Which Mayor?

November 6, 2015

whichone

As we head into the 2016 budget process in earnest, with today’s rate supported budget launch, I want to look back to a couple weeks in February earlier this year. The 2015 budget had just been finalized and Mayor Tory gave a speech talking about that and looking ahead to his plans for the 2016 budget, this one that’s now upon us. A week later, the mayor delivered words upon the kick-off of poverty reduction initiatives that resulted in the delivery this week of TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy which Mayor Tory hailed as ‘one of the most important decisions, one of the most important commitments’ city council was going to have to make this term.

Compare and contrast these 2 speeches. Are they in any way compatible? One, the ardent cost-cutter. The other, investing in the health of the city, and the people of this city.

Which Mayor Tory is going to preside over the 2016 budget deliberations? It can’t be both. They’re working at cross-purposes. Just how important will his commitment to poverty reduction be when the rubber hits the road and he has to put actual dollars on the table?

mayorjohntory

***

Poverty Reduction Initiatives – February 19, 2015

Since taking office as mayor I have spoken often about the need for us to invest in the city to help ensure the health of the city itself, its economy and our people.

In our budget, this is demonstrated in particular by our unprecedented investment in public transit, so vital to the task of connecting people to jobs.

This year’s multi-million dollar investment will make it easier for families and working Torontonians to get around and will reverse some of the decisions of recent years which actually made doing that more difficult.

We have also proposed significant additional investments which try to address the needs of the homeless and while longer term solutions which see an increased supply of affordable housing are needed, these proposals represent sensible, sensitive shorter term measures for some of our most vulnerable people.

I believe it is also necessary for the short and long term health of our city that we also invest in people, with an early focus on those most vulnerable.

When I first took office, I indicated that I would appoint Councillor Pam McConnell as one of Toronto’s deputy mayors with a specific focus on developing a poverty reduction strategy previously called for by city council and endorsed by me as a candidate for mayor.

Deputy Mayor McConnell has done a very impressive amount of work in a very short period of time and that work continues with city wide consultations taking place this month.

With that strategy in development, I thought it would be right to set aside a substantial amount of new money in the 2015 budget to allow us to undertake some measures this year designed to address poverty in Toronto and I asked Deputy Mayor McConnell to make recommendations as to how to allocate that money.

Today, we are making those recommendations public, recognizing they now become part of the budget process, and thus subject to debate at the budget committee and ultimately to consideration by the full City Council.

While this allocation represents a beginning as opposed to any kind of final answer, I am struck by the fact that it includes support in a variety of areas, including student nutrition, employment assistance and helping seniors who often end up in dire circumstances.

I am especially happy about the expansion of the student nutrition program which these funds will support–some 27 new schools will be added to the list and I am absolutely convinced this will improve the learning experience for hundreds of kids in our city and thus help keep them in school.

Similarly, there has been a significant allocation recommended by Deputy Mayor McConnell to support initiatives which help people connect to jobs.

I have always believed the best poverty reduction strategy is to help ensure that people have good, secure jobs and this investment will help some harder to employ people to get a job.

My efforts to attract jobs and investment to Toronto will be stepped up in the months to come.

Seniors often find themselves alone and without resources and another investment in this package will help them with transportation to get to appointments, access services and participate in community events.

I believe it is a measure of our commitment to Canadian values and our desire to build a strong, prosperous and fair city to act now to invest in initiatives like these.

Making these kinds of investments to help our most vulnerable is not only good for the health of our economy and our citizens – it’s the right thing to do.

Once again I thank Deputy Mayor McConnell for all of her hard work on this, I thank all of those who she consulted and I look forward to consideration of these proposals by the budget committee and ultimately by City Council.

mayorjohntory

***

Budget 2015 Financing – February 12, 2015

Good afternoon.

The events which brought us to today began in 2013 when the province decided to phase out longstanding support for social housing, years ahead of schedule.

As a result, when I took office, we were confronted with an $86 million shortfall in this year’s budget.

That shortfall imposed all at once, would severely limit our ability to invest in key services like the TTC while keeping taxes affordable for Toronto families, particularly those who are struggling.

Unfortunately, as you know, after lengthy discussions with the province, we were unable to come to a satisfactory resolution to smooth out the impact of their funding cuts and lessen the impact on the people of Toronto.

So, in consultation with the City Manager and Budget Chair, I made the decision that the right thing to do was for Toronto to deal with this challenge on our own.

We said we would take care of our own house.

I am here today to spell out how we plan to do so.

Working alongside the City Manager, City staff and Budget Chair Crawford, we have taken a hard look at the City’s finances.

Tomorrow, when the budget committee reconvenes, the City Manager and CFO will formally present the report you have before you to outline the City’s in-house financing proposal.

It includes a short term financing strategy to replace the loss of the provincial housing funding, and proposes immediate budgetary adjustments of $25 million to begin addressing the provincial cutback on a permanent basis.

On the short term financing, we will spread the effect of the cutback on the City over a period of four years. We will do so by temporarily reducing capital contributions from the Operating Budget by $130 million spread over a period of three years and borrowing that money from our own reserves to make up that capital funding.

While that financing is in place, we will go about the task of adjusting our budget to account for the provincial cutbacks, but we will do it over a four year period – as the original provincial schedule would have permitted us to do.

As one example of the kind of budget adjustments we will see for this year, we are proposing to eliminate five positions that have stood vacant since 2012 in Transportations Services.

Let’s be frank, if we haven’t needed to fill them by now, I think it is safe to say no one will miss them.

Social services is seeing lower caseload volumes, so we are proposing to adjust their budget to reflect the real costs, not inflated ones, and in the process, reduce the budget by $1.6 million.

By reflecting the significantly lower fuel costs in this budget, we will reduce the budget by an additional $2 million.

We have also asked both the TTC and the Toronto Police Service to find $5 million in savings each.  City staff have highlighted some potential areas for reductions which will be addressed by the Police Services Board and the TTC board.

I thank both Andy Byford and Police Chief Blair for their willingness to work towards this goal.

I also want to emphasize this proposal is designed to have no impact on service levels.

I want to be clear that this is the beginning of a process where we will be scouring the City for real savings and efficiencies.

In the coming weeks I will be announcing the framework of a process that will help us achieve a target of 2 per cent savings across all City divisions and Agencies. That would yield around $80 million dollars by year’s end, and principally reflect itself in the 2016 budget.

The full details of the proposed financing approach and budget adjustments will be explained in detail by the City Manager at a technical briefing, but they represent a methodical, responsible approach to budgeting.

Confronted with a challenge, we have found a sensible way to give us time to meet it, including careful, considered reductions to this year’s budget, and a rational process to see us through the rest of this adjustment period.

While previous years have also presented challenges, we are committed to dealing with them in 2015 in a deliberate, sensible and sensitive way as to avoid the polarized chaos of the past.

Presented with a major provincial cutback, Councillor Gary Crawford and I chose neither to gut city services, nor to dramatically hike property taxes.

We chose instead to responsibly spread the impact of the provincial cuts over a few years by borrowing from ourselves, while we adjusted our budget.

This in turn allowed us to make vital investments in things like the TTC and keep the property tax increase below the rate of inflation.

Building the city, the transit, the housing, the support systems our people need in a financially responsible way, requires not rhetoric and a meat cleaver, but competence, common sense and discipline.

I think this proposed resolution to a problem created elsewhere reflects all competence, common sense and discipline.

I will now invite Councillor Crawford to say a few words.

beatsme

stumpedly submitted by Cityslikr


Give Him Enough Rope

November 5, 2015

If the predominant response to witnessing the Ford mayoralty was anger (followed by a profound sadness), cynicism is the emotion that springs forth watching Mayor Tory in action (followed closely by anger). cynicalIs cynicism even an emotion? I don’t know. It sure feels like an emotion.

It sure felt like it watching the mayor speak to the TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy item at city council yesterday. ‘Aspirational’… but. A ‘moral issue’… but. Proud of this document. Proud of the work having gone into it. Proud, proud, proud … but.

Mayor Tory took much of his speaking time to explain that the strategy, as such, spread out over a 20 year framework, was ‘not an instant answer’. He took great pains to explain ‘what it is not’. Aspirational … but. Almost as a warning, he informed us that at the budget committee, they will endeavor ‘to do as much as we can’ … but. Competing priorities, and all that.

Until that time, when this poverty reduction strategy goes through the buzz saw that will be the budget committee – as Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam pointed out, the mayor’s “direction to reduce 2016 overall budget by 2%” is not compatible with the new funding called for in the TO Prosperity document – likeI’ll set aside my cynicism, and take a moment to applaud those who are pursuing this with the upmost of earnestness and serious intent. Those who, for the time being, are willing to take Mayor Tory for his word on this, as qualified and mealy-mouthed as the words may sound to my jaded ears.

Hats off to Councillor Pam McConnell for her genuine acceptance of the title of Deputy Mayor, and her belief that the man who gave her that title is actually committed to this course of action. Her diligence in putting this report together, and exhorting her council colleagues that it is a worthy and absolutely essential undertaking, should be acknowledged and commended. Councillor Janet Davis said that McConnell “gave one of the best speeches of her career… Passionate and inspiring call for a fairer, stronger city.”

Applause too to all the advocates who contributed their time and effort to make sure this didn’t simply slip through the cracks, as poverty issues tend to do. aweSuch tirelessness is, I can’t even come up with the proper word that amplifies the inadequate ‘admirable’. It’s unfathomable to me, that kind of determination.

Many of you were probably in the council chambers gallery to watch the vote, and applauded when it was approved, clapped for Mayor Tory when he spoke to it. I cannot express the kind of awe I feel at that sheer act of trust in the good intentions of others, the conviction enough of us will do the right thing when push comes to shove. Again, humbled does not even begin to describe how I regard such faith and principle.

… but … but … but …

Let’s remember these words that the mayor uttered near the end of his speech yesterday, remember them, and hold him to account for saying them when he inevitably fails to live up to them. And Mayor Tory, as sure as I’m sitting here writing this, will fail, will prove to be a false ally. He’s already qualified his support, showing none of the can-do, inevitable triumphalism he’s flashed for SmartTrack or the Gardiner East hybrid, pledging only ‘to do as much as we can…to the extent we can’. Aspiration is great until it runs smack dab into the reality Mayor Tory has established. “More isn’t always better.” So please dim your expectations.

I think this is one of the most important decisions, one of the most important commitments that we’re going to make as a council during this entire term without even knowing what else is going to come up over the next 3 years.

That’s what he said. Those were Mayor Tory’s exact words. This poverty reduction strategy was one of the most important decisions city council would make this term. Mayor Tory said so.

lifecouldbebetter

Let’s make sure he’s held to that. Make this his signature item. Its success or failure will determine his success or failure as mayor of this city. He will try and wiggle free of it. Don’t let him.

assuredly submitted by Cityslikr


No More Important A Key Item

November 3, 2015

At this month’s city council meeting, Mayor Tory has made the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy his key item. He’s talked a lot about it. He appointed one of his Deputy Mayor’s (“Deputy Mayor”?), Pam McConnell, to oversee its realization to this point. The mayor’s talked about it some more.

We can call this a good first step but make no mistake. It’s only a first step. If I’m reading the agenda item correctly (not always a sure thing), the item before council this week “…proposes an Implementation and Accountability Structure to oversee and coordinate the strategy’s implementation, beginning with the first of five action plans…” These first of five action plans involve very little spending of money. That point “when the rubber hits the road,” according to the actual deputy mayor, Denzil Minnan-Wong.

As part of this initial implementation of the strategy, there is talk of talking money. “…to include consideration of the funding needs of TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy in the Long Term Fiscal Plan.” “…to develop a cost-benefit analysis and framework for poverty-related spending as part of the TO Prosperity implementation.”

But as Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong suggested above, and the mayor himself said at last month’s Executive Committee meeting, “There are going to be competing priorities”. Talk’s great. Ambition and aspiration are all well and good but… but… “Budgetary implications have to be considered,” Minnan-Wong intoned, darkly, we can assume, since this is Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong we’re talking about.

It will be later this month, when the 2016 budget debate begins in earnest, that Mayor Tory’s actual ‘priorities’ will start to take shape. So far in his tenure, he’s found money to fund his SmartTrack reports, to build an increasingly expensive Gardiner East hybrid, to expedite repairs on the rest of the expressway. Just how much political capital will he be willing to spend to actually address poverty in this city? With the likes of Councillor Minnan-Wong looking over his shoulder or Etobicoke councillor John Campbell who’s already expressed his view that the mayor’s over-emphasized the ‘Progressive’ part of Progressive Conservative in terms of spending at City Hall.

Mayor Tory cannot be allowed to use this vital process of fighting poverty as just some window dressed display, a reiteration of last year’s municipal campaign where he pointed to all the things he said as proof of his progressive bent. Mayor Tory says a lot of things. Much of it simply filling up space, empty words.

Today, the mayor’s made the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy his key item. He cannot be allowed to do nothing more than wear it as some badge of honour, as meaningless proof of his commitment to social justice. Not a show piece of his administration but a centre piece. This has to stick to him. We must demand Mayor Tory do more than talk about Toronto poverty or use this as a rickety platform of self-promotion.

I’m sure Mayor Tory cares about poverty in Toronto. I’m sure he would like nothing more than to be seen as contributing to the alleviation of it. How much he’s willing to risk to put actual commitment and dollars behind the strategy, I’m less certain of. Failure to do so on his part must be seen to be just that, a failure, and not a more noble failure, where the mayor did his best, tried his darndest, but the rock was just too big to roll up the hill, competing priorities simply too overwhelming, for him to deliver.

upthehill

Mayor Tory needs to realize that on this, good intentions will not be good enough.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr