Hundreds of community groups and thousands of residents have given feedback into the process of developing Toronto’s recovery plan. Now, the results are public. Will the City's reports and recommendations create a recovery and rebuild plan that delivers a just and green recovery? Read our analysis.
Cities around the world are building back better from COVID-19 - reallocating street space to pedestrians and cyclists, expanding green space, opening community gardens, and creating low-carbon green jobs.
Since the spring, we’ve been working hard with partner organizations and supporters to advocate for a just and green recovery for Toronto.
On October 14, Toronto’s Office of Recovery and Rebuild (TORR) released its COVID-19: Impacts and Opportunities Report which includes a list of 83 recommendations. The City Manager also released a short set of recommendations that outline a few next steps for City Council. The TORR report and City Manager’s recommendations for Council were presented and debated today at the City’s Executive Committee meeting and will go to Council on October 27 for further debate and approval.
While Toronto still does not have a clear action plan for a just and green recovery, this is an important decision making moment at City Hall to ensure that City Council follows through on its promise to build back better - by adopting a bold, new vision that is going to make life better for Torontonians.
The TORR Report provides guidance and consolidates feedback - but it’s not an action plan
The TORR report includes some key recommendations that were proposed by civil society and residents, and integrated by the TORR team, that provide an important foundation for positive change. Key recommendations include: accelerating bus and transit priority lanes; expanding cycling lanes; applying a wellness lens to transportation and land use planning; developing neighbourhood food security hubs; increasing representation and decision-making by Black, Indigenous and people of colour; and applying a formal climate lens and equity analysis to infrastructure spending.
However, most of the report’s 83 recommendations do not make commitments - nor do they include clear deliverables or timelines - or any indication of what they will cost and how they will be paid for. This raises real concern about whether these words will be translated into action and how any internal progress on these recommendations will be publicly tracked and reported in the coming months.
There are also a number of key building blocks for a just and green recovery that are missing from the list of recommendations, including a green jobs strategy, the expansion of community food gardens, renewable energy, and the rapid scaling up energy efficiency retrofits of buildings. The TransformTO climate action plan update in the TORR report indicates that some existing climate commitments are also delayed, including the release of the City’s plan to reach net-zero emissions. Despite being a central commitment in Toronto’s climate emergency declaration, this plan seems to be delayed until 2022.
With the Office’s mandate now coming to a close, it is unclear how missing elements and emerging strategies for a just and green recovery will be incorporated going forward.
The City Manager’s recommendations do not deliver a bold vision or plan to “build back better”
The City Manager has said that this report “will be the first in a series of reports on updates and next steps for our recovery” as this road to recovery will be “more of a marathon than a sprint”. While this is certainly true, critical decisions need to be made - and actions taken - in the coming months that will either put us on a trajectory to “build back better” with equity and climate commitments at the core, or entrench the status quo.
Whether it’s collaborating with other levels of government, addressing the social determinants of health, or developing a 2021 Budget that doesn’t cut services and delay implementation of City-led recovery actions, there needs to be a bold new vision for Toronto with a clear set of priorities and outcomes that will get our city on track for a just and green recovery.
The City’s fiscal challenges must be addressed with a new financial plan
Cities around the world are realizing that investments in low-carbon housing and buildings, transit and transportation, and green space and infrastructure can improve equity, create good jobs and build climate resilience. Toronto needs a transformative investment plan to accelerate economic recovery and realize these win-win benefits.
Even prior to COVID-19, the City faced an extremely difficult fiscal situation. Too often, investments in environmental and community programs have been the first to be cut. How is Council going to demonstrate that it's going to be different this time?
Now is the time to address the ongoing structural imbalance between the City’s limited powers to raise revenue, its responsibilities, and the needs of Torontonians.
Many of the recommendations in the report focus on setting up intergovernmental tables to secure the investments needed to move forward with better housing, transit and other key actions. Clearly provincial and federal governments need to come to the table with funding that matches the level of support that is needed. However, the City must also show leadership exercising its existing revenue powers to implement new, fair revenue tools to fund Toronto’s recovery immediately. The City must reject austerity measures and service cuts that will be harmful to many residents that are struggling, and measures that hamper its ability to raise revenue (e.g. reducing development charges).
The City needs to put forward a strategy and fiscal plan based on principles of equity, sustainability and well-being that informs both current spending priorities and the 2021 budget. This means building on and expanding its successful green bonds program, and by moving forward with planned implementation of vacant home tax, commercial stormwater charge, and parking levy, and by ensuring that any tax deferrals or relief goes only to the most vulnerable residents. Spending that is not aligned to these principles - such as large policing budgets or the expensive Gardiner rebuild - should be reallocated to areas that will more positively leverage a green and just recovery.
Residents must be meaningfully involved in priority-setting and decision-making
Toronto’s recovery and rebuild planning process is still a work in progress: many more reports and action items are expected to come to Council and the 2021 Budget process will launch soon. We urge the City to commit to meaningful public engagement and decision making as the plan moves forward.
Residents and civil society groups have already invested a lot in providing feedback (see “Community Voices” report from Social Planning Toronto, and Toronto Climate Action Network submission) and expect to see their priorities reflected in the plan. The City has an obligation to meaningfully involve residents and communities that have been historically and continually excluded from decision-making processes. Toronto committed to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, and yet concern has been raised that Indigenous organizations and peoples were not adequately consulted and engaged in the TORR process.
To accomplish a transformative agenda for our City, we are going to need everyone, and the public should be involved in giving shape to this vision and priorities, before decisions are made.
We call on the Mayor and City Council to show strong leadership
We recognize the hard work that City officials and staff have undertaken to help Toronto respond and recover from the pandemic. This is the time for City Council to take decisive action:
- Attach clear timelines and deliverables to the TORR recommendations along with transparent reporting and accountability mechanisms to ensure these words are translated into real action.
- Make a clear commitment that current programs and services to Black, Indigenous and other equity-seeking communities will not be cut or reduced during this time of crisis, and ensure the voices and needs of these communities are prioritized in the 2021 Budget process.
- Recommit to action to the climate emergency by reinstating the 2021 timeline for the CIty’s net-zero emission plan and expediting the delivery of other overdue commitments in the 2019 climate emergency declaration.
- Develop a fair and equitable plan to fully finance the implementation of existing equity and climate strategies and a just and green recovery going forward.
- Develop and propose an infrastructure plan to the provincial and federal governments that creates jobs and prioritizes and advances the transition to an equitable, resilient low-carbon city.
- Begin negotiations with other levels of government, and rally public support, for giving the City the powers and authority it needs to meet the needs of today's residents, and protect the interests of future generations.
Share your comments:
You can comment on the report before it goes to City Council on Tuesday October 27 by clicking “submit comments” here: http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2020.EX17.1