After the proposed operating budget was prepared by policy and finance for council, Mayor David Miller told reporters that tax increases are needed for police funding. The statement was intended to make the increase easier to swallow for a crime-anxious public, but mightn't it also warrant inquiries into less costly ways to deal with crime?
The Toronto Youth Cabinet hopes so. "Instead of waiting for [youths] to get caught for crimes," said Boonaa Mohammed at a press event timed to coincide with budget deliberations, "we need a way to get them out of the situation."
After a year of consultation in neighbourhoods deemed at risk by council, the TYC is calling for "life support" funding of just over $2 million for programs to help youth avoid violence.
These include projects for exiting gangs, training for trades, expanding community use of schools in neighbourhoods without full community centres and a new Breaking the Cycle of Violence program, as well as $8 million to reduce student TTC fares.
"Many people are chained to their communities," said Tifanie Chattergoon on why transit access is part of the strategy to relieve pressure.
Shelley Carroll, the new council lead for youth issues and a member of the budget committee, was on hand but hedged slightly when asked if the TYC proposals would be prioritized in the budget. "I certainly have tried to bring these things through in other ways through that process," she said, saying that more pressure on fellow councillors is needed.
"There's a concern about adding new things today. There was a promise to the province that we wouldn't go wild."
The TYC's Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler remained adamant. "It's still not a balanced budget," he said. "Until the real costs [of youth disengagement] are counted, council has no business presenting it to the public."
TTC chair Howard Moscoe feels he may have found a new source of transit funding: irony.
Moscoe says that the Tories' election-promised tax credit for transit riders would be a nightmare to administer, wouldn't result in new ridership and would benefit only those who can afford monthly passes.
Under Moscoe's proposed Instant Tax Credit, public transit and its riders could split the estimated $400 million the tax rebate would cost the government, with $200 million going to TTC operating funding and $200 million toward reducing fares.
He says that improving service increases ridership three times more than simply reducing fares - and this plan would allow both. In Moscoe's mock-up 10-ticket strip, the 10th ticket bears Harper's smirking countenace and the words "Tax credit."
The plan is sincere even if the presentation is tongue-in-cheek. "It's a scratch-and-win ticket for everyone," says Moscoe. "It's thinking outside the ticket box."
Childcare advocates have a challenge for the federal Tories: if they believe themselves duty-bound to follow through on Liberal commitments on Afghanistan, shouldn't they have the same compunctions about honouring the Libs' daycare program?
The landmark federal funding deal the province and the Martin government inked meant millions of dollars were set to flow to municipal childcare. While the future of the plan is unclear, city community services took a brave position earlier this month. Members decided to mount a pressure campaign - and continue budgeting for a daycare expansion as if the money were on the way.
"We made a commitment in council," Councillor David Shiner told the meeting. "We refused to stop investing in [new] childcare spaces in this city."
According to 2001 census figures, more than 174,000 Toronto residents are under age six. The capacity of all licensed childcare in the city is 53,000, and the average base salary of those who work in those centres is just under $25,000 a year.
Under the Liberals' Best Start program, $125 million in funding was due to reach the city over the next three years, to go toward expansion, health and safety upgrades, subsidies to improve wages and guarantee fees based on family income rather than market price.
The city received $32.82 million for the fiscal period ending March 31, which will create over 1,700 more childcare spaces, and 19 projects are currently under construction.
But expansion plans will continue - much to the unease of Councillor Norm Kelly, who questioned the wisdom of investing in a long-term program whose funding may dry up next year.
Staff responded that continuing to create spaces was just the sort of strategy that won Quebec its vaunted $10-a-day childcare program, even after the Charest government had initially axed the necessary funding.
Said Councillor Janet Davis, the city's new children's advocate, "After so long, we finally had three levels of government involved. People are saying, 'Give it up, [the Tories] cancelled the program.' But they have [only] served notice that they are cancelling the program. Do not underestimate the childcare lobby."