City Council Report Back: Toronto’s COVID-19 Recovery and Rebuild Plan

Toronto City Council held an important meeting in late October to discuss a new report from Toronto’s Office of Recovery and Rebuild (TORR), which includes 83 recommendations about how Toronto should rebuild as a city in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) has worked to inform the City’s recovery plan and ensure it delivers a green and just recovery. We made submissions to TORR, individually and in partnership with front-line community organizations, and recently presented our response to the report to Mayor John Tory and the City’s Executive Committee. 

We’ve consistently called for the City to work, in partnership with the federal and provincial governments, to advance a green and just recovery. We were concerned that many of the recommendations in the TORR report lacked firm targets and timelines, and a clear plan to uphold commitments previously made by the City in existing strategies. 

In our deputation on October 21, we urged Mayor Tory and Executive Committee members to: 

  • Establish clear timelines for implementing key TORR recommendations, including expanding bike lanes and bus priority lanes, applying a climate lens to City decisions, and developing local food hubs;
  • Advance and accelerate the implementation of the City’s climate emergency declaration commitments, including the delivery of the promised net-zero emission plan;
  • Advance a green jobs strategy with workforce pathways for equity-seeking groups and investment in Toronto’s growing green sectors;
  • Accelerate energy efficiency building retrofits as a way to upgrade and preserve existing affordable housing and create good green jobs;
  • Develop an equitable and sustainable financial plan in order to avoid harmful cuts to public services and fund a just and green recovery.

On October 27, Council took a number of actions to advance a just and green recovery, including:

  • Identifying ways Toronto Hydro can ramp up support for energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives;
  • Asking banks to stop holding up home retrofits through unnecessary loan approval requirements;
  • Accelerating the delivery of key climate emergency declaration commitments including the completion of the City’s net zero emissions plan in 2021;
  • Developing a low-carbon jobs strategy with training and employment opportunities for Black, Indigenous and equity-seeking communities.
  • put forward a COVID-19 Resilience Funding Stream proposal to fast track implementation of the Ravine Strategy

Council also addressed some of the calls by TEA and others for stronger public involvement and accountability in the City’s recovery, and the protection of communities most impacted by COVID - Indigenous, Black, and other equity seeking groups - by:

  • Directing the City Manager to avoid reductions in transit service and other City programs in 2021, and to focus budget investments on improving equity, opportunity, resilience and health of groups and communities most impacted by COVID-19
  • Requiring the City Manager to regularly report back to Council on negotiations with the province and federal governments for the funding and powers needed to advance a strong recovery,
  • Launching a public information campaign, if needed, to inform residents of COVID-related financial impacts and requests made to the Federal and Provincial Governments related to the City’s recovery and rebuild recommendations.

Council also voted to explore the construction of temporary bike lanes on Yonge Street from Bloor to Lawrence, with implementation by next summer This would constitute an important step in building on the success of the ActiveTO bike lanes on Bloor, Danforth and elsewhere, and in securing a network of safe, active transportation options across Toronto. 

Finally, Council approved a motion to request the Federal Government to allow Toronto - and other municipal governments - to establish a City Charter, which would give Toronto greater authority over local public health, municipal elections and governance, financial matters and land use planning decisions. Proponents of this strategy believe that this could be a key step towards securing the authority and power Toronto needs to make major city-building decisions and revenue measures to build a more equitable, healthy, and sustainable city.

The extent to which Council advances these commitments - avoids harmful program and service cuts and uses revenue tools that it has at its disposal to advance a just and green recovery - will depend on the decisions it takes in the lead-up to and approval of the 2021 rate and tax-supported budgets in coming months. We need to work together to ensure that the 2021 City Budget prioritizes health, equity and climate action to build a more resilient Toronto. Watch for more budget analysis and action blogs from TEA soon!