Ask Your Candidate: Arts Funding

By: Lauren Simmons

The arts are integral to the fabric of a modern city like Toronto. Statistically, the arts employ more women than they do men, but Toronto lags woefully behind most major cities in its per-capita arts funding (by 2017 it will finally reach $25/capita, a figure first set in 2002, and which is still less than half that in cities like Montreal). Budget support for the arts has consistently been under attack in the last four years at City Council, most recently with a planned increase in funding being pushed back to as late as 2017. When you ask the candidates in your ward how they plan to support the arts, you’re also asking how they’ll support the important cultural contributions of some of our city’s most precariously employed citizens

1. Do you support privatized arts funding?

During Rob Ford’s tenure as Mayor, much of the city’s arts community has lived in fear of Council’s overwhelming support for privatized arts funding, which benefits large, highly visible and commercially viable endeavours (e.g. the Toronto International Film Festival), at the expense of smaller, more cutting-edge projects. Where do your candidates stand on privatized funding? Are financial benefits like tourist dollars a necessary condition for your candidates’ support of the arts, or do they have other reasons for doing so?

2. Where do you stand on the Beautiful City initiative?

In January 2013, Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee approved a budget that included restored funding in some areas, including funneling $6 million of billboard tax profits into programs for the arts. However, as recently as the last budget cycle, council pushed those increases back to 2017. Will your candidates support the existing practice of using the billboard tax for increased arts funding? User fees like water rates and TTC fares have increased beyond the rate of inflation in recent years but the billboard tax has been frozen. If your candidates are arts-friendly, they may support increasing the billboard tax by at least the rate of inflation retroactive to its introduction in 2009 so arts funding in real, inflation-adjusted dollars doesn’t decrease.

3. What is your stance on public art and graffiti?

Mayor Ford has made no bones about his public war on graffiti, but many, particularly youth in marginalized communities, have seen this as attack on the arts. Further, programs in such neighbourhoods have found themselves closed with little explanation. Where do your candidates stand on graffiti, and on public art in general? Toronto pales in comparison to many other major cities in terms of accessible public art. What do your potential councillors think can or should be done about that?

Funding for the arts may not get all the buzz on the campaign trail, but a candidate’s position on the arts can reveal much about the Toronto they envision.

With files from Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler

 

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Ask Your Candidate: Public Health

By: Lauryn Kronick

Access to physicians, community healthcare services and programs is essential for Torontonians to maintain a healthy body and mind and to be able to get the care they need. Women, especially those from low-income communities, expectant mothers, single parents, and senior citizens, often don’t have adequate access to the health services they need. Here are some questions you can ask your ward’s candidates about the city’s public health concerns.

  1.    What are ward candidates’ ideas for Toronto Public Health to increase and improve their services and programs for marginalized communities? Last year,Toronto Public Health identified that racialized community members were more likely to experience poorer health outcomes and ‘high priority’ areas show the signs of inequalities of health. This increases the risks of further health complications and disease especially with the common scenarios of over-crowded walk-in clinics that have long wait times. Proximity to transit which connects people to community health centres, accessible programs with flexible hours and more family physicians who have openings for new patients are all issues which continue to affect marginalized communities and should be a priority on ward candidates’ agendas.
  2.    Ask your candidate on how they plan on addressing public health access for street-involved folks and harm reduction services, which are constantly on the chopping block for cuts each year.  It’s no secret that shelters in Toronto are over-crowded, resources are stretched thin and there is a need for a shelter specifically for LGBTQ youth. The 2014 city budget drew concerns that shelter occupancy rates are still at 90%, and city council hasn’t followed through on the promise to bring this number down. For street-involved women and women who need access to harm reduction services, there is room for improvement in moving forward to ensuring that the city’s more vulnerable women in these situations are getting the services and care they need. Are candidates in favour of cutting harm reduction services that are offered through community health centres and AIDS Service Organizations? What are their views on extending resources for street-involved populations beyond the downtown core and addressing homelessness numbers in areas that may be overlooked?
  3. How do your candidates prioritize the health of children and youth? Are they in favour of continuing to support programs that focus on keeping kids active and healthy? Initiatives that focus on healthy and active living,specifically for children, are a great way of encouraging youth to take care of their health in the early stages of life. Student nutrition programs in schools have received sufficient funding over the past few years; does this remain a priority for the candidates in your ward? Youth mental health is one area that’s been largely talked about in the public sphere recently—does your candidate support programs and initiatives that provide support for children and youth experiencing mental health issues?

While Toronto Public Health and The City of Toronto do offer a wide range of services and programs, many of them specifically for women, public health is one of the areas that experiences budgets cuts each year. Each time a program gets its funding reduced, we may not know how much this actually harms the members of the community it affects. Talk to your ward candidate and see where their priorities lie on the public health spectrum and see if they truly have their community’s best interests covered.

 

Ask Your Candidate: City Programs and Grants

By: Lauren Simmons

The City of Toronto funds hundreds of programs for residents and distributes a number of grants to support organizations. Some of these programs are particularly important in making our city as livable as possible for women and other equity-seeking groups, and it’s important to know where the candidates in your ward stand.

1. What are your ward’s candidates’ positions on the City of Toronto Welcome Policy? This policy provides a subsidy to help low-income families access recreation programs like swimming lessons and day camps, and is crucial to increasing access to city programs for all Toronto’s residents. In the past, the Welcome Policy has come under fire at City Hall – as recently as January, when debating the 2014 budget, Mayor Ford floated the possibility of charging an application fee for families who use the Welcome Policy. Ask your potential city councillor where they stand on the Welcome Policy – will they defend it, and at what cost?

2. Where does your candidate want to see the City’s grant money go? The City of Toronto supports organizations that do social, economic and cultural work through various forms of community funding. It is helpful for voters to know which of these grants a candidate supports, and to what extent they want to allocate city funds to these interests. Find out what your candidate’s priorities are when it comes to allocating grants – do they support arts and cultural organizations? Services for newcomers? Community organizations? LGBTQ programs? Environmental groups? Assess your candidates’ grant funding priorities and see if they align with yours.

3. Does the city currently have the funds for the programs your candidate supports/proposes, and if not, where does he/she believe the should money come from? It’s easy for candidates to say that they want to see more money go to improving the tree canopy, or supporting libraries, or LGBTQ youth, but where would they take that money from? Seeing which programs your potential councillors de-prioritize can be just as telling as seeing what they put at the top of the heap, so take time to ask them where you think our money doesn’t need to go.

The various programs and grants covered by the City of Toronto budget are as complicated and faceted as the residents of the city itself, and no one candidate will be able to declare support for all of them equally. By taking time to assess which programs matter to you, to your communities, and to the equity-seeking groups you belong to and support, you can be better informed when discussing these programs with your potential representatives.