Toronto is facing a housing and affordability crisis, while also battling a $1.5 billion budget deficit. One of the biggest issues facing the city is how to bridge the deficit while also getting shovels in the ground. To better understand the current situation and propose possible solutions for Mayor Chow to consider at City Hall, NATIONAL welcomed a group of panel experts to an insightful discussion at our Toronto office. The featured panellists were:
- Joe Mihevc, former Toronto city councillor;
- Cheri DiNovo, former Ontario member of Provincial Parliament;
- Karen Stintz, former Toronto city councillor;
- Stephen Adler, Senior Director, NATIONAL Public Relations.
During the hour-long discussion, panellists delved into various topics such as transit, intergovernmental collaboration, and most importantly, housing and affordability in the current political climate in the city. While our panellists provided varying views stemming from different sides of the political spectrum, everyone found consensus on a road ahead for Mayor Olivia Chow to succeed. The prevailing opinion was that Mayor Olivia Chow could have a promising future at City Hall if she is able to put forward a clear vision for the city and act on that vision early and often.
The discussion also underscored that both the Premier and the Prime Minister depend on Toronto's influence as a strategic tool to support or oppose new policies or projects at the federal or provincial levels that are met with resistance from other levels of government. In that sense, the federal government and provincial government are known for using Toronto as a ping pong ball, bouncing the city back and forth based on their own needs and objectives. However, Mayor Chow has already proven her ability to negotiate and get things done, including negotiating $97 million in funding from the federal government for housing refugees and asylum seekers as well as $26.4 million from Premier Ford to help find long-term housing for refugees and asylum seekers in Toronto.
During the panel discussion, a distinction was drawn between Mayor Chow's collaborative working style and the approaches of former Toronto Mayors John Tory and Rob Ford. The former mayors assembled their executive committees by focusing on including their supporters and councillors whose votes they could count on given their shared political views, rather than striving for a balanced representation of opinions from all sides of the political spectrum. In contrast, Mayor Chow has taken a different approach by appointing city councillors with diverse perspectives to various committees, thereby fostering a more balanced approach when tackling key policy issues. For instance, Mayor Chow placed Councillor Gord Perks (Parkdale–High Park) as head of the Housing and Planning Committee, followed by the previous Committee chair Brad Bradford (Beaches–East York) as vice-chair. This deliberate placement of Councillor Perks and Councillor Bradford together on the housing committee is intended to introduce diverse perspectives to addressing Toronto’s current housing affordability crisis.
The panellists discussed the importance of the Municipal Land Transfer Taxes (MLTT) and other potential tax revenue models such as a municipal sales tax that Mayor Chow is considering for the city but requires provincial acceptance and implementation. In addition, Mayor Chow is also exploring options to increase the availability of affordable housing options. The bottom line is that the City of Toronto cannot achieve their housing goals and climb out of the $1.5 billion budget deficit without adequate financial support from the provincial and federal governments. It was noted that although the city has an important role in developing more housing units and supporting affordable housing efforts, the role of the provincial and federal governments is even more important given their access to funding.
In addition to the discussion on municipal politics, the topic of Provincial Liberal leadership came up during our panel. Just recently, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie officially announced her leave of absence to run for leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.
Last 45 days
Within the last month and a half, a handful of Toronto City Council committees have met and began policy work.
On August 24, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee received the City’s updated long-term financial plan (LTFP). The updated LTFP, a report prepared by City officials, outlines the estimated $46.5 billion operating and capital budget pressure over the next decade—the result of increasing operating costs, debt, and infrastructure costs.
During the City Council meeting on September 6, council endorsed the Executive Committee recommendation that the city build 17, 500 new rent-controlled homes, in addition to increasing the affordable housing target by a minimum of 7500 homes.
In the fourth quarter of 2023, the City Council is expecting a report from the Deputy City Manager, Development and Growth Services on streamlining city agencies to facilitate construction of public and community housing, as well as identifying readily available land for housing development. Following the first meeting between Premier Ford and Mayor Chow it was announced that the Province agreed to a new-deal working group with the City of Toronto that will be made up of public service officials from both levels of government in relevant ministries.
Their primary objective is to achieve long-term stability and sustainability of Toronto’s finances in order to serve its rapidly growing population. However, it is worth noting that the new deal won’t include new taxes, fees, or a percentage of the HST allocated to the Ontario government. Premier Ford recently commented that he is “just not in favour” of these proposed measures; rather he is interested in helping grow Toronto’s revenue through avenues that don’t involve taxing people. Both Mayor Chow and Premier Ford are urging the Federal Government to join this working group under the expectation that they will provide additional financial support.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for October 11–the agenda, once released, can be found here. In the run up to October 11 the next scheduled core committee meetings are:
- Toronto and East York Community Council September 19;
- Infrastructure and Environment Committee September 20;
- Economic and Community Development Committee September 21;
- TTC September 26;
- Planning and Housing Committee September 28;
- General Government Committee October 2;
- Executive Committee October 3.
Agendas for each of the meetings can be found here.
For more information about City of Toronto Committees and agenda items please reach out to our Public Affairs team.