5 issues that will occupy Toronto council in 2021
Jan. 6, 2021
In 2021, Toronto council is facing a year such as it never has before -- starting it out at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that has already consumed most of 2020.
Councillors have already had to learn to govern a very different city in 2020 than in 2019 -- a city where social disparities have grown as the city’s economy teetered through lockdowns and outbreaks. It was an emergency, and it meant that Toronto council had to move more quickly and decisively than ever on a wide range of issues: from policing to transportation, poverty to public health.
In 2021, the emergency continues on all those fronts, and Toronto council and Mayor John Tory will be dealing with them as they come.
Here are five priorities for Toronto council, and the debates that will help define them, to watch in 2021:
1. The Economy. In a year-end interview with Toronto.com, Tory marked this as a No. 1 issue. As lockdowns and quarantines continue into this year, Toronto council will have to keep moving quickly to make sure that small businesses continue to thrive throughout the year.
2. Housing. Starting in January, Toronto councillors will be looking at a staff report to move along a $203.3-million federally-funded program to build 417 new affordable housing units. But that will just be the start in a year when an uncertain economy and high unemployment will put even more pressure on the demand for affordable housing.
3. Finances. Toronto’s financial situation is going to be front and centre at the start of 2021 as council grapples with its operating and capital budget. In recent years, Toronto has largely been able to balance its spending and its revenue on its own -- with inflationary property tax increases on top of a premium to pay for transit expansion. This year, according to Tory, the city is going to need help from other levels of government. But council has until Feb. 18 to sort it out.
4. Environment and the Public Realm. In 2020, council approved the expansion of Toronto’s cycling network by more than 40 kilometres as a part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that may not be forever. In the fall of 2021, transportation staff will be reporting back on whether infrastructure changes like the cycle track along Bloor Street and Danforth should be kept there permanently.5. Equity. Toronto’s economic disparities have been “laid bare” by the pandemic, Tory said -- but Toronto, as with the rest of the world, also came face to face with racial inequity in 2020, particularly as it relates to Toronto Police’s discriminatory treatment of Black people. In the summer of 2020, Toronto council voted down a motion to defund Toronto Police Service, instead supporting a plan to increase the service’s budget and implement a set of recommendations intended to improve equity in policing. Facing criticism that those recommendations are inadequate, Mayor Tory and council are continuing to monitor its progress and will be reviewing that at an executive committee meeting this winter.