John Tory, amid scandal, will lead Toronto’s budget debate. Here’s what to watch for
Toronto is about to have one tense budget meeting Wednesday.
John Tory, who announced last Friday night he’s stepping down as mayor following an extramarital affair with a staffer who used to work in his office, will preside over the meeting.
Tory’s presence in the chamber will be controversial. If he does, in fact, tender his resignation after passing the city’s $16-billion operating budget, he creates a situation where he will set the city on a specific course but won’t be there to deal with any potential fallout.
If he doesn’t resign, well, we’ll get to that.
That said, one can also argue Tory should be present for the debate because, thanks to the “strong mayor” powers he asked Ontario’s government to grant him, he is responsible for designing this budget. He is its champion.
Nobody really knows how this debate will go.
I’ve covered Tory and Toronto city council for a while now, so I’m going to do my best to answer some questions you might have — even if you’ve never watched a council meeting before — and lay out some storylines to watch for.
When does the debate start?
The council meeting officially begins at 9:30 a.m. ET. You’ll be able to watch it live on CBCNews.ca.
There’s some pomp at the beginning followed by some procedural stuff. Then councillors dive in with questions to city staff, which are often pointy questions aimed at drawing out a specific response to bolster an argument or motion the councillors plan to introduce later.
We’ll find out pretty quickly what the meeting’s tenor will be like.
Expect it to go all day. Some reporter advice for getting through it? Snacks are key.
When will Tory resign or speak with reporters? Is he really stepping down?
Typically, Tory holds a news conference prior to the budget meeting. There’s no news on that front yet.
There’s also an open question about when, exactly, he will tender his resignation. His office has said only that he’s working to ensure “an orderly transition.” That statement went on to say: “Further details on the transition will be announced following the budget meeting.”
You could read that as Tory filing his papers as soon as the budget vote is done. Or, this could drag on.
There’s growing speculation about a political push for Tory to stay or run again in the very byelection his resignation could trigger. On Monday night, many Torontonians reported getting a robocall that included the question: “Would you support John Tory running in a mayoral byelection in 2023?”
Tory’s office said it is not connected with that polling.
Forget the politics, what’s in the budget?
This is a tough budget.
Tory is proposing a property tax hike higher than Torontonians have been used to under his term (a 5.5 per cent increase) and will use that money, in part, to spend $48 million more on police. “The budget makes key investments in housing, transit, and community safety,” his office said.
WATCH | Tory defended the police spending on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning in early January:
You can read the city’s full budget presentation for yourself here.
Critics have focused on what’s not in it, including funding for 24/7 warming shelters, enough cash to keep transit fares from rising while the TTC struggles to get riders back on the system.
There may even be questions about police spending, after CBC Toronto published this story about the service’s $337,000 podcast
Does Tory have the support to pass it?
My best guess is yes.
With his “strong mayor” powers he only needs the support of one-third of council. At this point, he almost certainly still enjoys the support of eight councillors.
What’s at stake?
Practically, Toronto’s budget is all about livability.
The decisions council makes affect everything from the state of the roads (pretty rough at the moment) to public library hours to whether or not there’s a bathroom open at the park during winter months — and yes, the latter did spark a major debate at city hall.
There’s also the huge question of whether or not the city will do enough and spend enough to start tackling the housing affordability crisis.
This budget also features what Tory’s been calling a “COVID hangover” that’s created a financial crunch that the city needs the provincial and federal governments to help deal with. Tory and city council have recently launched yet another review of potential “revenue tools” — aka taxes, aka levies — that might bring in most cash in future years.
Remember, the city is required to balance its budget and whoever is Toronto’s next mayor will need the money to do that.
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