Toronto’s shocking $26 billion hole could have devastating repurcussions

To be honest, most days I feel stuck: I don’t see how Toronto can get out of the hole it is in.

A recent staff report advises that the city needs $26 billion over the next 10 years just to keep things in a reasonable state of repair — libraries, housing, fire stations, roads, transit and so forth. In some cases, facilities are in such poor condition that putting off repairs isn’t advisable. 

This sum doesn’t include any new facilities the city needs. It is a whopping financial hole and the city has no way to raise this kind of money on its own. Slicing back programs will hardly make a dint in this amount. 

The city can beg the province and the feds for this money, but those governments are hardly interested in throwing money at Toronto, particularly since other cities in Ontario and Canada are facing the same problems — it is a nationwide urban problem that cities are starved for money.

Mayor Olivia Chow managed to do some good footwork in getting the feds to support much of the expenditures needed to keep immigrants and refugees from living on the street — but only after they had lived in the open — in late winter — for several months. Who knows what will happen during the next 12 months?

It’s not just raw money. Homelessness has become endemic, and it now is a regular daily occurrence to find people on the streets, on transit, in libraries, with nowhere to call home. Many of those without a place to live suffer from addictions and mental illness, and it is estimated that 500 people died in the last year in the city from overdoses. The city’s desire to take a public health approach to the drug issue and decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs is being opposed by the province and ignored by the feds. All the evidence shows that the first step to addressing these issues is to ensure people are well housed, but that’s not a priority for the province or the feds.

What is the city to do when it doesn’t have the legislative authority to manage these problems, and of course does not have the funds to address them? Do things just continue to get worse? 

I wince every time I see a sign on hoardings from school boards (public and separate) advising prospective residents of the new building that the local school is oversubscribed and that children must find a school somewhere else. The province seems uninterested in providing the funds to repair and enlarge existing schools — something that our school boards did on their own before the province grabbed control 25 years ago. That problem is compounded by the province reducing teaching staff. 

Then there is the extraordinary crunch facing renters in the city as landlords have a pretty free hand. There’s the sad conditions of the roadways — unpleasant for drivers, dangerous for cyclists. Many arts organizations are stressed financially. 

I keep looking for the good news and can’t find it. I was hopeful that at a recent meeting city council would agree it wanted to negotiate an agreement with the province to give the city a charter with more revenue tools — some of the HST, among other possibilities — and more legislative powers. I was astounded when not one councillor spoke in favour of the idea and the staff report was simply received. There wasn’t even a motion supporting that councillors could vote on. 

Where’s the leadership that we need on big issues like getting the city more revenue sources and more powers? 

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO