On Monday, Toronto city council unveiled its 2019 budget — which is matter of concern for us all. As noted by the Wellesley Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank focused on finding solutions to urban health disparities, it “affects the health and well-being of Torontonians every day.” The city budget determines services such as childcare, transit, roads, housing, emergency services and recreational programs. (Wellesley Institute even has a tool that helps users design a city budget, enabling them to participate in informed discussions on building a more equitable city.)
As this budget presentation indicates (see page 28), a large chunk of Toronto’s tax-supported operating budget ($11.6 billion) comes from local property tax (37.3 per cent), followed by federal and provincial revenue (22.7 per cent) and other sources, including Toronto Transit Commission fares, land transfer tax and investment income.
In order to balance the overall $13.5 billion budget, the city plans to nominally increase residential property tax, increase fees for water and garbage collection, and hike TTC fares by 10 cents, among other measures. This balancing act also depends on what municipal affairs analyst Matt Elliott calls the “$79 million mystery meat” — whereby the city hopes to receive $45 million from the federal government for refugee settlement, as well as find $24 million in TTC reductions and $10 million in City Hall cuts (see page 30 of budget presentation). As far as expenditures go, the two biggest spends have been allocated towards the Toronto Police Service and the TTC, with affordable housing coming sixth in priority (see page 36).
The city of Toronto will hold a series of meetings over the next several weeks before the final budget is approved by city council on March 7. It’s organizing public deputations, where Torontonians can each go and present their thoughts on the city budget for up to five minutes. The one for Scarborough will take place on Feb. 7 at the Civic Centre, from 3 to 5 p.m. and then from 6 p.m. onwards. To make a public deputation, you must register by contacting Julie Amoroso via email, phone (416-392-4666) or fax (416-392-1879).
After the Toronto municipal election on Oct. 22, 2018, several of our Scarborough Discourse Facebook group members said they wanted to get more civically engaged at a municipal level. There was interest in organizing get-togethers to voice local concerns. Attending a public deputation on the budget is one way to do just that. If you want to present, but are unsure of the process, scroll down to our “Get involved” section for more information on an upcoming training session.
What are your thoughts are on the city budget? How will the proposed increase in property tax affect you? Do you think Scarborough will get its fair share when it comes to funding for concerns such as affordable housing, transit and poverty reduction? How would you prioritize the spending? Email me your thoughts.
Carol Baker is the project manager of the Birkdale Arts Festival, an annual outdoor community arts festival held in the Birkdale Ravine. Scarborough is a multifaceted community, she says, and comparing one part of the vast suburb with another is like comparing one city to another. “There’s a lot that divides the populations residing in Scarborough, but there are also things that unite us. It’s a question of: What do you want to focus on?”
Carol loves living in her neighbourhood, which is near Birkdale Ravine, at Brimley and Ellesmere. “I love the whole energy of my community, the connectivity of my community,” she says.
As far as the 2019 Toronto city budget announcement is concerned, Carol thinks addressing the city’s various crises — including homelessness, lack of affordable housing and a broken public transportation system — is imperative. “Our number-one priority should be to effectively find solutions to all of these areas that have been unsolved for so many years. It’s now like a state of emergency,” she explains, adding that Scarborough often gets short shrift from Toronto city hall.
Feb. 2. Chinese Papercuts. Cutting paper into intricate patterns is a traditional Chinese craft. Usually practiced by women, it’s especially popular in rural areas of China. Instructor Li Xiqin will share basic papercutting techniques. Registration is required. Albert Campbell Library. 2 to 4 p.m.
Feb 2. Tango! You may start dancing in the aisles when the Cathedral Bluffs Symphony Orchestra presents this collaboration with the Payadora Tango Ensemble. Expect a repertoire that draws from the Buenos Aires tango tradition, as well as jazz, Latin and Eastern European folk music. P. C. Ho Theatre, Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto. 8 to 10 p.m.
- Feb. 5. Let’s Get Scarborough Moving! This session will inform and train attendees on how to raise transit issues with political leaders. The agenda includes a discussion on the Eglinton East LRT and funding TTC services versus raising fares. East Scarborough Storefront. 5 to 7 p.m.
Scarborough Civic Action Network, in partnership with Social Planning Toronto, will hold a City Budget Forum on Feb. 6, from 6 to 8 p.m. The forum is an opportunity for Scarborough residents to understand Toronto’s 2019 budget, including how your councillor voted. Attendees will hear from community leaders about priority issues and how the budget addresses them. If you’re interested in speaking at the public deputation on Feb. 7, you can also learn about the process at this forum. It takes place at the Mid-Scarborough Hub.
Food for thought
I attended the opening night performance of a fu-GEN Theatre double bill: Fine China and A Perfect Bowl of Pho at Factory Theatre in downtown Toronto. Both performances made it clear to me that fu-GEN Theatre is living up to its mandate to develop professional Asian-Canadian theatre artists through the production of new and established works.
Both plays highlighted the experience of Vietnamese Canadians: Julie Phan’s Fine China focuses on two sisters struggling with cultural and familial expectations, while Nam Nguyen’s musical A Perfect Bowl of Pho is a fascinating exploration of Vietnamese history through a bowl of noodle soup. I was particularly intrigued by the complicated questions of identity politics and appropriation raised by Nguyen in his play, and hope to explore them in an upcoming newsletter. (Bonus: There’s a Scarborough reference in A Perfect Bowl of Pho.)
The double bill runs until Feb. 10, and is worth a trek downtown.