Toronto budget cuts not the answer, advocacy groups say

The 2013 Toronto budget includes cuts to many city services that numerous social and advocacy groups think are inappropriate. They believe the cuts will have a negative impact on not only the more vulnerable residents of the city but on vital arts programs as well.

Social Planning Toronto held a forum at the YMCA on Nov. 30 to discuss the 2013 city budget and how the cuts would affect various services around the city. One of the speakers was Neethan Shan from the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians located in Scarborough.

According to Shan, there is a lack of political leadership when it comes to Scarborough, as it is geographically isolated and often forgotten by Toronto politicians.

“Scarborough has limited resources and the need has not been met,” Shan said. “The city gives us $30,000 and expects us to change the world.”

Poverty is rampant in Scarborough and the area needs funds from the city to adequately operate necessary services, not more cuts, Shan pointed out.

“The TTC and shelters are already underserviced,” Shan said. “Women and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered (LGBT) community are marginalized in Scarborough, there is an equity deficit.”

As for crime in Scarborough, the solution is not more police officers, but investment in social programs for at-risk youth so they can develop skills and get more involved in the political process, Shan explained.

“The politicians ignore the youth and don’t provide funding for recreation centres but when there is a shooting all of a sudden they act like they care,” Shan said.

Susan Wright from the Toronto Arts Council said there have been significant cuts in the arts as well.

“There has been no increase in funding for the arts, we have flat lined,” Wright said.

Both Calgary and Winnipeg spend more per capita on the arts than Toronto. Toronto likes to sell itself as a creative city but the funding is not there, according to Wright.

“Toronto has a vibrant arts scene but it is being subsidized by private donations and corporate sponsorship, not by the government,” Wright said.

There have also been cuts in subsidized housing, which will have a damaging impact on groups that are already facing barriers, the speakers noted.

Michael Shapcott from the Wellesley Institute said that harsh measures are not the answer and this is made clear by the situation in Europe.

“Austerity does not work, it is causing Europe to go back to a recession,” Shapcott said. “Sensible investment is good for the economy and good for government.”

Some methods of raising necessary revenue would be to increase taxes and through sources such as the parking authority, Shapcott suggested.

Shan urged citizens to get involved in the political process and to communicate their concerns about the budget cuts by contacting their MP and attending city council meetings.

“The community needs to take ownership of this issue. We have to raise our voices to the politicians so they have no doubt where the people of Toronto stand,” Shan said.