News / Toronto

Anti-poverty protestors briefly shut down Toronto budget debate

Toronto city councillors are setting the $11 billion operating budget for 2018.

Gaetan Heroux, with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and long-time activist, rally's with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and more than 60 participants at City Hall to demand Mayor John Tory address the lack of shelter beds during today's budget meeting.

Torstar News Service

Gaetan Heroux, with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and long-time activist, rally's with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and more than 60 participants at City Hall to demand Mayor John Tory address the lack of shelter beds during today's budget meeting.

Shouts of “Mayor Goldilocks Tory!” and “People are dying!” erupted at Toronto city council as anti-poverty protestors briefly shut down debate on the 2018 budget.

During a morning presentation on the proposed spending blueprint by city staff, members and supporters of Ontario Coalition Against Property in the council chamber gallery started shouting at Mayor John Tory and council members sitting below.

“Hey John Tory, add more beds or you’ll be sorry!” they chanted as police and security officers moved toward them and started asking people to leave.

While past similar disruptions have seen protestors start to file out after a few minutes, this time they refused to leave, and security order the entire chamber cleared. Some people were dragged out.

Security ordered the entire chamber to be cleared during the protest. Some people were dragged out.

Torstar News Service

Security ordered the entire chamber to be cleared during the protest. Some people were dragged out.

A woman who said she is living in a medical facility with no other permanent housing, told reporters that homeless people and advocates are fed up with austerity budgets that keep property taxes low at the expense of social service spending.

“Every successive government has passed this problem onto the next successive government since the early ‘70s, the buck has to stop somewhere,” she said shortly before everyone was ejected.

“It’s not that an additional billion dollars for one (Scarborough) subway station is more important than those who are trying to live. No one should struggle on this level every day. It’s inhumane.”

Spectators and councillors returned to the chamber after about 15 minutes, restarting deliberations that are expected to go into Monday night and possibly Tuesday.

Tory has branded the proposed $11-billion operating blueprint his “Goldilocks” budget, arguing it strikes a “just right” balance between spending on services and the fiscal restraint required to keep the residential property hike to the rate of inflation.

With Tory’s council-supported freeze spending, the budget for most programs and serviceswon’t even keep up with inflation — effectively mandating nearly across-the-board cuts.

The protestors briefly shut down debate on the 2018 budget during a morning presentation by city staff.

Torstar News Service

The protestors briefly shut down debate on the 2018 budget during a morning presentation by city staff.

The budget recommendations commit Toronto to the first year of a plan to create 1,000 new shelter beds over three years, with a first installment of 281 this year. But advocates say that 1,000 beds are desperately needed now, with 500 more needed as soon as possible.

Prior to council, OCAP staged a rally and speeches both outside of city hall and in the rotunda, with speakers from the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society and Health Providers Against Poverty.

They included Tara Hird, 36, and partner Brian Willett, 51. The couple has been at the Better Living Centre for three weeks and Hird is 35 weeks pregnant with their first child together, who they plan to name Greyson.

Both have been without housing or precariously housed for years and met inside the emergency system and OCAP and supporters planned to take them to Mayor John Tory’s office to demand they be relocated immediately.

Willett said the biggest barrier to moving forward with their lives has been a place to call home and with a baby on the way the couple is increasingly worried about their future.

“We need the first and last months rent and an actual apartment. Give us that and I’m sure we’ll surprise you and move on,” with their lives as a family, said Willett.

“That is the hardest part getting that apartment,” said Hird, who described living inside the Better Living Centre, as “scary.”

A new report from Social Planning Toronto also outlines tens of millions in spending missing from the budget, which fails to provide funding to implement some of the goals from several key strategies previously approved by council — plans aimed at tackling poverty and climate change, and improving recreation and transit across the city.

Tory’s office argued in a news release that the proposed budget invests wisely in the lives of Toronto’s 2.7 million residents.

“This budget contains over $50 million in new and enhanced investments including the TTC’s hop on-hop off transfer, the City’s TransformTO plan, funding for social housing repairs, 825 additional child care spaces, 20,000 additional recreation spaces, accelerating the Vision Zero safety plan and hiring more police officers focusing on community safety,” states a news release issued Monday.

Council is expected to approve a residential property tax increase of 2.1 per cent. With surcharges including a fund to build transit and housing the actual increase would be 2.91 per cent. City staff say that translates into an increase of just over $82 on an average Toronto home with an assessed value of $624,418.

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