BIG NEWS: The WiTOpoli POSITION PRIMER is here!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Ask Your Candidate series because we can’t keep this exciting news under wraps anymore…

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Help us empower Toronto voters with the Position Primer!

Today, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to build the Position Primer, an easy-to-use website that will help Torontonians make informed decisions in the upcoming City Council race. We’re really excited about it!

Toronto voters who visit the Position Primer need only enter their postal codes to access a ward-specific chart that details their Council candidates’ stances on city-wide issues such as transportation, childcare and affordable housing, as well as major concerns that are unique to each ward. Learn more by visiting our crowdfunding page.

By simplifying the decision-making process, Women in Toronto Politics founder Steph Guthrie believes this tool will encourage more Torontonians to get out the vote. Guthrie also argues that the Position Primer “will provide equitable opportunity for all candidates to share their campaign platforms with a wider audience, regardless of the resources at their disposal.”

The Position Primer has already accrued impressive endorsements from supporters like Alison Loat, co-founder of non-partisan democracy think-tank Samara Canada. Loat says the Position Primer will “provide Toronto voters with the trusted, impartial information they need to feel confident about exercising their democratic voice.”

Funds raised from the crowdfunding campaign will support the design, development and promotion of the Position Primer, ensuring that it is user-friendly and reaches as many voters as possible.

Women in Toronto Politics hosts a launch party for the Position Primer crowdfunding campaign on July 29th from 7:00-9:00pm at the Monarch Tavern. We hope to see you there. And in the meantime, please check out the campaign and spread the word!

Ask Your Candidate: Labour

By: Cherise Seucharan

Issues related to labour, such as wages and employment, are generally governed at the provincial level, but city councillors can still have significant impact on labour conditions. Recently, the Ford administration has claimed the drop in Toronto’s unemployment rate as one of their major achievements, and while this may have been true for the first three years of Rob Ford’s term, statistics show that unemployment has actually been on the rise since May 2014, coupled with increased in the number of precarious workers. Sandy Houston, President of the Metcalf Foundation, which recently released a report on Toronto’s workforce, says that, “The increasing numbers of people working and poor in the Toronto Region paints a troubling picture. When people can’t fully participate in society, it costs us all.”

Women are especially affected by labour policies. The gender wage gap in Ontario is currently 28%, which means female workers earn 72 cents to every male worker’s dollar. Women are also more likely to be employed in the service sector, which is more vulnerable to cuts, and are more likely to be supporting families on their income. Ask your candidate about how they plan to address these issues.

2009 City of Toronto inside and outside workers strike Mel Lastman Square. By CeciliaPang (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A2009TorontoStrikeNY.jpg

2009 City of Toronto inside and outside workers strike Mel Lastman Square. By CeciliaPang (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

Do you plan on making improvements to the City’s Fair Wage policies? Will you introduce policies to support the growing number of precarious workers, and address the gender pay gap?

Toronto’s Fair Wage Policy, established in 1893, guarantees that people employed by contractors for the city are paid market wage rates and benefits for their respective fields. The policy needs to be continually updated to account for inflation and other factors, but in 2013 the policy had its first update in 10 years. Despite the fact that wages now take into account the new minimum wage rates and market levels, many of the wage rates still fall below, $16.60, the rate recommended by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as a living wage in Toronto. Ask your candidate if they will push for continuous updates to the Fair Wage Policy, and for wages that take into account the high cost of living in Toronto.

The Fair Wage Policy also represents the type of initiatives that can work with provincial and federal labour policies to improve worker conditions, especially for minority groups. As noted above, women in Ontario still earn less than men overall. Additionally, racialized workers earn 77.5 cents per dollar, while immigrant women earn even less, and are more likely to be working for minimum wage. Ask if your candidate would support expanding these policies to include provisions that help close the gender pay gap and support immigrant and racialized workers.

Would you privatize more city services?

While there are pros and cons to the privatization of city services, deciding to privatize any service would have a major impact on the labour force. With the numbers of precarious workers steadily rising across the GTA, unionized services address this issue by providing steady employment and a living wage for thousands of Torontonians. Under privatization, city workers have less power to negotiate and less protections overall, which have already come under fire during the past few years.

Ask if your candidate aims to privatize city services, and if so, are they willing to prioritize the right of workers in the process.

Does you support funding for Toronto’s libraries and public services?

Cuts to the infamous “gravy train” of funding to libraries and public services often translate to reductions in the staff that keep those programs running. The result is that public service workers have to take on a greater workload with the same resources. Often, full-time positions are downsized to part-time, non-salary jobs. In 2012, cuts to libraries reached a tipping point when Toronto Public Library workers held an 11-day strike in reaction to the increasing funding cuts, which greatly affected the employment of part-time workers (who were primarily women). The strike highlights the need for greater worker protection at these services which benefit many people across the city.

Ask if your candidate supports maintaining or increasing funding to Toronto’s public services.

Ultimately, the candidates we elect to City council are responsible for creating the labour climate that many of the city’s unionized workers will live in for the next four years, from outside workers to parks and recreation staff, from police officers to garbage collectors to library workers. Electing a council that will be fair and just when dealing with labour issues should be a priority for Toronto voters.

 

Ask Your Candidate: Youth

By: Lauren Simmons, with files from Ali Chatur

Electoral candidates often talk about making Toronto better for the “citizens of tomorrow”, but concrete action from City Council on issues that impact youth in Toronto can be hard to come by. While youth under 18 aren’t able to vote, those who we elect on their behalf will make many decisions that affect them. Here are few ways you can glean just how supportive of youth your potential City Councillors are. One on One 1. What do your candidates plan to do about youth homelessness? Recent evidence suggests that more and more young people in Toronto are using the city’s homeless shelters. This trend, coupled with the increase in need for youth-oriented mental health services and more support for LGBTQ youth in shelters in Toronto, presents a problem on which City Council can no longer remain inactive. Ask your candidates what they plan to do increase affordable housing and transition support for youth in Toronto, especially those with mental health concerns and those who are members of the LGBTQ community.

2. What are your candidates’ strategies for supporting youth who are immigrants or who belong to racialized groups? Data from the Ontario Trillium Foundation suggests that more than one-third of youth in Toronto are immigrants and more than half of youth are members of a racialized group. These young people are often underserved by the current settlement supports for newcomers, which are themselves underfunded and difficult to navigate. While we regularly see media coverage about youth violence (sometimes with racist undertones), we hear less about the degree of support City Council offers for youth activities and programs in racialized communities. Do your candidates have any specific ideas for supporting newcomer and/or racialized youth in your Ward? If so, how do they plan to fund and implement them?

3. What are your candidates’ views of lowering transit fares? Many young people travel on public transit to school and work. The young people we spoke to clearly emphasized the need for Council to work to keep fares low so that youth, many of whom are only able to find precarious or part-time employment, can afford to travel in Toronto. What do you the potential candidates in your ward think about the idea of low transit fares? Are they interested in lowering fares, keeping the status quo, or raising them to pay for improvements? If they propose to keep fares as they are or lower them, how do they intend to pay for services in the future?

4. What are your candidates’ views on the Youth Equity Strategy? Earlier this year, as a result of a motion from Councillor Josh Matlow, Council received the Youth Equity Strategy, which included 28 concrete suggestions to improve life for youth and to reduce violence amongst young people in Toronto. Among the suggestions are the creation of a “youth equity champion” position, to be appointed from within Council, and the creation of a city-wide committee to combat the problem, which would include members from all the other committees of council. The initiatives proposed by the Youth Equity Strategy do amount to additional budget expenditures, but they’re ones that youth in Toronto are clamouring for. Do your council candidates support the Youth Equity Strategy? Are the dedicated to working at Council to advocate on behalf of youth to see it through?

Council candidates should be voices for all Toronto’s marginalized citizens, but arguably no one needs to have Council on their side more than our youth. Ask the right questions to find out if your prospective Councillors are indeed onside.

Ask Your Candidate: User Fees

By: Seb FoxAllen

User fees are charges people pay to access services the City feels are important to provide but cannot afford to pay for with taxes alone. These can include anything from fees for sports leagues, community centre classes, and zoo admission, to road tolls, TTC fare increases, or a Vehicle Registration Fee. It’s not just so-called “optional” activities that are funded this way: several core City services, including garbage collection and water, are also supported with user fees.

The City of Toronto charges over 3000 different user fees, representing $2.8 billion in revenues each year.

Tom Raftery Licensed under: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Tom Raftery
Licensed under: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic; https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

In order to keep delivering services at the same levels as today, the City will need more revenue over the next several years. Are new user fees or increased taxes a better way to achieve these increases?

This year, City Manager Joe Pennachetti told City Council that “[i]nflationary rates aren’t going to maintain services into the future.” This means that the next City Council will have to increase the amount of money it collects from Torontonians.

Taxes and user fees represent different ideas for how government should collect money from residents.

Taxes spread the financial burden for providing services across the entire population. They allow the City to collect more money from high-income earners and ask people to indirectly fund even services they don’t use. The result: higher taxes for everyone, but cheaper and more accessible services for users.

User fees are based on the idea of charging individual residents directly for the specific services. This is a less efficient way to collect money, because the money comes in a bit at a time. In addition these fees disproportionately impact groups (including women and low-income earners) that typically use city services. The result: taxes do not need to be raised above inflation, but service-users bear more expensive out-of-pocket costs.

As an example, the TTC is funded by both tax revenue (in the form of a yearly municipal subsidy) and user fees (in the form of fares, metropasses, etc.). Increasing the contribution from taxes would maintain the price of individual fares and metropasses, but require a tax increase for everyone (even for those who never use the TTC). Increasing the contribution from user fees would mean a lower tax bill for everyone, but would significantly increase the cost for TTC users in the form of more expensive tokens and metropasses. In the case of transit specifically, data shows that a user fee model places a disproportionate burden on women, who are the primary users and purchasers of fares and metropasses.

Ask your candidate what types of user fees they support and what, if any, types of services they think might be better-secured by a pooled tax base model.

Are there ways to make current user fees fairer?

A common argument against user fees is that they are harder to apply fairly across different income groups: A computer class with a $50 user fee costs the same for a lawyer as it does for a service worker, even though the $50 represents a much higher percentage of the service worker’s income.

Ask your candidate whether they consider this gap to be a problem and, if so, what kinds of tools (subsidized spaces for low-income participants, youth and senior rates, etc) can be used to apply current user fees more fairly.

Ask Your Candidate: LGBTQ Community

By: Lauryn Kronick

It’s hard to miss the rainbows that have recently taken over many parts of Toronto. With World Pride coming to Toronto at the end of June, this is a good time to engage your candidates in conversation about what they think the issues facing the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, transgender and queer) communities are and how they can keep supporting them once Pride is over. Pride is a time of year when more attention is paid to human rights issues that affect the queer and trans communities, often at a national and global level. But these diverse communities face ongoing pressing issues that demand more support from city councillors who can be the ones to help drive change.

Jarek Piórkowski, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

How does your ward candidate support and participate in Pride?

Over the past few years, Pride Toronto has made headlines on a number of occasions: when Rob Ford ditched the festivities and headed to his cottage, when the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid was up for debate and when TDSB Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos announced that he wanted nude people at Pride arrested. But, for an incumbent city councillor or a municipal candidate, Pride is an important time to get out and meet members of the city’s diverse LGBTQ community and show their support in many ways, one of them by participating in the Trans* March, the Dyke March and/or the Pride Parade. Support from the City is essential for Pride Toronto to offer its full ranges of programmes. (Pride Toronto currently receives city funding as a Major Cultural Organization). Ask your ward candidate if they have ever marched in one of the Pride marches or in the Pride Parade. If not, would they consider doing so? You can gauge support by suggesting your ward candidate hold a Pride celebration in their ward and seeing if this is something of interest to them.

LGBTQ homeless youth and seniors are two communities who remain under-serviced in the city. What are your plans to further advance work being done with these communities?

When LGBTQ youth who access shelters in Toronto continue to experience discrimination because of their sexual and/or gender expression, identity and orientation, it is evident that there is need for a safe(r) space. Last December, Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam brought forward a motion to develop a working group to discuss the opportunity for a queer and trans youth shelter, which was adopted by City Council’s Community Development and Recreation Committee. The goal for this shelter is to be created and operating within a 12-month time period. When this working group moves forward with its plans and recommendations, the more support from City Council, the better chance this shelter has in its development.

Toronto’s aging LGBTQ population does have care and housing resources available to them, but there have been reports of trans* seniors experiencing abuse in their residences. This absolutely needs to be addressed; if queer and trans seniors are facing abusive situations in their homes, ask your ward candidate how they plan on addressing this and if they would allocate resources to train senior centre workers on how to better educate their residents on building a more inclusive environment.

Toronto is a self-declared “sanctuary city” for undocumented migrants, whose numbers include LGBTQ members who have arrived in Canada to seek asylum or fled dangerous situations in their home countries. How will your ward candidate ensure that LGBTQ newcomers are included in the process of gaining access to city resources and obtaining documentation?

The city has recently made headway in moving forward with its “sanctuary city” status, which gives basic rights to people without full immigration status. Toronto is a major hub for new immigrants with approximately 78,000 settling in the GTA each year, many of whom identify as queer and trans individuals. These individuals may have left their homes because of homophobic and transphobic laws that endanger their lives. While there are programs for LGBTQ newcomers offered through the city, dealing with the trauma of having left everything behind due to discrimination based on one’s gender and sexuality, coupled with the newness of a city, makes a challenge all the more overwhelming. There may be fear of continued discrimination within a new community and unfamiliarity to access resources and programs on top of the other challenges and struggles that new immigrants face, especially those without documents and status. With the sanctuary city motion moving forward, it’s important to remember that LGBTQ newcomers are a vulnerable population within an already vulnerable community.

Ask Your Candidate: Toronto Police Service

Toronto Police | TAV59

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

By Lauren Atmore

With a city as dense and diverse as Toronto, it’s important that our police services are able to handle a wide range of community issues with tact and sensitivity while continuing to maintain order. While there is no doubt that our men and women in blue are a crucial force, several problems have arisen since the last election.

There is no better time to learn your candidates’ stance on these matters than now. With approximately 9,150 officers in the Toronto, York and Peel forces and a budget close to $1 billion dollars annually for Toronto’s agency alone, every candidate should have something to say about this municipal service.

1. Where does your candidate stand on the increased access to and use of tasers by Toronto police?

Toronto Police Service (TPS) Chief Bill Blair has openly supported the idea that more use of tasers amongst his force “has the potential to save lives.” Looking back on the death of Sammy Yatim, an 18-year-old killed in a struggle with Toronto Police in 2013, access to a taser could have made all the difference. The officer who shot and killed Yatim was a constable. At this rank, he wasn’t allowed to have and use a taser. Some argue, however, that an increase in de-escalation training would be sufficient to complement the existing force police offers currently have. “What we’re worried about is that tasers will be used when police wouldn’t have used guns in the first place,” explains Sakura Saunders of Disarm Toronto Police. “We’re not suggesting that all police don’t have arms, but that specially trained officers have guns that can be called in.”

2. Mental distress calls to emergency services are increasing. Does your candidate have a plan to handle the costs associated with these special demands while remaining sensitive to the range of needs of those with mental illness?

With over 20,000 calls coming in annually “directly related to mental health”, tactics must be put in place to ensure the safety of the public as well as the individual involved. Arrests under Provision 28, which allows TPS to apprehend an individual believed to be mentally ill, have increased 16 per cent from 2010 to 2012. A renewed effort has taken place to partner with national mental health groups to combat the increase in these confrontations, but are the right steps being taken? Does your candidate support a long-term plan for deep-rooted change?

3. What does your candidate think of measures like carding and strip searches? Are they an undue burden, evidence of systemic bias, or a helpful tool in cleaning up our streets?

With almost one third of all arrests leading to a strip search, there has been concern for several years that this tactic is overused. It has been suggested by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition that the Level 3 search rate should be closer to 5 per cent of all arrests, and that new technology such as scanners similar to those in airports can help fill in the gap. While those tools would certainly be less invasive, it could lead to more people being searched without grounds while bumping up general TPS budget costs.

Carding, the practise of police asking to see identification from just about anyone they choose to ask is a method designed to keep our communities safe. Whether this technique works in apprehending individuals carrying out crimes or in reminding people that at any moment they could be asked to identify themselves, there is no doubt that this request is not carried out equally among Toronto’s residents. For instance, though Black Canadians comprise about 8 percent of Toronto’s population, they represent 23 per cent of all random cardings – about three times that of white people. Though recent regulations have come into place regarding carding, including officers being required to let the targeted individual know their rights, it’s hard to know what measures are effective in preventing racial profiling. Does your candidate have any ideas to contribute to this debate?

4. Does your candidate have a stance on the TPS budget? Does their stance include specific areas to spend on and others to save on? 

In 2013, Toronto Police Services had a net budget of $927,740.50–almost one billion dollars–which also includes lifeguard and crossing guard programs across the city. To some, there is never enough funding available to those on our city’s front line. To others, TPS represents a force that obstructs individual liberties while adding little to community safety. Having to pay such high amounts adds insult to injury.

Whichever way you look at it, Toronto’s population is increasing year over year and as such, there are more people to keep an eye on and more situations to respond to. Could there be a better way to handle add-on costs, such as lifeguard and crossing guard services? Should wages be frozen to help cover growing costs of technology, or should the budget be expanded to cover the needs of both officers and citizens? When costs are spread out to the community as in the case of paid duty services, there appears to be a decrease in use when the costs go up. Is there any way this can be mitigated so events can properly supervised?

Finding a balance when it comes to community safety and those who enforce it can be difficult. It’s easy to say that you can’t put a price on health and safety but each year, requests are made to increase budgets, to increase benefits, to increase technologies designed to streamline procedures, and each year many of those requests are denied. The City doesn’t have infinite funds to cover all of the needs of this essential service. The candidates we elect, however, are the ones who decide what to spend on and where to save.

New Infographic from Elect Women Ontario and WiTOpoli

As Ontarians prepare to go to the polls in one week, Elect Women Ontario and Women in Toronto Politics have compiled data on the number of female candidates running for provincial office. The infographic below details the percentage of female candidates running for each of the four major parties, across 22 Toronto ridings. Click here for a list of these candidates and their contact information.

Of the declared candidates for the four major parties, 29.5% of candidates are women. 5 out of 26 women candidates in the Toronto region are incumbents: Laura Albanese, Mitzie Hunter, Soo Wong, Cheri DiNovo, and Kathleen Wynne. In comparison, there are 16 male incumbents in the Toronto region.

The numbers tell an interesting story: The Liberals run a lower percentage of women candidates in the Toronto region, where they dominate electorally, compared to in the rest of the province. In contrast, the PCs run a significantly higher percentage of women in the region of Toronto, where they have historically had limited electoral success, compared to in the rest of the province. Recent polling shows that the NDP is competitive in five central Toronto ridings; one of the NDP candidates in these ridings is a woman.

In addition to stats on Toronto ridings, Elect Women Ontario’s Tumblr contains information on the percentage of female candidates across the province, as well as data from past elections and other provinces. At dissolution, female MPPs made up 29% of the 40th Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Elect Women Ontario is committed to achieving gender parity at Queen’s Park, and we at WiTOpoli share in their passion to see more women engaged in all levels of politics.

Women Candidates in the GTA

Ask Your Candidate: Housing

By: Cherise Seucharan

With a lack of affordable housing vacancies, rent prices on the rise, and social housing steadily deteriorating, housing is an urgent city issue that has not yet been addressed in this municipal race. It is all the more critical due to Ontario’s funding structure- unlike other provinces, social housing is municipally, not provincially funded, which puts pressure on the city to meet a variety of housing needs. Women, in particular, are uniquely affected by the lack of affordable housing in Toronto, as they are often the prime or single caregivers in a household, and face lower income prospects than men. Additionally, more affordable housing, particularly for mothers and newcomers, means children are less likely to be raised in poverty, which increases the overall prosperity and well-being of our city.

What is your strategy to provide more affordable housing?

The growth of condominium developments is a contentious issue for many Torontonians, representing the prioritization of higher-priced “lifestyle” housing. Meanwhile, the availability of affordable housing in the city is declining. Affordable housing is generally defined as housing that costs about “30 percent of a household’s before-tax income”, and government policies are designed to take this measure into account when planning housing developments. However, as the number of condos being built exceeds the number of affordable units, demand has increased for the affordable places, driving up overall rent prices. Ask your candidate if they are willing to work with higher levels of government, as well as public and private housing bodies, to ensure there is more affordable housing.

Would you vote in favour of requesting more funding from the federal and provincial government for housing projects?

Earlier this year city council voted almost unanimously to request funding from higher levels of government, in order to support an estimated $2.6 billion in much-needed repairs for Toronto Community Housing residences. Mayor Ford then travelled to Ottawa to make the request known, but was met with an unfavourable response from the federal government. The TCHC has a long backlog of repairs needed for their deteriorating properties, and the city currently cannot afford these repairs without extra funds. Ask if your candidate would support a push for the extra funding needed.

How would you shorten the social housing waitlist?

Despite the previously mentioned attempts at procuring funds, there are still over 165,000 people on the waitlist for social housing in Toronto. Social housing is defined as “housing that is owned and operated by government or non-profit organizations where a portion or full amounts of the rents are subsidized,” and can exist in the form of housing co-ops, and private and public non-profit residences. Province-wide, the “affordability gap” is widening, with more families having to pay a larger portion of their income on housing, indicating a likely increase in the amount of social housing needed. How do the candidates in your ward plan on addressing the ever-lengthening wait list for affordable housing in Toronto?

How would you restore credibility to the TCHC?

Described as the “largest landlord in the country”, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation manages all of the public non-profit housing in the city, with a total of 164,000 residents. The TCHC has come under fire in recent years for numerous human rights violations, including allegations of abusive treatment of seniors, detailed in a report from the Ombudsman. The controversy prompted a restructuring of TCHC staff, but this past April, Gene Jones, the newly chosen CEO, was ousted amidst another scandal. With a recent history marked by scandal, the city should focus on strategies to restore credibility and higher standards to the organization.

How would you help to meet the varied needs of Toronto’s homeless population?

There is high stress placed on Toronto’s shelters to provide for the needs of the homeless in ways for which they were not originally equipped. While occupancy for beds at shelters is consistently high, shelters are also adapting to provide longer-term and assisted-needs housing, and to address the specific needs of women and the increasing number of homeless youth.  Additionally, the high number of people on the social housing wait-list is an indicator of those who are at risk for homelessness. What plans does your candidate have for alleviating this stress on Toronto’s shelters?

 

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

 

Ask Your Candidate: Taxes

By: Seb FoxAllen

In elections, candidates use taxes as an easy way to position themselves as opponents or defenders of the size of government. Lowering taxes costs residents less, but the lost revenue also means that existing services need to be cut (or supported by a user fee) in order to balance the books. Raising taxes can equip the city with more revenue to provide services, but some residents wonder whether that money is being used effectively in ways that matter to them. The City of Toronto earns tax revenue through two main streams: Property taxes (39.4% of total city revenues) and the Municipal Land Transfer Tax (3.6% of total city revenues).

1. Can Toronto afford to maintain property tax rates lower than the regional average?

One of the central municipal revenue tools is property taxes. In 2014, the average Toronto resident will pay roughly 25% less in property taxes than those in nearby municipalities like Mississauga and Richmond Hill.

Property taxes are not only paid by homeowners; they are also factored into monthly unit rental prices. If a candidate refers to Torontonians as “over-taxed” or struggling under an unfair tax burden, ask them why Toronto does not require the same revenue levels as other cities.

2. Would you consider increasing taxes over the inflationary rate?

Taxes are raised by a small amount each year to adjust for inflation. When candidates talk about cutting taxes, they are often proposing an increase smaller than inflation.

Recently, City Manager Joe Pennachetti told City Council that “[i]nflationary rates aren’t going to maintain services into the future,” arguing that even keeping taxes at current levels will require cuts to programs and services. Pennachetti also stressed that the types of small internal “efficiencies” often used to cut costs have been exhausted.

Ask your candidate whether they would support collecting larger revenues from property taxes and, if not, what new revenue streams (user fees for services, privatization) or cuts to programs they would use to counter the lost income.

3. How can the City make it easier for renters to understand their property tax contribution?

Many renters are not aware that they pay property taxes as part of their rent. In many cases, renters pay even more in property taxes than other types of tenants. Ask your candidate whether they have ideas (like expanding the Rent Reduction Program) on how to better inform renters of their property tax contributions.

4. Do you support maintaining the Municipal Land Transfer Tax (MLTT)?

The MLTT is paid when purchasing new land or a new home. Ask your candidate whether they support maintaining it, and if not, how the City would offset the $340 million the MLTT generates.