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2017 budget highlights include health care, no new transit

Thursday, the Ontario Liberal government put forward the first balanced budget in the last decade.

“This budget is fiscally responsible,” Ontario Minister of Finance Charles Sousa said to reporters in budget lockup, prior to the Throne Speech. “Balancing the budget allows us to make these important investments — investments that have real meaningful impacts in people’s lives.”

The 2017 Ontario Budget, entitled A Stronger, Healthier Ontario, is meant to spearhead a balanced budget for the next three years. The document focuses greatly on health care and education, while investing less in infrastructure and transit. There are some special tidbits for families, including a 35 per cent reduction on hydro bills for eligible households, free prescription medication for children and young adults, and funding for work-related opportunities through a new Career Kick-Start Strategy.

Sousa was adamant the budget did not have anything to do with the impending provincial election.

“Our message for the people of Ontario is that we, together, have balanced the budget, have taken the precautions of assumed growth, and now we are taking the necessary steps moving forward,” he said. “We want to be competitive long term. These decisions we make today are not based on election times. They are based on long-term benefit for the people of Ontario.”

It’s important to note that despite the balanced budget, there still exists a projected total debt of $332.4 billion as of March 31, 2017.

Here are some of the highlights from the 2017 provincial budget:

Health care

The biggest announcements in the 2017 Ontario Budget was the Child and Youth Pharmacare benefit program, which will provide free prescription medications for everyone ages 24 and under — also called OHIP Plus. The coverage includes rare disease medications, cancer drugs, medication for diabetes, asthma, mental health, HIV, and birth control. The new OHIP program will be effective as of Jan. 1, 2018.

The cost of this program, which was left out of the budgetary documents and press releases, is $465 million annually.

Ontario will also expand access to safe abortion by providing publicly funding the new abortion pill Mifegymiso.

Other investments include:

  • $9 billion over 10 years to support construction of new “hospital projects” across the province
  • $518 million to provide a three per cent to help decrease wait times and maintain elective surgeries, among other hospital services.
  • $15 million for primary care and OHIP-funded non-physician specialized health services
  • $74 million over three years for mental health services, including supportive housing units and structures psychotherapy

Transportation

The provincial government, while making significant investments in health care and education, chose to maintain investments on pre-existing projects rather then provide new funding for further transit networks like the downtown relief line.

In addition to the province’s continual $190 billion investment over a 13-year period, which started in 2014, Ontario is investing an additional $56 billion in public transportation for the GO Network and other pre-existing infrastructure projects like the Eglinton Crosstown, Hamilton Rapid Transit, and the Mississauga Transitway.

The budget indicates the province will continue to “support for the planning of the Downtown Relief Line in Toronto”, but no further funding was made available. Currently, Ontario has offered $150 million for the planning of this integral transit project.

Instead, the province is standing firm in their contributions via the gas tax program, which promises to double the municipal shares from two to four cents per litre by 2021.

Other transit projects receiving funding include:

  • $1 billion for the second stage of the Ottawa LRT
  • $43 million for proposed transit hub in downtown Kitchener, which will connect to GO and Via Rail.

Housing

The province introduced their Fair Housing Plan, which is meant to help increase affordability for buyers and renters. The cost of housing has increased up to 33.2 per cent since 2016. Ontario has proposed a non-resident speculation tax to help cool the market. This will be a 15 per cent tax on the price of homes for non-Canadians, non-permanent residents, and foreign corporations. If passed, this tax would be effective as of April 21, 2017. Ontario has also committed to improving rent control in Ontario to include units occupied on or after Nov. 1, 1991.

Toronto Mayor John Tory may not have been given the right to toll the DVP and Gardiner Expressway, but the provincial government has permitted the city to implement a levy on “transient accommodations”. This will allow Toronto to tax hotels and short-term accommodations in order to generate much-needed revenue for infrastructure in the city.

The authority to implement such a tax will also be extended to all “single-tier and lower-tier municipalities”, with the understanding that 50 per cent of the funds accumulated from the levy be given to the municipality’s regional tourism organization.

An amendment to the City of Toronto Act will have to be approved before such a levy becomes a reality.

Other investments include:

  • $200 million over three years to improve access for up to 6,000 families and individuals to housing assistance and services
  • $125 million over five years for multi-residential rebates to help encourage development
  • $70-100 million for a pilot project throughout GTHA to leverage land assets to build affordable housing
  • Proposed amendment of legislation that would grant Toronto authority to add a levy to property tax on vacant homes.
  • Frozen municipal property taxes for multi-residential properties where taxes are high

Child Care

Ontario will support an access to licensed childcare for an additional 24,000 children ages four and under. The $200 million in funding allotted to this project for 2017-18 includes a mix of subsidies and the creation of physical spaces for childcare.

In fall of 2016, Ontario spent $65.5 million to create 3,400 licensed childcare spaces.

Climate Change

This year’s budget didn’t put as much of an emphasis on the province’s environmental efforts. Through the cap and trade program, the government has accumulated $472 million in funding that must be re-invested into programs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This specific funding was from Ontario’s first carbon auction in March.

Through these auctions, Ontario expects to raise $1.8 billion in 2017-18 and then $1.4 billion annually following that year. Examples of where this money can be spent include promoting electric vehicles, modernizing transit, preserving lands, enhancing research, and Green Investment Fund initiatives.

Other investments include:

  • $377 million through the Green Ontario Fund to make it easier for households and businesses to adopt proven low-carbon technologies.
  • $200 million in funding for schools to improve energy efficiency and install renewable energy technologies
  • $85 million to support additional retrofits in social housing
  • $50 million in commuter cycling infrastructure like cycling lanes and barriers
  • $22 million in electric vehicle charging infrastructure

 

More to come.

Is Ontario a ‘real funding partner’ for Toronto’s relief line?

The Yonge Relief Line may have a new alignment — and that decision couldn’t come soon enough. This alignment is one of the few remaining steps that need approval before city staff can push this much-needed project forward.

And this project NEEDS to move forward.

The relief line has been talked about on and off for the last decade, and yet, it is still nowhere near completion. Politics always got in the way. Since then, the original Yonge line (Line 1) has become more crowded. This has made commutes nearly unbearable during peak hours. It has effected ridership and forced more people to use their cars instead of taking public transportation.

While some question the need for a relief line, especially with SmartTrack on the table, city staff, the Toronto Transit Commission, and Metrolinx have all come together to label the relief line as a priority for Toronto’s new transit network. Without it, they say, congestion on the Yonge Line will not be alleviated.

The biggest problem with the relief line will be the funding. As Toronto Mayor John Tory said repeatedly at a series of press conferences on transit last week, without serious funding from provincial and federal partners, Toronto will be unable to grow its transit network.

The Ontario government promised in 2016 to provide $150 million in funds to the planning and design of the relief line. That number has not changed, despite the current cost projection of $6.8 billion for the relief line. This means that the provincial contribution won’t do anything other then fund a study or two.

It’s also why Tory has been campaigning and pushing the province for more. When the province dismissed Toronto’s attempt at raising funds through tolls, they effectively removed a significant form of revenue for the city. Without that money, Toronto has no choice but to make its residents pay for the transit network, no matter what the politicians say. That’s why Tory is asking the province to step up and become a “real partner” in their efforts to fund transit infrastructure. He wants the province and the federal government to each pay 40 per cent of the relief line.

The province has been hitting back, indicating they are a “stable provincial funding partner”, despite the lack of funding announcements. But Toronto residents are not falling for it — and that fact is already showing in the polls.

Taking away a revenue-generating tool like tolls without offering a solution is not leadership. Ignoring the needs of one of the biggest cities in the province is also not the way to get elected, despite what advisors may be whispering into the Premier’s ears. The Liberal government will find that out if they refuse Tory’s proposal of short-term hotel taxes as a revenue tool.

Back to the relief line: In May, the executive committee will debate the new alignment option down Carlaw Ave., between Gerrard St. and Eastern Ave., before sending the route to city council for approval.

At this moment, construction will begin in 2025.

Tory hits back at province for transit and relief line funds

Early Tuesday morning, Toronto Mayor John Tory sent a letter and a list of budget recommendations to Ontario Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa, calling on Ontario to become “a full partner in cost-sharing of major infrastructure investments going forward.”

The letter outlines Toronto’s infrastructure expectations given the province’s rejection of tolls. Tory said the province has an “obligation” to help the city pay for the maintenance of both the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, in addition to helping pay for new lines in the transit network, like the Yonge Relief Line.

Tory’s budget recommendation included the approval of a new revenue tool — a levy on hotel and short-term accommodation. The city of Toronto needs legislative authority from the province in order to tax lodgings; however, it doesn’t want this tool to interfere with the funding already given to Tourism Toronto. Tory is proposing a four per cent tax on hotels and short-term accommodations like airbnb.

In addition to a revenue tool, Tory has outlined a list of recommended items the province should fund, including $820 million to help rehabilitate the Gardiner Expressway, $3.36 billion for the transit network plan, $863 million for Toronto Community Housing, and $50 million for child care subsidies.

These recommendations follow a public exchange by Tory and Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca on Monday, in which Tory told the media the province was not acting like a “full partner” in their commitment to build transit. Tory stood at the Bloor – Yonge subway platform and said the province needed to come up with a plan to help contribute to the relief line and other transit projects. He suggested the province, as well as the federal government, each contribute 40 per cent of the funds for the project. Toronto would then pay for the remaining 20 per cent.

Del Duca responded with his own press statement, saying the Ontario government has “always been a strong partner with Toronto city council” and that they were “not going to play political games with transit.” With words bolded and underlined, Del Duca mentioned the measly $150 million the provincial government has already pledged to the relief line and claimed to be a “stable provincial funding partner at the table” unlike the federal government.

The reality is that Toronto needs billions to develop its transit network — a network that will benefit residents throughout the GTHA as more people use public transportation instead of driving on already congested roadways. The refusal of the provincial government to allow Toronto to fund its own projects through revenue tools like tolls puts projects like the downtown relief line in jeopardy. Toronto’s growth and development is, effectively, at the mercy of Queen’s Park.

Tory understands this and is fighting back. He is trying to make it abundantly clear that if the province doesn’t allow Toronto to explore and use its own revenue tools, then it has to step up to the plate and help pay for these important projects.

There are universal benefits to developing Toronto’s transit network. It will help reduce carbon emissions as less people drive into the city. It will help connect the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area so that people can get from their home to work in a seamless manner. And it will help reduce congestion for those who have no choice but to use their car to get around.

Funding this network is a win-win scenario — and if the province is not going play politics with transit, they would see that.

Toronto gets ‘More Life’ with release of Drake’s new album

While most people were out on Saturday night enjoying a glass of wine with their girls or at the movies watching Beauty and the Beast with their ‘boo thang’, others were at home on Spotify- listening to their own, mutual ‘boo thang’; Drake. And what a beautiful Saturday evening it was. More Life, since then, has streamed 89.9 million times. That too, in its first 24 hours on Apple Music. That’s a record breaker for the most streams on a single-day album for every music service. Ever. Proud of you, bae!

As fans nodded their heads to the new beats and texted fire emojis to their friends about Canadian artist Drake’s new playlist, one thing became evident quite quickly. More Life is essentially another big ode to Toronto — and people from all across the globe are showing their passion for the big TO. Can you blame them?  Direct references to Queen Street and G-way, which is short for Galloway, had Toronto residents gleaming with pride and fans from all around the world looking up references and street maps of the 6ix. Because they too, want to be part of the culture that is Toronto. *Insert Fake Love lyrics here, while sipping tea.*

The playlist (it’s not an album, folks!) has everything Drake fans are looking for – the soothing, deep voice in octaves so low, it’ll make Morgan Freeman wish he jumped on a musical career. Get it Together, for example, is the perfect track for your coffee shop playlist. Madiba Riddim, on the other hand, will have you reminiscing of his older hits, with similar beats and acoustics. But, whether he’s crooning in Passionfruit or dropping bars in Portland, Drake brings forth the wide range and originality that he’s known for. Let’s face it. He’s not pop-y enough to be a pop sensation and not urban enough to be a hip hop star. Drake is his own genre. And a mighty good genre at that.

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to this playlist. Councillor Norm Kelly can prep his tweets on another Meek Mill and Drake feud, as references can be heard in Free Smoke, the most played track on the playlist. Jennifer Lopez no longer has to explain the Instagram picture that sparked alleged dating rumours between the two. Drake took care of that in two of his tracks as well. Also, he may still have ‘the feels’ for rapper, Nicki Minaj. We’re not sure though.

One thing is for sure – More Life is giving us life.

What are your thoughts on Drake’s new playlist? Let us know in the comments below!  

 

Toronto city council approves budget in light of tolls

City council voted to approve a “low-tax budget”, as described by city manager Peter Wallace during his presentation on the floor. It wasn’t an easy decision, and councillors spent about 15 hours debating and arguing the minutia details of each motion presented.

At the end of the day, the budget was approved nearly as-is 27-16.

In total, Toronto homeowners can expect an increase of 2 per cent on their residential property taxes, equalling 3.29 per cent, or $90 on average per home. While some councillors tried to introduce motions to decrease or increase that number, most saw it as a compromise for homeowners.

City staff frustratingly had to explain to councillors how taxes worked and that “budgets aren’t just about numbers. They are about the reality of city services.” When councillors tried to argue for more reduction in the budget or for lower taxes, staff had to remind them that property taxes were still well below inflation, and that over the past 19 years, city council has approved a property tax at or below the rate of inflation 15 times.

“The budget is consistent with Council expense policy and service direction and remains neutral in terms of overall revenue burden as a share of the economy,” said City Manager Peter Wallace. “I encourage Council to continue to address the cost drivers for City services and agencies, and look at stable revenue options to strengthen our fiscal sustainability.”

The new budget includes some investment in Toronto Community Housing, Toronto Transit Commission, and overall capital projects. At the same time, many reductions had to be made in order to balance the budget, including dipping into reserve funds in order to accommodate an extra $2 million in street sweeping.

“Today, City Council approved a balanced, responsible budget that invests in the needs of the people who live and work in Toronto,” said Mayor Tory in a statement released around midnight. “This budget delivers significant new funding for transit, child care and housing. Through the City Building Fund, we will begin to make much-needed investments in transit expansion and major infrastructure repair.”

Critics of the 2017 budget have called it a band-aid solution. Without the introduction of new revenue tools, the city will be forced to continuously reduce services while increasing taxes. Wallace pointed out that without the options of tolls — an option the provincial government squashed last month — it will be very difficult to maintain the services within the city. Before next year’s budget, Wallace says Toronto will have to ask itself how it will replace the approximate $5 billion tolls could have brought in to fund capital projects.

CEO Sarah Thomson reveals purpose of Green Cities

In addition to being the publisher of Women’s Post, Sarah Thomson is also the volunteer CEO of the Transit Alliance. The Transit Alliance is a non-profit that is dedicated towards making the golden horseshoe area as green and pedestrian/transit-friendly as possible. In January, she hosted Green Cities 2017, a breakfast attended by over 300 business, community, and political leaders.

Attendees got to listen to two panels of experts discussing sustainable options for transit and building.

See what Thomson said at the end of Green Cities:

Over 300 people ask ‘do we live in a green city?’

On Jan. 25, over 300 people entered the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library to discuss and debate this question: How do we design, plan, and build a green city?

The Transit Alliance, a non-political organization that works with those in the transit and infrastructure industry, hosted its first Green Cities breakfast Wednesday to discuss the need for greater transit, greener building, and an overall more liveable city design. Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat was the keynote speaker. “As humans, we have the ability to shape our habitat,” she said. “The model is not sustainable.”

During her speech, Keesmaat announced the King Street Pilot Project, which hopes to help unlock gridlock in a particularly messy and busy corridor. This is the first time Keesmaat has, in an official capacity, mentioned the project. Further details will be released on Feb. 13.

While guests enjoyed their coffee and muffins, Bruce McGuaig, CEO of Metrolinx; Dr. Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environment Commissioner; David Paterson, VP Corporate and Environmental Affairs for GM Canada; and, Mary Margaret McMahon, Toronto City Councillor walked on stage to take part in a panel discussion on transit. While a variety of topics were introduced, the common denominator seemed to be this: the Golden Horseshoe needs more. The city needs more transit, more funding, and more emphasis on liveability in design.

The second panel of the morning focused on green building, both commercial and residential. The panel consisted of Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Ontario Green Party; Amy Erixon, Principal and Managing Director Investments at Avison Young; Christopher Wein, President of Great Gulf; and, Andrew Bowerbank, Global Director, Sustainable Building Services at EllisDon. Education was a big topic of interest. Building green is only slightly more expensive, but the benefits and the return to the homebuyer is much greater. Everyone agreed that educating the public as to the real costs of building green is critical to a low-carbon community. The question of the panel: Why would we ever NOT build a LEED-certified or Net-Zero home anymore?

Here are a few select photos from Green Cities:

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”5″ gal_title=”Green Cities Highlights”]

TTC focuses on customer service — and people are noticing

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has been working tirelessly to create and grow the transit system in Toronto, no easy feat when considering delays, traffic, and a constant stream of people trying to go from place to place.

Lately, TTC has been emphasizing their dedication to customer service — and guess what? Women’s Post is one of the groups noticing! It started with the little things, telling customers over the PA system to ‘have a nice day’ and giving consistent updates if there is a delay. Their efforts make the end-of-day commute just a little bit better. By communicating why a delay is happening and providing updates when the train suddenly stops or is slow, it lowers the rate of frustration for everyone and makes the commute much easier. Customer service is clearly a priority for the TTC and it makes a big difference when riding on the subway, or taking a bus or streetcar.

The positivity on the part of TTC staff could be, in part, due to the fact that the transit union was recognized with an award as one of Greater Toronto’s top employers. TTC CEO Andy Byford accepted the award, which was well-deserved. What makes the TTC such a great employer it their focus on service as their core objectives of their five-year plan. This service concentrates on their 14,000 employees, as well as their customers. Being part of the TTC union is one of the better jobs to have in Toronto and it is positive to see the transit company awarded for their efforts.

The TTC is moving ahead with construction plans to build more transit in as part of their five-year plan and has almost completed the Spadina extension. Amidst City of Toronto budget cuts, TTC works very hard to avoid being seriously affected by the reductions and continues to pursue their plan to make a better transit system in Toronto. It is not easy to maintain the current subway system, continue construction on various transit projects in the city, and keep the trains running smoothly — all the while being asked to reduce their budget by 2.6 per cent. The TTC achieves this goal though with careful planning and strong communication with their customer base. The Relief Line project is in its planning stages and officials are working hard to manage a host of public complaints while pushing forward to get to the next stages of actually building the downtown line. This project has been on the back-burner for several years and it is hopeful to see the TTC pushing through the red tape and working to get the blueprints approved for future construction.

Despite dealing with daily complaints, the TTC does achieve a lot of difficult goals and is on its way to building an efficient and intricate transit network in Toronto. Next time you want to whine about how slow the streetcar or bus is, remember those times when it is extremely cold and snowing heavily, yet the bus and subway still manages to deliver you home safely. Instead, why not try being grateful for how hard the TTC is working to make sure Toronto gets the transit system it deserves!

Dear Santa: We want MORE this year!

Dear Santa,

Here at Women’s Post, we’ve been mostly nice — hey, you can’t expect a girl not to be naughty for a whole 12 months, can you?

First of all, I hope Mrs. Claus is treating you well. I heard there was a sugar cookie shortage. What a scary thought! As always, I’m sure she calmed you down and rectified the situation.

Man, it’s been a hell of a year. So much has happened, and most of it was pretty depressing.  After a year like this, I think women around the world deserve a little something extra, don’t you? Here is our wish list Santa, and I hope you don’t mind we are being so forward:

1. Can you make our politicians listen to the female sex for once. This wish is particularly for the United States, but also applies right here in Canada. We want clean energy and an even cleaner earth. We want equal pay and equal rights. We want to be free from discrimination and free from harassment. These may seem like small things, trifles really, but I can assure you it will make all the difference. If “because it’s 2016” was the first step towards equality, let’s make “because it’s 2017” the final year for sexism.

2. Speaking of politicians, we need more women in power. Nothing is going to change until we get real women into politics and in boardrooms. This is a nearly impossible tasks, as the “old boys club” is hard to break through. We have profiled a number of women who have made it; who have worked hard to get their foot in the door, but it isn’t easy. In order to bring about change, ensure policy is made that encompasses all diverse sexes, races, and ethnicities, it’s important to have a diverse staff. That’s something most governments haven’t realized yet. Maybe you can sprinkle a bit of magic dust on Parliament Hill to help with the transformation?

3. The outfits trending this winter are dismal. It seems beiges, browns, and burgundies are in right now — if there is anything you can do to bring a bit more colour into next year’s wardrobe, that would be great!

4. And finally, can you do something about the poverty, hunger, and general depression that has taken over this place we call Earth? People are needlessly dying all over the world, being killed in fits of rage and political disruption. Refugees have no where to go and families are being separated. At Women’s Post, we dream of a world where families can be together for the holidays (no matter the religion), without fearing for their lives.

I know this wish list is a bit of a challenge — especially for the day before Christmas — but I know you will try your best. Love, respect, and family are the foundations of the holiday season, and too often that is forgotten. Ultimately Mr. C., we hope you have a safe trip Christmas Eve. Even though we’ve been a little naughty, I hope you can overlook it. I’m sure Mrs. Claus will make a case for us!

Best,

Women’s Post

 

P.S. If you want to throw in some shoes, dresses, headphones, and/or a new laptop for the office, feel free. We promise to have some really great cookies and vegan treats waiting for you — and maybe even a bottle of Pinot!

City council votes to support tolls

“You rarely have to ask permission to do the right thing.”

This quote comes from an open letter released Tuesday morning, with the signature of five different Canadian mayors attached to it. The letter calls for more municipal power to create city revenue, so that municipal leaders can match infrastructure funding provided by the provincial and federal governments.

In essence, Canada’s biggest cities, including Toronto, were asking for the power to do their part to expand and grow.

This sentiment was much needed prior to the city council meeting Tuesday, where councillors discussed how they would be paying for city services for the foreseeable future.

After much debate, city council approved staff recommendations by staff to generate revenue by using various taxes and tolls. The implementation of tolls is a brave new step for the city – proof that politicians understand the need to create revenue and alleviate congestion on city roads.

Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed the use of tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express over a month ago, and since then it has received a mostly positive response. The money would be directly funnelled into maintaining and funding transit-related projects, which works to both alleviate congestion on roadways and expand Toronto’s transit network.

City council ultimately voted in support of the mayor’s proposal. Nine councillors opposed the motion.

These tolls, which could be implemented as early as 2020, would affectively alleviate congestion, unlock gridlock, and help pay for the much-needed transit network being built throughout Toronto. A win-win scenario.

Council also agreed to look into a 0.5 per cent levy on property taxes, a four per cent tax on hotels, up to a 10 per cent tax on short-term rentals like Airbnb, and harmonizing and/or increasing land transfer taxes. The city will also be asking the province for a share of the harmonized sales tax.

The debate on tolls will continue in the new year, when city staff will present options for implementation, including cost.

City Manager Peter Wallace made it clear in his presentation on the city budget that council had to approve of some of the proposed revenue tools — if they didn’t, they should be prepared to provide solutions to the $33 billion in unfunded projects the city is undergoing.

“I think it comes down to what level of public service does city council want to endorse,” Wallace said bluntly. He also made it clear that by voting to take tolls to the next level, council can rest assured that city staff will proved thoughtfully.

Other councillors were not so thoughtful. Many ignored the fact that people pay for the use of public transportation and that user fees are popularly used in large cities. However, at the end of the day, even the wary councillors understood the need to make a firm decision or risk being left with a large revenue gap to fill.

And to that brave majority, Toronto thanks you.