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Who even wants to hear about the Toronto budget during a pandemic?

What a week. COVID-19 numbers remain high and the lockdown continues. The kids are home. Add to that the Raptors finally winning three in a row and the pageantry of the U.S. presidential inauguration - who would want to sit down and talk about this year’s annual City budget? Why not just keep dealing with the pandemic, control spending on everything else and get to the budget process later? Well for one, there is no ‘everything else’. Municipal governments are responsible for so many direct services affecting our lives that impacts from COVID-19 are visible in every single city department. Secondly, we have no way of knowing exactly when the pandemic will end. In order to continue responding to the crisis and prepare for the full resumption of city activities following the lockdown, we need to keep our finances on track. Even though job Number One is keeping you safe from COVID, as your Councillor, I can’t take a holiday from all of your other needs.

Yes, our operating budget has been drafted to deliver something close to last year’s service levels. It responds to COVID-19 as we have been doing, and delivers all of your other services. But there is also a shortfall of $856M, maybe even more, now that we know we will be under lockdown for longer.

We’re still far away from approving the final budget numbers, nonetheless I have several unanswered questions on how important City initiatives will be supported.

Questions such as:

  • What are we doing to keep needed services afloat while normal revenue is down?

  • What are we doing to meet climate change goals?

  • What are we doing to keep our childcare system viable while children are at home?

  • How can we support our city planners’ work while the province keeps changing the rules?

  • How can we complete our poverty reduction strategy even as the pandemic puts new families at economic risk?

  • What are we investing for the State of Good Repair of our parks, libraries, roads and transit system?

  • What are we investing in youth activities so they can get active and make up for all of the lost opportunities of their lockdown year?

  • How fast can we retrofit our Long-Term Care homes for infection control?


These questions won’t all be answered in one mid-pandemic budget. They are a small fraction of the challenges we face on the road ahead. This year, we need to take the right actions to start down that road. I invite you to join me and community members as we discuss those actions and what services matter to you in this budget during our virtual Budget Town Hall (details below)..

Both the Federal and Provincial governments were extremely collaborative in filling our budget shortfall in 2020, but we do not yet know if they will come through for us in 2021 and again absorb the detrimental impact the pandemic has had on the City’s finances.


If we can’t get help from other governments, the current recommendations call for digging into our capital budget. That means delaying State of Good Repair fixes and other much needed infrastructure renewal projects, and using those dedicated funds to fill the funding hole on the operating side.


Every year our city staff presents a 10 year budget forecast for capital projects. The current numbers indicate Toronto’s repair backlog will get progressively worse by 2030: That means worse roads, broken fountains, leaky roofs on libraries and community centres and fewer TTC buses in working condition. Though short-sighted, an inadequate capital funding plan gets adopted by Council anyway. For the past few years, even before we had ever heard of the novel coronavirus, a move began amongst a majority of Council, including Mayor Tory, to reduce the amount of annual new tax dollars we commit to our long term capital program. I disagree with this. The discipline of putting 10% of your property taxes annually to the capital program is very hard to get back if we let it lapse.


With this latest funding crisis brought on by COVID, I would submit Toronto is now at a fork in the road ahead that could have easily been anticipated. We must decide how we can continue delivering your services for the long term, solve your problems as they arise, and still maintain our assets for the future. Nominal property tax increases aren’t quite doing it and there isn’t much room to grow there. We need to make a big change in how we capture enough revenue to sustain the city. Asking Ottawa and Queen's Park for an emergency cash infusion will soon be impossible as those governments deal with their own pandemic-related debts.

Maybe we should be asking them for permission instead of cash. Collecting an additional penny on the HST dedicated for municipalities, for example, would give us pretty much exactly the projected budget shortfall of $856 million, but that amount would arrive annually in the city’s coffers. Imagine having that much to invest in how you move around Toronto every year. I would love to have you join me for the virtual town hall next week so I can paint a new financial picture, one that provides the city you need and want, but is way more fair and equitable when the time comes to pay the bill.


Your City Services in 2021: Virtual Budget Town Hall Wednesday, January 27th at 6:30pm REGISTER HERE


Join Councillor Carroll and City Staff to discuss how the 2021 City Budget impacts the City Services you rely upon.

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