My thoughts on the proposed 2021 City Budget

On Monday, February 8 at 7:00 pm I will be discussing the budget with a group of community leaders.
To attend, register at

The ongoing, global pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities in our City.

As we prepare the City’s 2021 budget, Toronto is in a position to make a historic new pact with the federal and provincial governments to use the recovery from COVID to achieve a strong, sustainable, and inclusive Toronto. Our habit of thinking small may cause us to miss the moment and make the City’s problems worse. It is time for Toronto to act; together we must push for change.

For a decade Toronto’s budgets have emphasized keeping property taxes low. This was a choice not to invest in services that would have made Toronto a fairer city. When the Pandemic hit, the people those budgets left behind paid the highest price. Black, Indigenous and racialized Torontonians have been much more likely to contract COVID. Women have been hit harder economically. People with low incomes have been hit with higher COVID rates and more devastating economic consequences. The number of people without a home has skyrocketed.

This should be the moment when Toronto changes course. It should be the year when we realize that the consequences of inequality are devastating and we start investing in that fairer Toronto. The budget that is on its way to Council for 2021 does not help our neighbours. Instead of “building back better”, Toronto is about to build back the same flawed system, but with even less money. It’s unacceptable, and Torontonians must take this moment to come together to fight for a fairer City.

Twenty-seven of our city’s daycare centres have permanently closed, with over forty more still unsure of their future. We are currently not housing 6000 people in Toronto. The TTC tells us that the proposed budget does not provide for buying the buses, streetcars and subway trains we will need to bring service back up to pre-pandemic levels. This budget will cause us to fall behind on implementing our climate plan. Despite promises made last summer, we will not see any meaningful steps toward replacing policing with services that solve problems in more just ways.

The only path out is to get financial help from the federal and provincial governments. The budget assumes we will receive $1.6 Billion in emergency pandemic funding, half of what is currently being offered. We are simply assuming the rest will come. Here is the critical issue and opportunity. By publicly assuming that Ottawa and Queen’s Park will give us money they haven’t yet committed, Toronto is putting the ball in their court. We are saying that if they don’t come up with that money, they own the consequences. This is not the case, we, the residents of Toronto, will all own the consequences.

If we are willing to create political pressure on those governments to build back a little worse, why are we not willing to put pressure on them to build a future that includes everyone? If we want women to be able to get back to work we need childcare. If we want to eliminate homelessness we need to buy vacant hotel and apartment units for housing. If we want to stop climate change we need to invest in climate mitigating housing and transportation systems. If we want to get around a crowded City we need buses, streetcars and subway trains. If we want to create an economy which does not act as a structure for reinforcing racism we need to invest in ways that create real equality.

Economists everywhere are saying that governments should use their central banks to prevent a deep post-COVID depression. Even the International Monetary Fund, which has for decades been the tool for imposing austerity on struggling economies, has talked about the need for governments to invest and stimulate a strong recovery.

It will benefit Ottawa and Queen’s Park if we make a real ask of them. At present the federal government is investing record amounts to support people who cannot work. That obligation does not end when everyone is vaccinated. If women cannot get to work because the child care system collapsed in 2021, it will cost all levels of government. If we still have huge numbers of people without homes, it will cost all levels of government. If Black, Indigenous and racialized Torontonians are still shut out of economic opportunity, it will cost all levels of government. If people can’t get to work because of a shrunken TTC, and we don’t meet our climate targets, it will cost all levels of government.

As a City, we must take action if we want the economy to rebound in a strong, sustainable and inclusive way. We must tell the governments who have the fiscal capacity what it will cost them to make it happen, and demand they do it.  The proposed 2021 City budget does not build towards these goals, so we must work together for a change.