This post was written by David Leacock, Policy and Research Intern at the Wellesley Institute.
On Thursday January 10th Mayor Rob Ford moved an omnibus motion, passed by the executive committee in an attempt to bolster a number programs and services in Toronto’s 2013 budget. The motion included small increases in funding to Fire Services, Student Nutrition Programs, Emergency Medical Services, Parks Forestry and Recreation, Toronto Public Library and Leaf Collection Services, amounting to about $7 million.
This is a small step in the right direction as many of these services are crucial to improving population health. However, more is required to ensure good health for all Torontonians. In this year’s budget series the Wellesley Institute demonstrated that Toronto’s 2013 budget can build up our city or tear it down. We hope that City Councillors will keep this in mind as they meet next week to finalize the budget.
The Mayor’s motion includes $212,000 to reinstate free programming at priority centres. This is a positive step as the implementation of fees at priority centres led to a 61% reduction in program registration in 2011. In Exercising Good Policy, the Wellesley Institute demonstrated that these fees created a substantial barrier to recreation services for many low-income Torontonians. Now that this barrier has been removed, we urge the City to move immediately to eliminate additional barriers by expanding the number of priority centres.
The Welcome Policy was designed to provide access to recreation for those with low income. Originally, the policy provided free access to a designated number of recreation programs for low income Torontonians, but this was changed to a dollar-based allocation in 2012 which reduced the number of programs people could access.
In the face of increased income inequality, this policy is important for the health of Torontonians. With this in mind, we urge City Council to double funding for the Welcome Policy and return to a program-based allocation.
The Impact of Zero illustrates that if council keeps flatlining, it means a real, per capita cut in services. These cuts will have a more adverse effect on low-income Torontonians. The Mayor’s spending increases are minor and do not keep up with inflation and population growth. Councillors have options and Torontonians need these services. We hope that the final budget, to be approved next week, delivers the additional increases necessary to build a healthy Toronto in 2013.