/01/13: Cycle Toronto released their 2023 budget asks with a focus on active transportation and public transit.

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