Thanks to the powerful interventions of many groups and individuals across the city, Toronto has a municipal budget that preserves many critical programs and services that had been targeted for deep cuts by the Ford administration. However, these programs and services should never have been on the chopping block in the first place given the important role they play in Torontonians’ health and well-being. And while many critical services were saved in last night’s budget vote, a number are still on the chopping block.
Over the course of the months-long budget struggle, tens of thousands of residents responded to the Mayor’s manufactured fiscal crisis by raising their voices in support of initiatives that build a healthy and equitable city for all. The Wellesley Institute’s health equity impact assessment of a number of the proposed cuts, showed the cuts’ inequitable impact on different populations within the city. Our report Countdown to Zero exposed the political agenda behind the budgetary manoeuvering by showing how the cuts weren’t necessary to balance the books. We also raised substantial concerns about proposed cuts to housing and homelessness programs that would have a deep impact on the health and lives of some Toronto’s most vulnerable residents.
The unprecedented and passionate engagement of such a diverse group of Torontonians sent a clear message to City Hall that people care about the well-being of their communities and the city’s most vulnerable. The widespread recognition that the municipal budget is critical in creating and supporting a healthy city was crucial and the outcry of Torontonians moved the majority of city councilors to reject many of the most inequitable cuts proposed in the original municipal budget.
While it is important that we celebrate these successes, we must also recognize that the struggle to prevent a decline in the health and well-being of the city and its residents is far from over. There are still services on the chopping block and critical decisions being made that have serious implications for the future health and well-being of our city.
In the immediate future:
1. Cuts to affordable housing to be voted on in the next two weeks.
2. City worker contract negotiations.
The City of Toronto is currently in negotiating collective agreements with CUPE Local 416, which represents 6,000 of the city’s staff, including paramedics, social housing workers, water and wastewater specialists, gardeners, labourers, animal control officers, and parking lot attendants, and CUPE Local 79, which represents 22,000 of the city’s staff, including nurses, planners, clerks, social service employees, cleaners, court services staff, ambulance dispatchers, and child care workers.
The working conditions and job security of 28,000 Torontonians, along with the multitude of programs and services delivered by these 28,000 workers, hang in the balance. The impact of the city locking out CUPE members from doing their jobs, a strike by CUPE members, CUPE members’ wage cuts and lost job security, and/or the contracting out of public services to private contractors will be felt across the city as the local economy, service and program delivery, and the daily lives of tens of thousands will be affected.
On the radar:
1. Mayor Ford’s TTC Plan.
As detailed recently in The Grid, Mayor Ford’s transit plan will cost the city millions, if not billions, of dollars while making service worse for many. Rapid transit service in Scarborough will be cut altogether for somewhere in the range of four to seven years. The financial and transportation implications of this plan will considerably impact the health and well-being of the city and its residents. Discussions and campaigns are underway to bring back the provincially-funded Transit City for the good of Toronto and its residents.
2. Toronto has a revenue problem: The bumpy road ahead and Budget 2013.
The budget finally approved by city council yesterday had a small 2.5% property tax increase. This is less than the rate of inflation and, when combined with last year’s property tax freeze, means that municipal revenues will continue to fall far behind the city’s expenses. Insufficient funding from federal and provincial governments for critical social and physical infrastructure needs, much of which has been downloaded to the municipality (including transit, housing and social services costs), means that Toronto’s budget woes have not been fixed and we will have to address this now or face the same ordeal next year.
Not only will the fiscal crisis caused by deliberate decisions to cut back on revenues (frozen and minimally raised property taxes, Personal Vehicle Tax cancellation) continue through next year, but Mayor Ford’s promise to cancel the Land Transfer Tax this year (a source of an estimated $317,000,000 in revenue in 2011) represents an additional serious threat to the city’s finances.
The Wellesley Institute will continue to monitor and report on key municipal issues that affect population health and will continue to partner with others to support municipal initiatives that help to build the city up to be a more healthy and equitable place to live for all.