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2021 Budget passes & future of Scarborough transit

There are some important topics to discuss this week: the budget adopted by Toronto Council today and two important TTC commission debates from the February board meeting.

Budget Wrap Up It’s a wrap on the 2021 budget, and I have already written extensively about it. I also held a virtual Town Hall, taking a deep dive into what services property taxes support.

To recap, this budget is very much status quo for a year that will be anything but. Every city department will absorb its own inflationary impacts while other governments partner with us to shoulder the costs of COVID-19. We will see no meaningful improvements in libraries, parks, roads, child care and other city building programs. Our plans to address the many inequities that COVID has laid bare - inequities which existed long before the pandemic - are nowhere near robust enough. While we like to employ terms like Build Back Better to describe what a post-COVID recovery will look like, we have no common understanding of the phrase’s meaning. I moved a motion at Thursday’s special Council budget meeting to update our Long-Term Financial Direction to review revenue options and adjust for a post-pandemic world. I worked together with the Mayor and his staff on this motion, which received overwhelming support at Council. As vaccines roll out and we hopefully recover from this health and financial crisis, we will have a community conversation on how to build the Toronto our kids and grandkids need to recover from the impacts of COVID-19. While your property tax rates remain the same from the Budget Launch, I did move motions to enhance certain line items:

  • The ravine maintenance program, on which I worked with Councillor McKelvie

  • Library programs assisting seniors, such as the Community Librarian program and Digital Literacy

  • Pleasant View Library upgrades that will finally apply a participatory budgeting project voted on a few years back along with an expansion proposed by our City Librarian

  • TTC capital funding requests to the Federal Government

To find the money for these important initiatives, I applied funding sources which do not change the property tax formula. My fellow councillors chose to support all of the motions. After much consideration, I voted Yes on the final budget and property tax rate, even though I have many concerns, as I’ve listed above. By next year’s budget council meeting, we will have had a more mature discussion on how we invest in our city. The Long Term Financial Direction report I have ordered, again with the Mayor’s support, has the potential to lead us to a more fair approach to city revenues, which could lead us to the Toronto that so many desperately need, and I believe everyone truly wants. Future of Scarborough Transit There are two important matters from February’s TTC board meeting to discuss, which greatly effect Don Valley North’s transit future. Let’s start with the report that got the most attention in the news: the need to decommission the Scarborough RT seven years before the subway replacement is ready.

I take no pleasure from this. The pleas from passionate transit-riding residents, and there were many, about the difficulties of life without the RT were heartbreaking. These are people who had no say in the political manoeuvring which caused this situation. When then Mayor Rob Ford cancelled the above-ground, entirely off-road and shovel-ready Scarborough LRT in favour of a subway extension a decade ago, he was fully aware the move would come at the cost of years in delays. Staff was clear the obsolete SRT was on its last legs; switching to a subway would take a decade just to plan, and many years more to construct. Scarborough transit riders were never consulted on the cancellation. There were a couple of bright spots in community members’ deputations at last week’s meeting. They made suggestions to improve staff’s proposed replacement bus network to get through the years without the RT that could make getting to Centennial College’s Progress Campus and UTSC easier from all over the city. One deputant, Jamaal Myers of the Scarborough Business Association, questioned why Scarborough organizations can’t repurpose some of the land for community uses once the RT stations are decommissioned in 2023.

Jamaal Myers, director Scarborough Business Association I can’t thank Jamaal enough for putting this idea before the Commission. Normally, this sort of additional concern doesn't occur to us at Council until it is too late and any surplus land has already been handed over to CreateTO, the City’s real estate corporation. It will be important to keep an open mind. I moved a motion at the meeting to consult Scarborough residents on possible community uses for these lands and get a staff report so that the residents can explore the idea, informed by fact-based cost estimates.

What would you do with this space?

There was also a request from the community that could cause some more political manoeuvring on Scarborough transit. Residents asked us to look into the possibility of developing a Bus Rapid Transit route to run along the RT route. We agreed to have staff report back on it. Once the new Scarborough subway extension is running a short distance east of the RT line along McCowan Road, it will need generous ridership numbers to make it viable. As a point of comparison, Line 4 Sheppard carried 52,600 riders a day before the pandemic according to the TTC. After nearly 20 years in operation, the subway line is finally transporting enough people to no longer be considered a white elephant. The second major item of interest to Don Valley North was an item on Metrolinx transit expansion plans. This report includes no mention of our Sheppard East extension. I have moved items at Council, met with MPPs and stakeholders, and pressed on staff at Metrolinx, TTC, and the City's Transit Expansion Office. Yet, the Provincial government, for all of its talk of transit expansion, is ragging the puck on a project that was supposed to be under construction next year. I am going to continue to fight for transit options to come to Sheppard East faster than 2030. There is too much development that was approved on the basis of a transit line along this corridor for us to lose another decade.

How long will residents have to wait before the Sheppard Subway extension is completed?

At my request, the TTC will bring a report back to our community on options that could tide us over until the subway (hopefully, eventually) comes in 2040-ish. I'm looking forward to having that community conversation with you.


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