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‘Everything is at risk’: Mayor Olivia Chow makes case for new funding deal for Toronto
Sept. 13, 2023

Mayor Olivia Chow has begun publicly campaigning for a new way to fund Toronto’s budget, which is collapsing under the pressures of housing, transit and old infrastructure.

In a conversation at the Empire Club of Canada with John Baird, her one-time Ottawa colleague and former federal Conservative minister, Chow said the need for a sustainable revenue source for the city is agreed upon across the political spectrum and by the mayors who held office before her.

“Everything is at risk, including our global reputation,” she said. “It’s the difference between being a caring, global city and telling refugees, each with dreams and potential, that there’s no room for you.”

Baird, who endorsed Chow’s rival Anthony Furey in the June 26 mayoral election, observed it was as if the federal government invited everyone over for dinner and stuck the city with the bill -- and that it was his view as a former minister that if “refugees and immigration was a federal responsibility, it should logically extend … they should pick up the tab.”

Whether that will be the case remains unclear.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chow met with Marc Miller, the new federal minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, to discuss the city’s demand for more than $100 million in funding this year and more than $200 million next year to house and support refugee claimants.

Chow said she tried to convey the desperation of the people arriving in Toronto, especially as winter approaches, but it is now up to the federal government to act on its own or with the province.

“They’re thinking about it,” she said.

Chow is also expected to meet in-person, for the first time as mayor, with Premier Doug Ford next week and will be discussing a plan to give Toronto a share of sales tax revenue.

Those discussions come as Toronto prepares to start the 2024 budget process, which Chow has said will involve opening the city’s books and having Toronto residents weigh in on where they want the limited funds the city has to be spent -- from the police budget to municipal golf courses to long-term care.

“Let’s listen first. And in the meantime, while the listening is happening, I’m going to go to other levels of government and say that for 20 years many mayors before me have said the same thing … isn’t it time to move on to a new funding source,” she said after her speech.