The City of Toronto and its agencies, boards and commissions, have taken significant actions against the deadly heat this summer, but a number of these initiatives are threatened by the current round of proposed cuts being considered by Toronto City Council. Toronto, and much of Canada, is suffering through record-breaking heat and humidity. Extreme heat is not only uncomfortable, but it can be deadly – and health authorities in Toronto and elsewhere have issued periodic alerts warning people to take care. People who are precariously housed or homeless, along with seniors, infants and those with compromised health are at the highest risk in extreme heat and the city has taken certain steps, including opening cooling centres.
While Toronto is viewed by many as a northern city, a 2005 study by Dr David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, notes that more people in Toronto die prematurely from heat-related causes than cold causes. Using mortality and weather data from the years 1954 to 2000, Dr. McKeown reports that an average of 120 suffer an early death from heat annually, compared to 105 people who die from cold. Add in smog, which is associated with hot weather, and the city’s annual premature death rate soars to 1,047.
Looking forward, the Toronto study projects that premature deaths from heat and smog will double by 2050 if previous trends continue, and will triple by 2080. While much of the policy action on climate change rests at the national and international levels, the City of Toronto has adopted urban strategies aimed at mitigating the impact of the so-called urban heat island effect (the higher temperatures in a dense urban area, like Toronto).