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City approves 2017 budget, but some councillors say cuts will make it hard to sleep at night

Posted on 18 February 2017 by TSL

City approves 2017 budget, but some councillors say cuts will make it hard to sleep at night.

Council has passed a budget that Mayor John Tory said kept property taxes "reasonable" but that critics say is “unsustainable” and fails Toronto’s most vulnerable.

Toronto Mayor John Tory outlines his support for the 2017 budget proposal and opposition to a motion that would have kept 10 front-line shelter staff positions. The budget, which included a 3.29 per cent property tax increase, passed. (CITY COUNCIL/YOUTUBE/TORONTO STAR)

By JENNIFER PAGLIAROCity Hall reporter
EMILY MATHIEU – Housing Reporter
Thu., Feb. 16, 2017
It was the budget that almost wasn’t.

Despite a vote that created an unexpected $2-million hole just before midnight and nearly 15 hours into the debate, council approved a budget Mayor John Tory said kept property taxes at “reasonable” rates his allies called “affordable.”

That included approval of a residential property tax rate hike that totals 3.29 per cent for 2017, or $90 extra for the average homeowner.

The budget passed with a final 27-16 vote.

But critics of the approved balancing called it “unsustainable” and said they would have trouble sleeping once they got home in the early hours Thursday morning with cuts impacting the city’s most vulnerable.

An attempt to prevent the elimination of 10 front-line shelter staff positions — at a time when those havens are exceeding capacity targets and those who rely on them struggle to find more permanent housing — failed 19-25. The mayor and all but one of his executive members supported the cut.

Toronto Mayor John Tory defended the budget, saying that additional investment in transit and housing could "in no way be described as a cutback."
Toronto Mayor John Tory defended the budget, saying that additional investment in transit and housing could "in no way be described as a cutback." (DAVID RIDER / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO) 
 Councillor Joe Cressy moved a motion that council keep the 10 front-line positions, by voting to increase the 2017 operating budget for shelter, support and housing administration by just over $1 million, by pulling funding from a property tax stabilization reserve fund.

Cressy accused the mayor of directly intervening to ensure the cut passed.

“It’s deeply disappointing that the mayor of Toronto decided to personally intervene to balance a budget on the backs of the city’s most vulnerable,” he told the Star. “When it comes to a budget setting the priorities for a city, cutting shelter staff is about as clear an indication as any that this budget is a failure.”

Tory supported a successful motion asking staff to report back on the “true” service level impacts of the shelter cuts, saying he believed it would be “minimal.”

“I have confidence in our professional public servants and I can’t believe they would even put in front of us for consideration, no matter what direction they’d been given by us, any recommendation that they thought could lead to that consequence that you’ve talked about,” Tory said in response to criticism the cuts could hurt Torontonians most in need.

“That a budget that does make a big additional investment in transit somehow gets translated into a cutback, a budget that makes a big additional investment in housing somehow gets translated into a cutback, a $250 million investment in repairs to Toronto Community Housing can in no way be described as a cutback … But I guess that is the way things work in the context of this chamber and I am glad for the most part today the discussion has been other than on that kind of basis.”

Earlier, under questioning from Councillor Mike Layton, Tory admitted staff said they only presented the cut because they were directed to find 2.6 per cent in budget reductions — a direction pushed by Tory.

The 10 positions will be lost through attrition, when the current staff retire or leave.

Five of the jobs, council heard earlier in the night, would come from one of the 10 city-run shelters, which serve about 1,500 people. The remaining 49 shelters in the city are run by community agencies. The entire system, including hotel beds, has room for about 4,600 people, according to city data.

Councillor Pam McConnell, who was picked by the mayor to champion the poverty reduction strategy, said it wasn’t enough to just fund new shelter beds and that shelters are not meant to be “homes.”

“If we get it wrong, people are going to die. I don’t want us to be in a position where we are increasing the number of beds, but at the same time we are not able to service those people,” she said from the council floor before the vote. “Because at the end of the day this is not about the bed count entirely, it is about moving people through the shelter system, getting them out off the street, into the shelter system and then out of the shelter system and into their own homes.”

Paul Raftis, general manager of the city’s shelter, support and housing administration division, said an earlier description from McConnell that the cut means less hands to help was fair. He noted it would be a relatively “minor” impact on service.

The budget was briefly and confusingly unbalanced just as council believed they were heading into the final votes of the evening.

Council unexpectedly voted against reducing spending on street sweeping, which left a $2 million hole in the budget. Legislation requires that council pass a balanced budget.

After the uproar, a motion that took money out of a rainy-day fund restored order and the budget was finalized.

Earlier on Wednesday, council approved a residential property tax increase for 2017 just below the rate of inflation.

The 2 per cent increase required to help balance this year’s budget, when adjusted to include a new special levy for capital projects and the provincial education tax, totals 3.29 per cent.

That increase will cost the average homeowner, with property assessed at $587,471, an extra $90 in 2017 and total $2,835 on their bill.

Council rejected two separate motions — one that would have flatlined property taxes and another that would have raised them above the rate of inflation.

A motion for a 0 per cent increase from Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who has positioned himself as enemy number one to the mayor in recent months, failed 2-40. Only Etobicoke Councillor Stephen Holyday supported him.

Councillor Gord Perks, who has long argued that residents can afford to pay more to help the city’s most vulnerable, put forward a 4.26 per cent increase. That motion failed 10-32.

“What I am proposing is that we ask those people in the city of Toronto who have the most wealth to put more money back into the system and the reason I want to do that is so that we can afford the programs that help the people who truly are struggling to live in the City of Toronto,” Perks told his colleagues on the council floor.

His motion would have meant the average homeowner would see their taxes increase by $152.50 this year instead of the approved $90.

“I am proud of city council’s decision to keep Toronto property tax increases below the rate of inflation,” said a prepared statement from Tory’s office after the tax rates vote. “The single biggest cheque most families write to the city is for their property tax bill. I was elected on a mandate to keep property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation and I will keep that promise.”

Layton, who unsuccessfully moved to reverse above-inflation increases to user fees for recreation programs for youth and seniors, noted the mayor had set a benchmark for this budget’s success: for councillors to sleep soundly after it was finalized.

“I can tell you with cuts to shelters, cuts to long-term care, I’m going to be thinking of those people tonight when I try to go to sleep,” Layton said Wednesday night.

A motion from Councillor Janet Davis that tried to reverse cuts to mandatory training for long-term care home homes staff failed while another to delay closure of a child-care centre passed.

A motion from the newest executive member, Councillor Jon Burnside, asked for funding of two youth hubs and increased programming for existing hubs in four other library locations that was earlier left out of the budget. That $387,000 for a program that is part of the city’s poverty reduction strategy — which Tory earlier promised to fully fund — was approved with Tory’s support.

“I think we will approve a budget that is status quo,” said Councillor Ana Bailao on the council floor, noting other levels of government needed to come to the table to help with the city’s most pressing needs, such as $1.7 billion in unfunded repairs to social housing.

“What we have in front of us is a fight for a future of this city.”

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10th Global Conference on Buddhism, Toronto, Canada

Posted on 20 January 2017 by TSL

10th Global Conference on Buddhism, Toronto, Canada

Buddhism, Neuroscience & Mental Health: Making a Mindful Connection

We are delighted to announce that the 10th Global Conference on Buddhism will be held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on June 17 and 18, 2017. Continuing a tradition of expanding the role of Buddhism in modern society, we have invited speakers who can elucidate the connections, opportunities and requirements for Buddhist thought, technique and philosophy in improving the life and, in particular, mental well-being of society through mindfulness. We have reached out to experts in both the Buddhist and the scientific communities in order to make a collaborative effort to explore this question deeply, and to find common ground on how we can strive to alleviate human suffering.

While, the past nine conferences have been held in Australia and Singapore, in 2017 we hope to provide a North American perspective by moving the event to Toronto, to be hosted at the Ontario Science Centre. Toronto is an intensely multi-cultural city, and is very proud of its global outlook and willingness to accept new and international ideas. We wish to explore what Buddhism can offer to Canada’s religious and culturally diverse society and to be sensitive to the needs of others, even if their values and beliefs are not aligned with our own.

We have always endeavoured to expand the role and benefits of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy in modern society, as such, for the 10th conference we have confirmed the attendance of world renowned speakers including Buddhist scholars, neuroscientists and mental heath professionals. The goal of the conference is to elucidate the connections, opportunities and requirements for Buddhist thought, technique and philosophy in improving the life and, in particular, mental health and well-being of society through mindfulness.

Our panel of speakers from the USA, Australia and Canada are experts in both the Buddhist teachings/philosophy and scientific community with years of research and practical experience in this field. Each panelist is well equipped to address and encourage teaching mindfulness in a secular form to improve mental health and well being of the population at large.

Presented by Halton Peel Buddhist Cultural Society

To buy tickets please visit: http://www.10gcb.org/

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Scarborough business owner donates $2 million to U of T Scarborough for Tamil studies

Posted on 14 January 2017 by TSL

Jan 13, 2017 | Berton Woodward (Courtesy: U of T website).

UTSC alumnus Ravi Gukathasan is CEO of Digital Specialty Chemicals Ltd. in Scarborough. His gift to the university will fund an annual post-doctoral fellowship in Tamil studies as well as scholarships, event programming and digital archiving. (Photo by Ken Jones)

 

One of U of T Scarborough’s earliest Tamil alumni has given UTSC a historic donation of $2 million to support Tamil studies.

The gift from Ravi Gukathasan (U of T PhD, 1986; UTSC BSc, 1982), who is CEO of Digital Specialty Chemicals Ltd. in Scarborough, is the largest single cash gift from an alumnus in UTSC’s 51-year history. It will fund an annual post-doctoral fellowship in Tamil studies as well as scholarships, event programming and digital archiving. 

“I want UTSC to be a star when it comes to the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, its culture, its language, its perspective in the world,” says Gukathasan. “We have the biggest Tamil diaspora in the world in Scarborough. They need to be proud.”

He also sees his gift as a leadership example for other members of the Tamil community to follow. “I think $2 million is a very good nucleus to begin from,” he says.

“I applaud Dr. Gukathasan’s initiative and passionate support of UTSC and am confident that his generous example will stimulate other alumni, not just alumni from the Tamil community, to step forward with game-changing donations,” says Principal Bruce Kidd.

The 10-year commitment will fund the $1.25 million Ethan and Leah Schweitzer Gukathasan Fellowship, named for Gukathasan’s two teenage children, as well as provide $500,000 for a programming fund, $150,000 for a digital fund, and $100,000 for scholarships, all in the children’s names as well. 

“The gift will add hugely to our ability to expose our campus to what’s going on in Tamil worlds,” says Bhavani Raman, associate professor in the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies and chair of the tri-campus Tamil Worlds Initiative programming committee. “We will be able to support young and upcoming scholars from all over the world with the postdoctoral fellowship, as well as other visitors.” 

She notes that a previous substantial gift from Gukathasan has already allowed UTSC to sponsor a Tamil Studies Conference, hold regular public programming on Tamil subjects and work with the UTSC Library to enhance its Tamil-language collection. She expects to be able to greatly expand such initiatives, including the digitization of Sri Lankan Tamil works for global access. 

“Beyond U of T, the gift will be a big resource for Tamil studies, because there are very few post-doctoral fellowships dedicated to this field,” she says. “My guess is we’ll get many applicants from outside Canada.”

Gukathasan grew up outside Jaffna in Sri Lanka’s Tamil north, then left with the family for the U.K. in 1974. They later re-emigrated to Canada, settling in northern Scarborough, and in 1978 Gukathasan entered what was then Scarborough College, founded just 13 years earlier. “I was one of only two Tamils in the whole school,” he says. 

After gaining his PhD in chemistry at U of T, Gukathasan founded Digital Specialty Chemicals, a highly successful enterprise located on Coronation Drive in southeastern Scarborough, where he has also created a small park and decorated the lobby with Indigenous art. 

He’s very proud of his two children with fellow chemist and alumna Caroline Schweitzer (U of T PhD, 1993; U of T MSc., 1989; UTSC BSc, 1987) whose names are on the gift. Ethan, 18, recently entered chemical engineering at U of T, while Leah, 17 and in Grade 12, wants to study at U of T in evolutionary anthropology.

Gukathasan sees his gift as just the start. “I’m hoping others will follow suit with more money,” he says. “I hope we can keep building this program and make it very, very well-funded and well-rounded.”

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Billy Bishop Airport One Step Closer to U.S. Customs Preclearance as Bill Signed into Law by President Obama

Posted on 22 December 2016 by TSL

 

billy-bishop-airport

 

TORONTO, Dec. 22, 2016 /CNW/ – The ability to clear U.S. Customs at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is one step closer to becoming reality with President Obama having signed into law a bill ratifying the new preclearance agreement between Canada and the United States. The signing of the new law was commemorated earlier today by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, at Burlington International Airport as the first Porter Airlines flight of the season arrived. The law is part of an effort to make travel between the two countries more convenient for travellers while also further enhancing bilateral trade relations and reinforcing national security. 

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport was among the Canadian transportation facilities named in an expanded U.S. Customs Preclearance program in March 2016. The announcement, which also included Quebec City's Jean Lesage Airport, came as part of Prime Minister Trudeau's first official visit to the U.S. to attend meetings with President Obama.  

"PortsToronto and partners at the airport have been working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and teams at Transport Canada, Public Safety and International Trade to establish U.S. Preclearance at the airport and we are very pleased that the bill has been signed into law," said Geoffrey Wilson, CEO PortsToronto, the owner and operator of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. "U.S. Preclearance will provide easier access to the U.S. for our passengers and, as such, is important as a means of further enhancing the customer service experience at our airport. We look forward to engaging with Canadian officials to continue discussions related to implementing a U.S. Customs Preclearance facility at Billy Bishop Airport and realizing the opportunities that exist in the areas of efficiency, customer service, trade relations and security."

As the sixth busiest Canadian airport servicing the U.S., Billy Bishop Airport is a critical gateway that will benefit from U.S. Preclearance. Currently, more than 400,000 passengers travel to the U.S. each year from Billy Bishop Airport. U.S. Preclearance also presents the ability to service U.S. markets more broadly and creates opportunity to add new markets within the existing slot structure and allocation at Billy Bishop Airport.

With the new preclearance agreement between Canada and the U.S. now ratified by the U.S., next steps include ratification of the agreement by Canada and working out the specific costs and operating environment at Billy Bishop Airport. It is anticipated once a Terms of Operations Agreement is entered into between U.S. CBP and PortsToronto, it will take about one year to open the U.S. Preclearance Facility. The construction plans to upgrade the passenger terminal at Billy Bishop Airport announced in October do include a preclearance facility.

About Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport
Billy Bishop Airport is Canada's ninth-busiest airport and welcomed 2.7 million business and leisure travellers this year. The airport is also Canada's sixth-busiest airport with passenger service into the United States. Offering service to more than 20 cities in Canada and the U.S., with connection opportunities to more than 80 international destinations via our airlines' networks, Billy Bishop Airport is an important international gateway and a key driver to Toronto's economy, accounting for more than $2.1 billion in economic output each year and supporting 6,500 jobs, including 1,960 directly associated with the airport operations. The airport has recently won a series of passenger-driven awards, including being named one of the top airports in North America in both the Airports Council International's (ACI) 2015 Airport Service Quality Awards and Skytrax 2016 World Airport Awards and was ranked fourth Best International Airport by Condé Nast Traveler.

About PortsToronto (http://www.portstoronto.com)
For more than 100 years PortsToronto has worked with its partners at the federal, provincial and municipal levels to enhance the economic growth of the City of Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. PortsToronto owns and operates Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which welcomes more than two million passengers each year; the Outer Harbour Marina, one of Canada's largest freshwater marinas; and, Terminals 51 and 52, which provide transportation, distribution, storage and container services to businesses at the Port of Toronto. PortsToronto is committed to fostering strong, healthy and sustainable communities and has invested more than $9 million since 2009 in charitable initiatives and environmental programs that benefit communities along Toronto's waterfront and beyond. PortsToronto operates in accordance with the Canada Marine Act and is guided by a nine-member board with representation from all three levels of government.

SOURCE PortsToronto 

 

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