Toronto asks residents to put pressure on other levels of government to meet city’s funding needs

The City of Toronto is calling on residents to demand that the federal government meet "promised" funding commitments to help with the city's needs including post-pandemic recovery.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The City of Toronto has asked its residents to urge the Government of Canada to honour its funding commitment as the city continues to struggle with an insufficient budget.

The city sent out a news release in late May calling for residents to take action after mounting frustrations resulting from the lack of additional financial support from the federal government to help tackle post-pandemic hardships faced by Toronto.

According to the news release of May 23, Toronto is still awaiting the “promised COVID-19 pandemic support of $235 million for the City’s 2022 Budget, to match the Province’s commitment”.

Toronto’s 2023 budget was balanced with heavy dependance on presumed assistance from the federal and provincial governments.

This assumption put a $933 million bill on the table – a bill caused by the Covid-19 pandemic shortfall that apparently nobody wants to pay.

The “promised” COVID-19 federal support mentioned in the city’s news release is being disputed by Beaches-East York Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. He said that at no point was $235 million committed to the City of Toronto.

“The city is asking the federal government to fund specific shortfalls that no other municipality in the country is asking for,” said Erskine-Smith.

Although City of Toronto officials are insisting that the feds fulfill their 2021 federal election commitment to help Toronto through the pandemic, Erskine Smith said he believes that the obligation has been fulfilled.

“The federal government has delivered for Toronto in many ways, including through the pandemic,” he said.

Erskine-Smith highlighted the federal government’s provision of $947 million to support Toronto’s pandemic response, as well as an additional $316 million directed to the provincial government for use in municipalities, such asToronto, dealing with transit shortfalls.

“Overall, our federal government provided 85 per cent of all pandemic-related support,” said Erskine-Smith. “In addition, through the Canada Community-Building Fund, our federal government is providing the City over $165 million each year.”

The Canada Community-Building Fund (CCBF) provides a bi-annual upfront funding to provinces and territories to be used for the betterment of municipalities. Ontario received $890 million installment for CCBF’s 2023-2024 period, of which Toronto received the lion’s share.

However, it appears the growing issues faced within Toronto exceeds the funds available to the city to address them.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have identified more than $2.5 billion in City-led savings, offsets and mitigation efforts,” said Chair of the Budget Committee and Scarborough Southwest Councillor Gary Crawford in the May news release.

“This year, we introduced the largest residential property tax increase since amalgamation, and we have increased other taxes and fees such as the Municipal Accommodation Tax and TTC fares. The City and its residents have done what we can,” said Crawford.

From declined revenue from a reduction in TTC ridership to an overworked and understaffed shelter system, the City of Toronto said it fears that without additional support from the federal government, funding for future frontline services will be affected.

“The City’s transit and shelter systems were deeply impacted by the pandemic and there’s a good case to be made for investments to improve TTC services which would consequently increase ridership,” said Erskine-Smith.

However, he said that there isn’t “a strong case” for additional support for Toronto that other cities, who are also struggling, are not receiving.

“It’s up to the Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto,” said Erskine-Smith.

Critics, however, point to Toronto’s special circumstances as reason enough to provide more funds.

For example, reports show that the number of asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelter system has multiplied by more than 500 per cent since 2021. The City of Toronto’s budget usually includes 500 shelter spaces for asylum seekers per night. Anything exceeding that, according to City of Toronto officials, must be covered by other levels of government.

As of May 2023, there are 2,800 asylum seekers in Toronto’s shelters, 300 to 400 more entering the system every month according to reports. This has prompted calls by city officials for a new fiscal framework that meets Toronto’s needs.

Although acknowledging that Toronto needs a new fiscal framework that better deals with the city’s complexities, a sentiment shared by Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie, Erskine-Smith said that the provincial government “bears the primary responsibility for empowering cities through a new framework”.

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Was this article informative? Become a Beach Metro Community News Supporter today! For 50 years, we have worked hard to be the eyes and ears in your community, inform you of upcoming events, and let you know what and who is making a difference. We cover the big stories as well as the little things that often matter the most. CLICK HERE to support your Beach Metro Community News!