My Support of TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy

Deputation to City of Toronto City Council Budget Committee, January 14, 2016

Dear Budget Committee Members, City Councillors and members of the audience.

My name is Murray Lumley and I am from Ward 31, Beaches-East York. Thank you for inviting me to speak to you about one of the most important Budget items you are considering.

I speak in support of Toronto City Council’s 20 year TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy, promoted as a priority by Mayor Tory and Deputy Mayor McConnell and unanimously voted in by City Council in 2015.

I and several members of Danforth Mennonite Church, here in the East End, contributed ideas to the Strategy along with many other churches and grassroots organizations and we have attended discussions and votes at City Council Committee meetings and its final unanimous passage at City Council in 2015. I also support the recommendations contained in a December 2015 “letter (addressed to Mayor Tory) signed by over  50 Civic leaders  and endorsed by the Toronto Region Board of Trade, to move on 49 recommendations that will advance the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.” I have also participated in educational meetings of the network of 75 community groups known as Commitment 2 Community. These meetings included many of my Toronto Neighbours who are adversely affected by poverty.

Some poverty statistics presented in the TO Prosperity document and in the Civic Leaders letter can be illustrated in the lives of some members of my church. We have examples of both poverty and actions to alleviate poverty. For example the organization ‘Lazarus Rising’ supported by Mennonite Central Committee and board members from several Mennonite congregations and individuals, pays for a full time street pastor who does street outreach for homeless people, assists with drop-in programs at Sanctuary Ministries, hospital visits and other kinds of assistance for homeless people.

Our congregation at this time is taking part in a Mennonite church multi-congregational effort to settle a 5 member Eritrean refugee family who arrived on November 3, 2015 and lived at our church for nearly a month until their apartment was ready in East Toronto. Those of us on the resettlement team have had direct experience with wonderful services, provided by agencies and Boards located in the City of Toronto, such as schools, LINK language training, Public Health medical and dental as well as dental specialties paid for by Social Services. We appreciate these services very much. At the same time, statistics indicate that 46% of recent immigrants live in poverty. Will that be the future of our newcomer family?

At our church as is the case throughout Toronto we have people who become unemployed or are chronically underemployed or employed in precarious work. Statistics indicate that “more than half of  workers in Toronto and Hamilton are in precarious jobs and that is negatively impacting their wellbeing and that of their families and neighbourhoods.” The TO Prosperity document says that “43% of workers are precariously employed” but only 20% of unemployed Toronto residents qualify for employment insurance.” TO Prosperity has plans to address this through “Quality Jobs and Living Wages” as well as through “Transportation proposals.”  Statistics indicate a “36% TTC fare increase in the last six years, adversely affecting low income people who need to take the TTC. City Council and the Ontario government together need to provide long term stable funding to the TTC operating budget, not cut it by 2%.

Transit also needs to be quickly extended to the inner suburbs where some of our people live.”

Canada’s recent commitments to COP21 in Paris demand that Toronto invest heavily in transit construction now and discourage driving in order to reduce our carbon footprint.

Another issue for some is living in areas known as “Food Deserts”, neighbourhoods that have no major food stores or fruit & vegetable markets within reasonable walking or cycling distance or poor transit availability. TO Prosperity addresses this with solutions under “Food Access” and “Transportation”.

Some other concerns expressed by the Civic Leaders and TO Prosperity are:

“ Nearly 1 in 4 of Toronto’s children aged 14 and under live in poverty and over 16,000 children are on the waitlist for subsidized childcare.” I believe that the current violent attacks on citizens with knives and guns are directly related to the poverty the perpetrators have experienced throughout their lives. “Research has also shown that for every dollar invested in affordable childcare, $2 is returned to the overall tax-base due to the increased employment of the parents and reduced use of other social supports.” This many fold return on early investment in peoples’ lives is typical but apparently seldom used.

Housing stability is addressed in TO Prosperity. The question is asked:Do we want to fund the high cost of homelessness (emergency shelters, hospitals, jails) or the lower cost of stable housing? Michael Shapcott, long term housing and homelessness advocate said that the backlog for affordable housing in Toronto is 95,608 households or 174,489 individuals. It will take at least 25 years to clear this backlog at current rates of finding affordable housing.

“United Way research shows Toronto is at risk of becoming the income inequality capital of Canada. Inequality is growing faster here than in other major Canadian cities and outpacing provincial and national averages. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket in their heavily researched book, The Spirit Level indicate that the happiest societies in the world are those where inequality is lowest. Not only the poor in those societies do better but the well off economically also benefit through living in less violent, safer communities with health outcomes and life spans better for everyone. Action is needed to address this important issue.

“ Let’s make 2016 the year of #payingforstuff” was a headline in a Metro Toronto article by City Hall journalist Matt Elliott.” He expresses well what is needed. My City Councillor Janet Davis in her latest report indicates that there are ten service enhancement improvements approved by Council, including the Poverty Reduction Strategy, that are unfunded. The TO Prosperity : Poverty Reduction Strategy requires new investment of $75 million to implement it for 2016. The budget indicates only $6 million in new investment, a shortfall of $69 million. No one seems to want to increase property taxes, though Councillor Layton expressed in a talk last week, that Toronto property tax bills (not rate) are the lowest of all the municipalities around Toronto. I also understand that the Ontario government passed the City of Toronto Act ten years ago, giving Toronto a variety of revenue tools to pay for services that 13,000 citizens of Toronto (I was one) overwhelmingly said they wanted to keep. This was at the spring 2011 KPMG meetings to examine city services. Those same citizens also said they were willing to invest more to pay for those services. The only revenue tool that has been used is the Land Transfer Tax and City Manager Peter Wallace has already warned Council that it is fiscally dangerous to rely on that one tool. Several Councillors have already publicly advocated for one or more of these tools to pay for approved service enhancements.

Revenue tools and potential investment:

5% Tobacco tax – $30 million

5% Alcoholic beverage tax – $77 million

5% Entertainment tax – $18 million

.10 peak & .05 non-peak Road Tolls, Gardiner & Don Valley – $78 million

Tax on non-residential parking spaces – $175 million

Vehicle Registration tax at $60/vehicle – $66 million

1% Toronto Sales tax – unable to find estimated revenue

For example, my son and I share one car, so the $60 vehicle registration would mean no more than 2 weeks of Starbucks coffees once per day. The $66 million raised would almost take care of the TO Prosperity cost for 2016.

Please don’t tell me that these tools are unaffordable. An article in NOW Weekly, December 17, 2015 by Mike Balkwill, provincial organizer for ‘Put Food in the Budget’ Campaign, pointed out that representatives of the five big banks made it look like they were being generous at the CBC’s annual Sounds of the Season on December 4 when they each contributed $10,000 to the charity drive. Balkwill says in fact, the $10,000 represented less than one millionth of the banks’ bottom line given that collectively the five banks raked in $40 billion in profits last year. Another huge loss of revenue for services is the documented illegal offshore banking used by some wealthy Canadians to avoid making their investments to a fairer city and country. As well, some of our favourite corporations like Starbucks and Apple have been shown to shift their profits to low tax jurisdictions to avoid paying their fair share of the services where they operate and sell their products. Some estimates have it that Canada is losing $10 to $20 billion in lost tax revenue per year, leaving middle class Canadians to pay for necessary services for all. Of course these two examples of lost revenues require action at the provincial and federal levels but I expect City Council to request that the upper levels of government demand that banks, corporations and rich individuals who have benefited from Toronto’s and Canada’s infrastructure pay their share.

Now that Council has unanimously approved TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy I hope you will vote to fully fund it as an investment, keeping in mind the huge return in living potential. You will be doing what is absolutely essential to build a more just and livable thriving city.

About Murray Lumley

Board member of Conscience Canada; Christian Peacemaker Teams Reservist; retired teacher; grandfather
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