Mayor Tory finally commits to funding climate action - but keep the champagne corked

Today, Toronto’s Executive Committee put forward a request for $2.5 million in the 2018 City Budget to fund the TransformTO climate action plan. This is good news considering that when the draft budget was released in November, no funding was allocated to TransformTO. In response, an incredible number of residents and advocates contacted the Mayor and City Councillors to demand funding for TransformTO - and it worked. But even with $2.5 million in funding, Toronto is still falling short on funding climate action.

While Mayor Tory will claim City Council fully funded the TransformTO climate action plan in this year's City Budget, the funding they're proposing is only a portion of what's really needed to put this plan into action. For the second year in a row, we're falling behind.

Lack of Funding for Short Term Actions in the 2017 City Budget

To understand the full story behind TransformTO, we need to go back to December 2016, when Part 1 of TransformTO was approved by City Council.

The plan included a number of short-term actions the City needed to take between now and 2020 to get us on the path to achieving our reductions targets by 2050. It also outlined the financial impact of implementing TransformTO, which included $1.6 million in funding for 2017 to begin implementing the plan. After almost 8 years of staff cutbacks, this would allow City departments to hire new staff to support with TransformTO programs.

Unfortunately, when the 2017 City Budget was debated a few months later at City Council in February 2017, the Mayor made it clear that fully funding TransformTO was not a priority. Only after a great deal of debate and public pressure did Council allocate $330,000.

This decision left a $1.3 million funding gap, which meant City staff had to delay implementing many of the Part 1 short-term actions.

TransformTO and the 2018 City Budget

In April of 2017, City staff released Part 2 of TransformTO, the bundle of actions Toronto needs to take to meet an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

City Council unanimously adopted the plan in July 2017. At the time, City of Toronto staff noted that to fully implement the plan, $6.7 million would be needed in the 2018 City Budget. At the same Council meeting, Council had the opportunity to direct staff to include in their 2018 budget request $6.7 million to fully fund the plan. Instead of sending this clear signal to staff, the Mayor and many Councillors instead asked staff to report back on which actions were a priority to implement.

The lack of commitment from the Mayor and many Councillors to fully fund TransformTO sent a clear signal to staff to cut back what they expected to accomplish in 2018. When City Staff put together their budget request for TransformTO in the 2018 City Budget, it only totalled only $2.5 million - a fraction of the $6.7 million required for full implementation of the plan.

So to say the Mayor and his Executive Committee are supporting “full funding” or “full implementation” of the TransformTO climate plan is simply political spin.

The Mayor and allied City Councillors have put the brakes on full and sufficient funding on both Part 1 and Part 2 of the climate action plan. The amount of funding currently on the table for TransformTO in 2018 is still only a fraction of the funds City Staff said must be allocated this year to implement the plan.

This is part of a worrisome pattern at City Council where bold strategies are passed but only partial funding is allocated through the budget process to implement these plans. The TransformTO plan and the Poverty Reduction Strategy are two examples. The Mayor and City Council should not continue to make commitments to act without actually following through with the needed funding.

The reality is that even if City Council passes $2.6 million in funding for TransformTO this year, they are still $4.5 million shy of what is needed in 2018. We cannot ignore that in February 2017 and again in July 2017, the Mayor and Council had the opportunity to commit to full and proper funding for TransformTO. While the Mayor can say he supports the full amount requested by staff for the 2018 budget, the staff request is still $4.15 Million shy of what they really needed in 2018.

Two continuous years of delays will mean Toronto will fall further behind in implementing climate actions that can reap many community benefits including the creation of thousands of jobs, better housing and a better quality of life.

In late January the Mayor wrote an opinion piece in the Metro News about TranformTO. He wrote:

“There is no time to waste here. I want Toronto to lead, not follow. I want us to demonstrate that we are a city that represents its residents today, while ensuring their well-being and prosperity for years into the future.”

It’s great to see Mayor say there is no time to waste. But he needs to explain to Torontonians what took him so long to realize this and why he has not shown leadership on funding for the TransformTO climate action plan.

Toronto City Council showed leadership when they unanimously passed the plan. However, partially funding of the plan does not demonstrate leadership. City Council has already wasted a precious year which we cannot afford given the severity of the climate change crisis and the urgent need for community benefits like more jobs and better housing that can be realized from low carbon solutions.

There is still time to catch up and get this bold climate action plan back on schedule.

When City Council debates the 2018 Budget on February 12th, the Mayor and City Councillors could vote to put more money in the budget and speed up TransformTO implementation. Until this happens, keep the champagne corked.