Toronto budget talks in Downsview

The city’s 2016 budget forgets most vulnerable populations

It was a full house at the Bathurst-Finch Community Hub last month when concerned Downsview residents gathered to learn about Toronto’s 2016 budget.

The forum was organized by Social Planning Toronto as part of their Budget Watch series of events. Presenters Israt Ahmed of Social Planning Toronto and Myles Stocker of TTC Riders focused on the need for new revenue tools and the lack of support in the budget for the city’s most vulnerable populations.

“The city doesn’t have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem” said Ahmed. Social Planning Toronto is asking questions about how the city can create new and equitable revenue tools. They are advocating that we cannot continue to rely so heavily on revenue sources such as the Residential Property Tax, which disproportionately affects lower-income families. As indicated in a briefing note by City staff, possible revenue tools could include an LCBO tax, which could generate $44 million, a parking tax at $300 million and a tobacco tax that could net $25 million.

Also facing issues with revenue and subsidies is the Toronto Transit Commission, which was another focal point of the meeting. The TTC is the city’s second highest cost only behind the police budget, yet we still face consistent fare hikes and little improvement to service.

Stocker highlighted the fact that the TTC is the least subsidized transit system in North America. “If more people knew, we’d be more ashamed about it” he said. “There have been no subsidy increases and riders are expected to pick up the slack for the system being underfunded. Government has to accept that you can’t pay for the system through the fare box.”

How does this lack of funding for the TTC affect communities like Downsview? Stocker noted that since much of the attention is often around capital projects, communities relying heavily on bus services are forgotten. “New projects are great but we also need to focus on existing services that need improvement” he said.

TTC Riders has been advocating for a low-income Metropass to improve equity and accessibility within our transit system. The current cost of a monthly pass is out of reach for many and even the cash fare increase that took effect in January of this year creates a greater struggle. This need for funding to address the growing lack of affordability within our city is also a core concern at Social Planning Toronto, where they have been tirelessly championing the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

In November 2015, City Council unanimously approved the Poverty Reduction Strategy, yet there is not enough new investment in the budget to help those suffering from poverty. Communities like Downsview have a voice and need to speak up for those who are most vulnerable. Ahmed was sure to remind us of this before encouraging everyone to get involved; “People think politics is just for elections. Politics is everyday. Speak out.”

City Council approved the 2016 budget on February 17th but Social Planning Toronto and TTC Riders will continue to advocate for the Poverty Reduction Strategy and equitable transit access. They both have petitions and information on how you can get involved on their websites:

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