Five reasons Toronto’s 2014 budget actually matters
On Thursday, city council passed 2014’s municipal budget without too much drama (aside from some testy moments, some apparent councillor-on-mayor tickling and, you know, the whole thing with the mayor allegedly having ordered a jailhouse beating). Most of what goes into the city’s spending plan is obscure and routine, but there are always a few meaningful changes. Here are the five most interesting consequences of this year’s budget process.
1. Rob Ford is still pretty much powerless
The mayor spent the weeks leading up to city council’s final budget meeting claiming that he’d found a way to eliminate $50 million in spending. Then it was $60 million. On Thursday, Ford finally revealed his super-secret savings plan. For the most part, it consisted of ideas with no hope of gaining last-minute traction (Eliminate $5 million in city grants! Lay off social services managers! Forego planting new trees!) and was roundly defeated. Ford can brag about one legitimate accomplishment, though: he succeeded in getting the city to axe its awful in-house news publications, for an estimated savings of $476,000.
2. The Scarborough subway is still happening, at least for the moment
Despite the efforts of councillor Josh Matlow, who tried to persuade council to vote against spending any money on the project in 2014, the Scarborough subway extension is going ahead. The plan, which calls for the Scarborough RT to be replaced with a subway line, was championed by TTC chair Karen Stintz, Rob Ford and others against expert advice. Even so, the idea won’t necessarily survive this term of council. David Soknacki, a candidate in the 2014 mayoral campaign, has vowed to stick to the original plan for the corridor, which calls for building a light-rail line instead.
3. The High Park Zoo is back in business
Ever since its city funding was cancelled in 2012, the High Park Zoo has been relying on charity to keep the yaks fed, but now it’s official: the city will be paying for upkeep in 2014. Llamas don’t vote, but evidently llama lovers do.
4. Library hours are going to get a little longer
Toronto Public Library’s budget has been squeezed under Ford’s administration, but this year city council approved funding for a modest increase in hours at seven branches.
The library even has the money it needs to start piloting a new late-night study space program that would keep four larger branches open until midnight.
5. Childcare is going to get a little better
Thanks to an $18 million contribution from the provincial government, city council was able to pass some improvements to Toronto’s childcare programs. Among the changes: 668 new subsidized spaces for infants and toddlers, at a cost of $9.8 million.
CORRECTION: This post originally said that city council had approved funding for new late-night hours at certain library branches. In fact, that funding was not approved.