One councillor is on a mission to change the lens of the city of Toronto budget.
The first-ever Gender Equity Townhall, where many in attendance said women’s voices are absent when crucial decisions are made about what city services and programs are cut, was held on Thursday night.
“The city of Toronto is becoming a very expensive place to live and families are struggling,” Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who organized the town hall, told CityNews.
Inside the 519 on Church Street north of Wellesley Street, a full room of attendees joined in as Wong-Tam led a discussion on how the preliminary $10-million service cuts could impact women.
“I think that women have been shouting and advocating for years, for a more gender responsive budget,” attendee Jordan Perreault-Laird told CityNews. “Unfortunately policy makers and politicians aren’t listening to those demands for whatever reasons.”
Those in attendance, including representatives of community organizations in the city, are joining forces asking the city to include a more open and transparent budget process that is inclusive of both men and women.
“Women’s voices are definitely in the engagement process,” said Leila Sarangi, who works for Women’s Habitat of Etobicoke. “But are they reflected in what we’re seeing in the budget? No.”
As the city works to balance and fill a $91 million shortfall, Wong-Tam says she wants to ensure the budget of the city is responsive to everybody, both women and men. According to the Ward 27 Councillor, that can be done by using a gender equity lens, a tool that ensures women aren’t left behind when these budget decisions are made.
“It’s not just a woman’s issue, it’s about making sure the budget will be responsive to both men and women,” Wong-Tam explains.
While the motion passed, the budget committee has struggled implement it, simply because it’s never been done before.
That was the goal of Thursday night’s meeting. Both the councillors and attendees highlight some of the concerns mentioned in the preliminary budget.
It includes the $1.8 million cut to shelter, support and housing, lack of access to subsidies for childcare, and no new money for the city’s poverty reduction.
“That kind of budget really hurts women,” Sarangi explains. “We need to ask for new investments for things that really matter and will make a difference in people’s lives, including new affordable housing, alleviating the waitlist for housing, childcare subsidies.”
Wong-Tam’s presentation shows most of the budget money goes to the Police Service Board and the TTC, but adds that there are also shortfalls; Toronto Community Housing is down $31.2 million, and the TTC is short $77.4 million
Wong-Tam’s Preliminary Budget Highlights
$10 Million in Service cuts in the budget
– $1.3 million in staffing cuts at long-term care homes
– Cuts to 200 frontline jobs in parks maintenance
– Cuts to Childcare Occupancy Grants
– $0.10 TTC Fare Hike
– $30,000 cut to shut down emergency cooling program
– $1.8 million cut to shelter, support and housing including over a million in staffing cuts
Perreault-Laird, who will soon be graduating, says she often times plans her future based around these policies.
“I find it very frustrating, almost disturbing that access to those services has an impact on the decisions I make on my life,” she said.
The biggest task of the night is when the attendees were asked which services they would cut to fund the priorities that are important to them. Some suggestions mentioned include taking funding dollars away from the Toronto Zoo, police and fire fighters, and increasing alcohol and billboard tax.
“We’re going to disseminate this information, try to understand what women are telling me and the communities and that will also inform the way I vote,” Wong-Tam explains.
The Mayor’s Executive Committee is set to review the budget and make recommendations on Feb. 7. City Council will then make a final decision on Feb. 15 and 16.