Politicians split on funding for priority neighbourhoods

Scarborough councillors are conflicted when it comes to outgoing mayor David Miller’s $40-million plan to invest in Toronto’s 13 neediest communities.

“As a councillor I had not a lot of say in how the money was spent,” said Ward 39 councillor Mike Del Grande, whose ward includes the Steeles- L’Amoreaux neighbourhood. “I know the area quite well and … I wasn’t involved in the plan.”

The city allocated all of his area’s money into building a daycare centre without consulting him first, Del Grande said.

“I will do everything I can to keep the program in place,” said Ward 38 councillor Glenn De Baermaeker, who has parts of Dorset Park and Eglinton East-Kennedy Park in his jurisdiction. “We want to break the cycle of poverty and welfare dependency. I can see the difference in the community.”

Although city politicians disagree on this issue, only the incoming mayor will have the power to keep or scrap the plan, and it looks like they favour the latter.

“I want to know what the 14th neighbourhood was,” said mayoral candidate George Smitherman.

As Miller leaves office next month he will take his policies with him, including his Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy, a five-year collaboration between the city and the United Way of Greater Toronto.

Of the 13 communities, six are located in Scarborough: SteelesL’Amoreaux, Malvern, Dorset Park, Kingston-Galloway, Eglinton East-Kennedy Park and Scarborough Village.

Priority neighbourhoods in Scarborough (story continues below)
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“The point of it was to leverage investment in the areas,” said Toronto budget chief Shelley Carroll. “The city put in $13 million, but in fact $38 million was spent. That’s how the work was made possible.”

The Strong Neighbourhoods money went into social and infrastructure improvements, like parks, community centres and libraries.

One concern of city politicians is the amount of funding each of the areas has received under the Strong Neighbourhoods initiative.

“Much more needs to be invested,” Carroll said. “The areas have been long neglected. There has been a lot of progress but it’s been uneven.”

Other councillors say city hall does not understand the needs of the suburbs.

“It’s a question of collaboration,” Del Grande said. “People downtown were making decisions and they weren’t talking to the people on the ground [in Steeles-L’Amoreaux].”

De Baermaeker said the Strong Neighbourhoods plan is a good method of engaging youth and encouraging them to join community clubs instead of gangs.

“It’s the cheapest crime prevention program we have,” he said. “It’s a lot cheaper than putting someone in jail … I don’t think any mayor would want to cancel the project.”