The City Manager’s 2016 State of Toronto Address: It’s Time to go Cold Turkey

Crossposted from Torontoist.

In his annual address, the city manager lays out some of the challenges that Council should confront.

Photo by Neville Park.

Photo by Neville Park.

We went to the city manager’s address so you didn’t have to.

Every year, academics, wonks, politicos, and other assorted nerds assemble at U of T to listen to the city manager hold forth on the City’s financial situation. Yeah, we know you’re already bored, but this is important! It’s a rare opportunity to hear directly from Toronto’s top civil servant with more candour, less political spin.

City Manager Peter Wallace is fond of metaphors. During his talk, we saw the triumphant return of the $29 billion Unfunded Capital Projects Iceberg1. He also likened the City’s lack of a long-term operating budget plan to speeding down a gravel road with only parking lights on.2 But this was the winner:

There is a little bit of complacency. There’s a little bit of comfort…basically, “Well, it’ll always work out.” And I’m going to draw an analogy here: smoking. Doctors will bother people about smoking and suggest that maybe smoking isn’t a good idea, and a lot of smokers…have the idea, “I’m still here. I was here last year, I’m here this year, then smoking is okay because it hasn’t killed me yet.” And the reality is…these things are risky behaviours, and they might well catch up. As a public servant I take risks with great seriousness; I advise that risks should be mitigated, managed, and minimal. And right now, we are very heavy smokers in the City of Toronto.

This risky behaviour is, of course, Council’s long-standing habit of voting to improve public services and embark on new projects while simultaneously restricting its means of paying for them. There is an ever-widening gap between Toronto’s vision, expressed in policies and grand projects, and actions—expressed in what the City actually funds.

The city manager was quick to clarify that it’s not just a matter of the structural deficit, which dates back to amalgamation. It’s also a challenge for the immediate future. (The 2017 budget gap will be around $607 million; in 2018, $438 million.) He also repeatedly expressed concern for the long-term consequences of Council’s years of nickel-and-diming. Constant cuts to City administration have kept it stuck in the past. “I’m signing attendance slips,” Wallace exclaimed in frustration at one point. “I should never be signing attendance slips.”

In the short term, the results of budget cuts—crappy transit, crumbling housing, underfunded social services—are shunted off to individuals. In the long term, this has a generational impact, reinforcing systemic social issues like poverty and segregation that once again become the City’s responsibility. Much of this could have been mitigated, Wallace implied, if Council had actually increased property tax revenue to keep up with the cost of living in the past. But Council has consistently found raising property taxes to be unacceptable, and “recommending the unacceptable is not a great way for a public servant to make a living.”

The alternative is harsh. Wallace is preparing to force a chain-smoking Council to go cold turkey. No fruitless appeals for provincial funding; no “aspirational” revenue tools that the City can’t actually implement; no committing to shiny new projects while existing gaps go unfilled. If Council refuses to raise property taxes, they’re going to see what it actually costs. December, when the 2017 budget proposal gets launched at city hall, is going to be fun.

The city manager discussed much more in his speech; if you’re really interested, you’ll be able to watch it for yourself. The event was recorded, and we’ll add a link to the webcast when IMFG makes it available.

Past City Manager’s Addresses

  1. By the time the budget launches in December, we may pass the $30 billion threshold. I WANT TO BELIEVE. 
  2. He’s already made this criticism [PDF] of the budget process. 

The post The City Manager’s 2016 State of Toronto Address: It’s Time to go Cold Turkey appeared first on Torontoist.

The October 2016 Toronto City Council Liveblog, Day Two

Crossposted from Torontoist.

After unanimously voting to study Rail Deck Park yesterday, council continues to work through its agenda today.

Photo by Himy Syed from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by Himy Syed from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

It’s day two of Council’s October meeting! You can catch up on day one here.

The $2.4 million initial study for Rail Deck Park was unanimously approved yesterday, although several suburban councillors expressed concern about spending too much money downtown.

Today we’re going to liveblog council with less of the annotated video that we used yesterday, and incorporate our more traditional format. Please continue to give us feedback on what works best for you.

How to Follow Along
Follow the Agenda

City Hall Council Chambers (100 Queen Street West)

October 5, 9:30 a.m.

Quality local journalism costs money, and relies on support from readers like you. You can help fund our award-winning city council coverage for only a few dollars a month. Every dollar goes a long way—join Raccoon Nation now.

You can make the annotated video full screen at the DeepStream site here.

The post The October 2016 Toronto City Council Liveblog, Day Two appeared first on Torontoist.

The October 2016 Toronto City Council Liveblog, Day One

Crossposted from Torontoist.

Rail Deck Park, shelter NIMBYism, and Michael Ford’s first meeting.

Photo by Himy Syed from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Photo by Himy Syed from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

After council’s summer/early fall hiatus, we’re back in action this morning at city hall. Mayor John Tory continues to enjoy a strong approval rating, with 72 per cent of residents supporting the job he is doing, according to Forum Research.

Follow the latest council session as your trusty friends at Torontoist fact-check, analyze, and comment on the proceedings. Confused about procedure or context? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll do our best to respond.

How to Follow Along
Follow the Agenda

City Hall Council Chambers (100 Queen Street West)

October 5, 9:30 a.m.

Quality local journalism costs money, and relies on support from readers like you. You can help fund our award-winning city council coverage for only a few dollars a month. Every dollar goes a long way—join Raccoon Nation now.

The post The October 2016 Toronto City Council Liveblog, Day One appeared first on Torontoist.

Toronto City Council Preview: October 2016

Crossposted from Torontoist.

We read Council’s monthly agenda, so you don’t have to.

Photo by YihTang Yeo from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Photo by YihTang Yeo from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Council returns from its summer break to a busy agenda. At this month’s meeting: Rail Deck Park, shelter NIMBYs, condo world problems, and more.

The Big Ticket

  • The first step in the ambitious Rail Deck Park: creating a project team to strategize how to build and fund it. Staff now say it could cost over $1 billion, which sounds about right. Meanwhile, a group of developers are claiming they, not the rail companies, own the air rights to the proposed site, which will further complicate an already challenging project.

Gimme Shelter

  • An interesting item comes from Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York): City Council is still voting on where to put new shelters [PDF], though the OMB told them to stop doing it 12 years ago. What gives? (The response of the deputy city manager, who oversees Shelter, Support and Housing: the OMB found that requiring Council approval was inappropriate because it was redundant, not because it was discriminatory.) Here’s more historical background.
    Related: strategies to fight NIMBY resistance; the latest on the emergency men’s shelter at 731 Runnymede.
  • The feds tossed Shelter, Support and Housing Administration some $3 million as part of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. Sweet.
  • We’ve previously covered how the Province has changed the Residential Tenancies Act to let domestic violence survivors break their leases safely. The Province is also giving the City $3 million for a new pilot project called the Portable Housing Benefit, which will provide financial assistance for domestic violence survivors on the social housing waitlist. It will be $500 per month, plus a one-time $2,500 “start-up” benefit upon getting a new place. Staff estimate the project will help 355 people.

Urban Planning

Recreational Pursuits


  • As condos take over Toronto, could their residents use extra support from the City? Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) wants to emulate Chicago alderman Joe Moore’s condo workshops, which educate owners, tenants, and board members about governance issues. City staff: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Down with glorified closets windowless bedrooms!
  • The Friends of High Park Zoo are “looking to repair and upgrade key heritage structures to improve the quality of life of the animals…This includes the Zoo’s widely acclaimed peacock and capybara residents.”
  • Local councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) wants an investigation into the recent CityPlace power outages.
  • Surveillance state mired in red tape.

Exhibition Place and Environs

  • Thanks to the efforts of Toronto’s Ukrainian-Canadian community, Exhibition Place is getting a memorial of the Holodomor, the famine, primarily a result of Soviet policies, that killed millions in Ukraine between 1932 and 1933.
  • The quest to free the Greek gods from Muzik nightclub, postponed last meeting, continues.
  • The latest giant billboard eyesore proposal: Strachan Avenue, just next to Fort York. Multiple previous violations, complaints from Liberty Village residents, twice as bright as permitted, would become third biggest in city, yadda yadda, you know the drill.

Getting Around

I Only Smoke When I Drink

  • Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) and Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) want Municipal Licensing and Standards to start cracking down on hookah lounges and animal cruelty, respectively.
  • Should licensed establishments be responsible for cleaning up cigarette butts around their premises?
  • Most hipster liquor licence application objection this month: the new Parkdale outpost of temple to masculinity Rod, Gun & Barbers, where old-fashioned wet shaves come with bourbon and cigars.


  • The City is taking steps to modernize its relationship with non-profits and community groups. As budget cuts continue forcing the City to “download” social services to the non-profit sector, having a formal policy framework in place is just a good idea.
  • Raymond Cho, formerly representing Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River, has finally levelled up. Council must decide to fill the vacant seat through by-election or appointment.
    Related: it seems like newbie Michael Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) will get to be on the Government Management Committee.
  • Way back at amalgamation, Council decided that councillors’ staff who left their jobs and got severance packages couldn’t be re-hired by the City or other councillors for two years. This was meant to prevent “double-dipping”—receiving a severance while getting paid by the City at the same time. But times have changed, and now most councillors’ staff get nine months or less of severance. Thanks to the two-year rule, many people are ineligible for re-hiring for longer than they even worked for a councillor. This motion attempts to make things a bit more fair.
  • Contract out all the things!! This time around, it’s Fleet Services.
  • Obligatory technology buzzword members’ motion from Michelle Holland: smart roads. Our chief concern: what will we call a smart stroad? “Strmoad”?

Did we miss anything worth paying attention to? Let us know in the comments. And if you want to support more City Council coverage like this, chip in at Patreon. It makes a difference.

The post Toronto City Council Preview: October 2016 appeared first on Torontoist.

Six Things to Get Mad About in Toronto’s Latest Food Bank Report

Crossposted from Torontoist.

How hunger and food insecurity works (and doesn’t) in Toronto.

Photo by -liyen- from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Photo by -liyen- from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

Daily Bread Food Bank is a charity that distributes food to local food banks and meal programs across Toronto. Every year, member agencies survey clients to track the state of hunger in Toronto, and the Who’s Hungry report presents their findings. Every year, we read it and get mad. Here’s why.

1. The average monthly income for food bank users is $750

Think it’s hard living in Toronto on a five-figure salary? Try four. The average food bank client makes $750 per month, or $9,000 per year. Most people don’t live in subsidized housing, and they spend about 70 per cent of their income on rent and utilities.1

The average income is so low because 65 per cent of food bank clients are on OW and ODSP. To put it bluntly, the Province just doesn’t give people enough money to live on—especially not in Toronto. (See for yourself.)

Poverty forces people to make hard choices. You can’t choose to pay less rent—but you can choose to eat less food.2 There are varying degrees of food insecurity, ranging from worrying about running out of food to going hungry all day, sometimes multiple times a month.

That’s where food banks come in. They were originally meant as a stopgap for people going through rough times, but people are using food banks for increasingly longer periods because…

2. More people than ever are “working poor”

Not all people who use food banks rely solely on social assistance; 11 per cent make most of their money from employment. Of these, three quarters make over minimum wage. The problem is that these jobs are often only part-time or contract work. In addition, 80 per cent of employed food bank users have neither drug nor dental benefits. Ongoing health conditions or sudden crises can devastate their finances.

Precarious work is the new normal, but we’re still living with a social safety net, employment laws, and transit system made for 9-to-5 workers. Why haven’t our government policies caught up?

3. Our city is increasingly polarized

Since 2008, food bank visits in the inner suburbs have skyrocketed by 48 per cent. Meanwhile, food bank visits in the core went down by 16 per cent.

Rising rent drives out food banks as well as the people they serve. It’s not just about food—local residents often oppose facilities for the most marginalized Torontonians, even though that’s where they’re least available and most needed. As the city continues to stratify along income lines, these conflicts will become more common.

4. Many Syrian refugees are living in poverty

Since arriving in Canada, 20 per cent of Syrian refugee adults have gone hungry at least once per week, and 13 per cent of their children have gone hungry at least once per week. Forty-three per cent of respondents have had to give up food to pay for something else—most commonly, rent.

Photo ops and feel-good news stories don’t show the harsh reality of Syrian newcomers’ lives in Canada. Contrary to popular belief, people who come to Canada as refugees don’t get any more social assistance than anyone else, let alone retirees. Like people on OW and ODSP, many must resort to food banks as they look for steady work. This was one cause of the surge in food bank visits Daily Bread tracked in early 2016. In effect, the various orders of government are “downloading” social services to volunteer-run non-profits.

5. Older Torontonians are falling through the cracks

The vast majority of those in this age cohort (ages 45–64)—67 per cent—were employed in Canada for the last 10 years. Of those who were employed in the last 10 years, almost half became unemployed within the last four years. Another 27 per cent became unemployed between five and 10 years ago, likely during the aftermath of the 2008 recession.

Ten years ago, a third of people who used food banks were 18 and under. Now, the demographics have flipped: a third are between 45 and 64. This isn’t just because Toronto’s population is aging in general or because there are better benefits for children and youth like the Ontario Child Benefit. The lowest-income Torontonians are still being affected by the 2008 recession. Many older people who lost work after 2008 are no longer covered by EI, not yet eligible for government pensions, and face barriers to employment because of ageism and disability. It’s this age group that is uniquely vulnerable to food insecurity.

6. We’re not getting the whole story

Not everyone who is “food insecure” visits a food bank, perhaps because of stigma, difficulty getting there, lack of appropriate food, or just lack of awareness. The people who do may be in the minority. Federal data offer more insight—for example, while a majority of people on social assistance are food insecure, most food insecure households’ main income source is employment.

Our system’s failings are infuriating. But what should anger—and worry—us even more are the failings we can’t see.

For a more thorough read-through, see my Storify.

  1. In the housing sector, the threshold for “affordable” is 30 per cent. The City’s Official Plan defines “affordable” as at or below average rent
  2. As the report says, “Hunger and poverty have a complex relationship in which one is the cause and consequence of the other. At the most fundamental level, poverty is the cause of hunger because there isn’t enough money for food. On the other hand, hunger impacts a person’s ability to be able to function to their fullest ability. Hunger not only affects peoples’ energy levels but may also exacerbate existing health conditions or be the cause of new ones. Consequently, this may hinder their ability to maintain jobs in order to manage their livelihoods, thereby creating and perpetuating a cycle of poverty.”  

The post Six Things to Get Mad About in Toronto’s Latest Food Bank Report appeared first on Torontoist.