IMAGE: Toronto City Hall

Climate and the 2021 City Budget

The 2021 City Budget process is underway, and this year is unlike any other. Read our analysis of the proposed budget, including 6 things to call for during the City Budget consultations. 

Last week, the City of Toronto released its proposed 2021 City Budget. The stated priorities for the budget - equity, health and well-being, and climate action - are laudable.

However, action and investments to further these goals are lacking.

The City is facing a massive funding shortfall for 2021 (about $1.5 billion dollars) due to pandemic-related costs and lost revenues.

We expect the City to strongly advocate for the federal and provincial governments - which have significant revenue streams - to close this funding gap, beyond the $850 million that the City is already assuming in the budget. Diverting funds from the City’s already under-resourced capital budget is not a viable alternative. We are concerned that the City is also reducing spending by about $500 million in 2021. Cuts of this scale will impact the tens of thousands of people in Toronto who are struggling to access the basic services and supports, such as food, income, housing and child care,  which they need to get through the current COVID-19 crisis.

Funding to address the climate emergency is also being squeezed. 

While the proposed City budget does include $193 million in new capital spending over 10 years for climate initiatives such as energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy projects, the level of funding pales against the estimated $2 billion per year in new public and private investment deemed necessary to build a low-carbon city according to a 2017 City report.

A significant concern is that the City’s Environment and Energy Division, which needs critical staffing to deliver key climate emergency commitments, is slated to receive 17% less funding in 2021 than expected. (The Division is now indicating that the City’s already delayed net zero emission plan won’t be ready in 2021).

Other spending decisions also run counter to the City’s commitment to ramp up climate action, including plans to spend 40% of the City’s 10-year transportation capital budget rebuilding the ever-crumbling Gardiner Expressway, even as visionary cities around the world are reinventing their city centres as vibrant, low-carbon, pedestrian and bike-friendly spaces. As the Gardiner gobbles up City dollars, the repair backlog on TTC vehicles and equipment is slated to grow by $6 billion over the next ten years.

Other decisions also contradict the budget’s stated aim of building a more equitable and resilient city. The plan to limit the residential property tax increase to 0.7% ($69 a year for a homeowner of a $700,000 home, when the 1.5% City Building Fund levy is included) compromises the City’s ability to deliver critical services and supports to those most impacted by the pandemic - low-income, racialized, renters, many of whom are the frontline workers who have helped keep our city running during the pandemic.

Finally, if the goal of the budget is to advance equity and health, it is unclear why the proposed budget is only reallocating $1.7 million of the $1.2 billion police budget to community-led initiatives - e.g. street outreach workers, crisis support lines, safe shelters, and youth hubs - that support Black, Indigenous, racialized, low-income, and homeless communities currently most harmed by over policing. (See this related statement from the Toronto Environmental Alliance and other organizations).

In conclusion, we have six key messages for the Budget Committee: 

  1. Don’t reduce the Environment and Energy Division budget by 17% from what was planned. Put the planned $2.5M back in - and ensure that the Division has the resources to deliver overdue Climate Emergency commitments in 2021, including a net zero emission strategy, a climate lens on City spending decisions, a low-carbon jobs strategy, and a dedicated climate action fund.
  2. Prioritize investments that enhance health, equity and climate action. The time has come to stop spending billions of scarce dollars endlessly repairing and rebuilding the Gardiner Expressway - and instead to scale up investments in the affordable transit and active transportation infrastructure to make Toronto economically vibrant, healthy, sustainable and resilient. 
  3. Focus and move resources to where they are needed most. This is especially important with regard to community-led alternatives to policing that will make life safer for persons with Disabilities/Disabled people; for Black, Indigenous, and racialized community members; for the LGBTQ2S+ community; for people experiencing gender-based violence; and for people with lived experience of mental health issues.
  4. Instead of prioritizing low property taxes for homeowners, increase the residential property tax to a level comparable to increases in previous years (while continuing to provide targeted relief to homeowners who are struggling), and invest the additional revenues to address the urgent needs of frontline communities.
  5. Apply a robust climate, health and equity lens to ALL budget decisions to ensure that spending advances, rather than hinders, the creation of a more prosperous, inclusive and resilient city.
  6. Fix the chronic underfunding of housing, transit, community programs and climate action by implementing revenue tools that are within the City's powers, such as a commercial parking levy and vehicle registration tax, with consideration given to equity impacts.  As well, the City should advocate strongly with provincial and federal governments for additional funding support and revenue powers.

Individual residents and groups have an opportunity to speak up and help shape the City Budget. Here are ways to take action: 

  • Sign up to deliver a short speech to the Budget Committee (called a “deputation”) during the virtual budget hearing on January 25th or 26th. (Email [email protected] or call 416-392-4666 by Friday, January 22 at 4:30 pm to sign up to speak.) 
  • Submit your comments in writing to the Budget Committee by emailing [email protected]. You can also email your City Councillor. 
  • Many City Councillors are hosting online budget town halls. Check your local City Councillor’s website, or check out this list created by Social Planning Toronto.
  • Learn more about the City’s 2021 City Budget process and public comment periods here

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* Correction (January 21, 2021): A previous version of this blog incorrectly stated there was a 33% reduction in the Environment and Energy Division budget.