YWCA Toronto Calls for a Crisis-Responsive City Budget
Speaking Notes for Sarah Boesveld, Manager of Advocacy
January 25, 2021
I am Sarah Boesveld, the Manager of Advocacy at YWCA Toronto, the city’s largest multi-service organization serving women, girls and gender-diverse people. YWCA Toronto serves more than 13,000 people across the city who depend on us to escape gender-based violence, find a safe and affordable place to live, and secure good jobs so they can support their families.
The City of Toronto is a strong partner in this work. We applaud you for your many forms of support, from crafting and investing in the HousingTO action plan to your commitment to equity responsive budgeting to carving out a new revenue stream via the vacant home tax.
It’s heartening that the proposed budget does not seek to cut services at a time of crisis in our city. The draft budget for 2021 gave us a sobering look at the toll COVID-19 took on the city’s finances and yet, you found $56 million in new investments, some of which will be applied to equity-seeking programs. This is welcome news.
However, as I am sure you will hear from others today and tomorrow, there is something that needs to be said loud and clear: This 2021 budget is not good enough.
It is no secret the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on women and racialized communities.
Let me be clear, we are in a moment of crisis:
• During the pandemic, domestic violence has risen by 20-30% nationwide, its troubling increase in severity impacting our shelters directly.
• More than half of the COVID infections in our city have been in low-income households, affecting roughly 80% of racialized people.
• Women are so squeezed by the demands of work and virtual learning that many are bailing out of Toronto’s workforce again – at a cost to gender equity.
• More than 27 GTA child care centres have had to close permanently due to unsustainable funding, and our own child care centre staff are worried about enrolment and finances.
Now, more than ever, our budgetary decisions have to be creative and responsive to the existing inequities that have been amplified dangerously by COVID: We know that women and racialized communities in this city are suffering, and Toronto will not recover if they do not recover.
$56 million in new investments, while of course welcome, is the lowest increase in investments in new and enhanced services in four years. The $8.1-million allocation for poverty reduction is also lower than years previous – at a moment in which Torontonians are getting poorer, faster. We also need reassurance that the $573 million in “savings and efficiencies” will not cut services relied on by women and marginalized communities.
And while we know you, Mayor Tory, are determined to keep your election promise to not raise property taxes beyond the rate of inflation, we also know you want to do the right thing – you do not want those who are most marginalized and vulnerable to suffer.
We urge you to take action in three specific ways:
1. Increase the residential property tax from 0.7% to 1.5% and let the people of Toronto know that the difference will be designated towards combating homelessness and supporting those communities marginalized further by COVID – including a 0.5% increase in the City Building fund. We also urge you to increase the municipal land transfer tax for homes worth more than $10 million and designate revenue from that towards supportive housing.
2. When you go to the federal government to ask for more money to fill our $1billion budgetary gap, demand that their national childcare program be accelerated, and that they provide immediate emergency funding to Canadian municipalities that will ensure that no more child care centres close and that no more spaces disappear before their plan is implemented. They need to keep our childcare system whole until they follow through on their commitment for something new.
3. Even with a freeze this year, the police budget represents nearly a quarter of our city’s costs. Major crime was down in 2020, Council has committed to overhauling the police budget process to ensure that it is outcome based. The $1.7 million earmarked for the community-based crisis response pilot is a step in the right direction but far from enough in exploring the alternatives community members are seeking.
We know our city council has been working hard, as has this budget committee, to do the right thing throughout this pandemic. We know that you have seen where we have been hit hardest and that you understand the disproportionate toll COVID has taken on women.
In short, this year - more than any other year - we need to take bold action to help those in our city who need it most. Women need your help. Those experiencing violence need your help. Those experiencing homelessness and unable to pay for childcare, they need your help.
You can do more and we are hopeful that you will. Thank you very much for your time.
Photo by Jan Weber_Unsplash.