In our efforts to improve population health, the Wellesley Institute has been working alongside countless inviduals and organizations over the past few months to inform budget-related decision-making at Toronto City Hall.
Earlier this year, the City of Toronto undertook a “Core Service Review.” The stated goal of the initiative was to address a budget shortfall of $774 million (a figure which has been hotly contested). External consultants, KPMG, were hired to look at all programs and services delivered by city divisions and agencies and determine which services were mandatory for the city to deliver, which were essential, which were traditional, and the levels at which these programs and services are and could be delivered. The consultants’ findings were–and continue to be–used to guide and justify proposals to make numerous cuts and modifications to the programs and services the city provides.
The cuts and modifications being debated both inside and outside city hall have critically important health and health equity implications. The Wellesley Institute has been a vocal critic of Council’s unnecessarily rushed budgetary decision-making, of a decision-making process that doesn’t consider the health and well-being of Torontonians, and of potential cuts and modifications to public services that would have dire consequences for Torontonians’ health, while doing little to address the budget shortfall.
Thousands of Torontonians have challenged the proposed cuts to critical programs and services in numerous ways, including: making deputations at city hall, emailing their city councillor, signing petitions, participating in rallies, participating in town hall meetings, and these efforts continue.
The Wellesley Institute has created two important reports for councillors and all Torontonians to consider as we enter budget deliberations:
This report shows that the City of Toronto can bring its budgetary shortfall down to zero without gutting city services and selling off valuable assets. The report looks at the city’s annual budgeting process over the past five years and shows that the fiscal challenges facing city council this year are nothing new.
For the last five years the City of Toronto has started its budget process with a budgetary shortfall of over half a billion dollars and every year the city brings the shortfall down to zero, without gutting city services or selling off valuable assets. The report demonstrates, step-by-step, how the city can do the same thing this year.
The bottom line: Contrary to the rhetoric coming out of the mayor’s office, it isn’t too late; councillors still have options: they can make budgetary decisions that build our city, rather than cutting services that Torontonians rely on.
- Click here to watch a presentation about Countdown To Zero by the report’s author, Sheila Block.
In this report, a Health Equity Impact Assessment of three key policy and program changes proposed by the city is performed: reducing child care funding and subsidies, eliminating the Hardship Fund, and limiting the development of affordable housing to completing only what has already been approved and funded.
The assessment concludes that the proposed reductions in child care, medical support, and affordable housing will have a disproportionate impact on already vulnerable groups, making current health inequities worse. If the city pursues the proposed cuts, the current and future health of many vulnerable Torontonians will be compromised, and Toronto will become a more unequal city.
The bottom line: If the city plans to reduce expenses by cutting programs and services, it cannot be done at the expense of the most vulnerable. Applying Health Equity Impact Assessments to budget decisions will provide a window for elected officials, city staff, and Torontonians to see the inequitable effects of the proposed cuts and to build equity into budget decisions.
Key 2012 Budget Dates:
- November 28: Draft Operating Budget and Draft Capital Budget released to the public and city councillors.
- December 6: Last day to register to provide feedback on the proposed budget via making a deputation at City Hall. Deadline: 4pm. See below for details.
December 7: Budget Committee meeting, City Hall, Committee Room 1, 9:30am. THIS MEETING WAS ORIGINALLY SCHEDULED ON DECEMBER 8TH, AND HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED. **As of this writing, this is the ONLY opportunity for community members to provide feedback on the proposed budget before city council debates and approves it in January.** To provide feedback/make a deputation at this meeting, register by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-392-7340 with your name and address.
- December 8: If the public deputations/community members wanting to provide feedback on the budget can’t be accommodated in a single day, they may carry over and take up a second day on December 8th.
- December 9 & 13: The Budget Committee wraps up its deliberations of the proposed Operating and Capital Budgets.
- January 12, 2012: The Executive Committee’s final review of the Operating and Capital Budgets.
- January 17-19, 2012: City Council debates and votes on the proposed Operating and Capital Budgets.
- Providing Feedback: Visit the city’s Have Your Say webpage for more information on how you can provide city council with feedback on the proposed budget.
- Follow what’s happening: The City of Toronto has an online schedule of Council and Committee meetings, along with documentation of agendas, minutes, and meeting-monitoring with live updates.
- Watch Toronto City Council meetings and select Committee meetings live online here. The site also archives videos of past meetings.
- Download the excellent Commitment 2 Community Budget Update Flier, a comprehensive 4 page guide to the issues, dates, events, and details about how you can get involved. And pass it along!
- November 24: Housing Action Now Public Forum on Housing, Homelessness and the City Budget
- November 29: Rexdale Neighbourhood Action Partnership City Budget Forum
- November 30: South Etobicoke Social Welfare Reform Committee City Budget Forum
- December 1: Social Planning Toronto’s Member Forum on the 2012 Operating Budget
- December 3: Respect Scarborough – Public Forum on Budget Impacts
- …visit Stop The Cut’s website for more events happening in your neighbourhood.
There are many groups working hard to maintain and expand Toronto’s services and programs. Learn more by visiting their websites and get involved in their work:
- One Toronto – www.onetoronto.ca
- Commitment 2 Community – www.commitment2community.org
- Tenants for Social Housing – http://tenantsforsocialhousing.com/
- TTC Riders – http://www.ttcriders.ca/
- Toronto Stop the Cuts Network: http://www.torontostopthecuts.com/