Toronto Council is good at making promises, voting for better services, new transit lines, a revitalized expressway, but too many of these promises depend on money the city does not have. At budget time, city staff work their magic and trim spending to fit the available dollars. Programs are stretched to make do with less funding even in the face of growing demand, and bold moves supported by Council simply never make the cut. Capital projects, the big-ticket work of building and rebuilding the city’s infrastructure scrape by thanks to a mix of special taxes, the occasional generosity of senior governments, and the simple expedient of labelling needed work as “unfunded” and hoping for the best in years to come.
In financial updates, City Manager Peter Wallace warned repeatedly that Toronto’s aspirations were out of step with its ability to pay, and that many years of budget restraint leave the city with an unsustainable future if policies do not change. This is not a small tweak, a redoubling of pencil-counting efficiency, but a major shift in how Toronto will plan and pay for its future.
Wallace leaves his post at the end of March to become Secretary of the Treasury Board in Ottawa. To some local politicians, this might be good news. The stern lectures on responsible fiscal planning will end, and Toronto could get a new manager less inclined to doom-filled warnings. That would be a mistake, as Wallace’s long-awaited Long-Term Financial Plan [report and background] so clearly shows. When this plan hits Executive Committee on March 19, Toronto might learn whether Mayor Tory and his colleagues will level with voters and taxpayers about the city’s future. Then again, the committee might simply refer the whole thing to city management and leave any substantive debate for the new post-election council.
Photo by Stephanie Lake, courtesy of Civic Tech Toronto.
One Saturday afternoon earlier this month, more than 100 people gathered at the Toronto Public Library for an annual gathering called CodeAcross, the city’s annual open data and civic tech event. This year, the theme was the Future of Work. One of the challenges centred on the City of Toronto’s freshly approved Open Data Master Plan. A team of residents and civil servants from all three levels of government worked together for the day, hashing out how best to make use of the coming flood of data. Now that Toronto has its official Open Data Master Plan, this kind of work should be an ongoing effort.
Even those who weren’t in the group working on the open-data master plan were talking about it. Among a certain type of wonky person, the plan is a big deal: open data in a closed culture. People passionate about dull data. How did that happen?
On February 18, hundreds of demonstrators packed into tour buses in Toronto and were shuttled to a “Rally Against Hijab Hoax” demonstration held at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The demonstration included the Northern Guard, Proud Boys, the Canadian Combat Coalition, a large number of members from the Quebec groups La Meute and Storm Alliance, and a group new to the scene—the Chinese-Canadian Alliance.
In January, an 11-year old girl said an Asian man cut her hijab with scissors on her way to school in Scarborough. Media and politicians were quick to jump on the incident, which the police later determined to be fabricated.
In the following weeks, a Chinese-Canadian group held demonstrations in Toronto, Vancouver, Regina, Edmonton, and Montreal to demand an apology from Justin Trudeau. They say the 11-year-old’s false allegation that she was assaulted by an “Asian” man targeted the Chinese community.
The sudden emergence of this group came as a surprise to several journalists and researchers on the far-right, including myself.