Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday February 15, 2023
John Tory, amid scandal, will lead Toronto’s budget debate
Toronto is about to have one tense budget meeting Wednesday.
John Tory, who announced last Friday night he’s stepping down as mayor following an extramarital affair with a staffer who used to work in his office, will preside over the meeting.
Tory’s presence in the chamber will be controversial. If he does, in fact, tender his resignation after passing the city’s $16-billion operating budget, he creates a situation where he will set the city on a specific course but won’t be there to deal with any potential fallout.
One can also argue Tory should be present for the debate because, thanks to the “strong mayor” powers he asked Ontario’s government to grant him, he is responsible for designing this budget. He is its champion.
Nobody really knows how this debate will go. This will be the first budget passed with the new strong mayor powers in place, which changes the dynamic because Tory can now veto any amendments, something that would then trigger a whole new chain of events.
There’s growing speculation about a political push for Tory to stay or run again in the very byelection his resignation could trigger. On Monday night, many Torontonians reported getting a robocall that included the question: “Would you support John Tory running in a mayoral byelection in 2023?”
Tory’s office said it is not connected with that polling.
Tory is proposing a property tax hike higher than Torontonians have been used to under his term (a 5.5 per cent increase) and will use that money, in part, to spend $48 million more on police. “The budget makes key investments in housing, transit, and community safety,” his office said.
Critics have focused on what’s not in it, including funding for 24/7 warming shelters, enough cash to keep transit fares from rising while the TTC struggles to get riders back on the system.
There may even be questions about police spending, after CBC Toronto published this story about the service’s $337,000 podcast.
With his “strong mayor” powers he only needs the support of one-third of council. At this point, he almost certainly still enjoys the support of eight councillors.
Practically, Toronto’s budget is all about livability.
The decisions council makes affect everything from the state of the roads (pretty rough at the moment) to public library hours to whether or not there’s a bathroom open at the park during winter months — and yes, the latter did spark a major debate at city hall.
There’s also the huge question of whether or not the city will do enough and spend enough to start tackling the housing affordability crisis.
This budget also features what Tory’s been calling a “COVID hangover” that’s created a financial crunch that the city needs the provincial and federal governments to help deal with. Tory and city council have recently launched yet another review of potential “revenue tools” — aka taxes, aka levies — that might bring in most cash in future years. (CBC)