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No. 8: I'm back, just in time for the 2023 City Budget. Plus, living intentionally.
Restarting this newsletter with gusto! Feeling restless but motivated, participating in the Toronto's Budget process, and being inspired by climate and social justice campaigns.
Hi, hello, it’s me!
I’ve made the decision to restart this newsletter on a monthly basis. After a promising first year of semi-frequent writing, I took a year-long hiatus to finish my Master’s degree (more on that below) and get married (nothing about that here; go look at my IG). But I’m back, because it feels right, and I hope this can be a productive outlet to advance our collective activism and find joy in the process. My friends have encouraged me to restart this, to be the Matt Elliot City Hall Watcher for millennial activists. That made me chuckle. So here goes.
January feels restless for me. There is an urge inside of me that compels me to be “on track”, whatever that means. To look at the big picture of life and my role in society. To feel a longing towards a deeper sense of community, for intimacy, for belonging… but stuck inside staring at the gloomy grey skies and anticipating the next snowfall.
This isn’t particularly unusual, as I feel the turn of the year spurs the start of year resolutions and in/out lists. While I’m not usually an advocate for self-help lists or podcasts or books, I wanted to lean into this in case you feel like you’re also in a slump (in order of most neoliberal to most radical):
How to Build a Happy Life (3 seasons of an Atlantic podcast)
Your Career Is Just One-Eighth of Your Life (short article in The Atlantic)
I did the Year Compass booklet for a few years (I feel like it’s a bit too overwhelming for me this year and I want to be more chill with where I am right now. #selfacceptance but it’s still good)
Why are we all falling apart? (Sandy and Nora talk politics)
One of the things that has helped me immensely at the end of 2022 was re-joining Climate Justice Toronto. We held a Fall Convergence at my beloved Cecil Community Centre (pic above) to reimagine a climate-just city and how we can better support each other as organizers as we work in solidarity with each other and plan our own campaigns. While COVID-19 still exists and we can do what it takes to be careful (i.e. masking indoors), it is nice to see each other again and organize beyond zoom calls.
Anyways, one of my next personal goals for intentionally finding a community is to get to know my neighbours better. Not exactly sure how to do this, while living in a high-rise, but it is still an aspiration.
life, activism, politics
It is January 2023. As with every January I’ve come to know as a civically-engaged person in Toronto, it is the time of year to focus on the Official City Budget. I’ve deputed twice in the past (not sure if I will this year, contingent on whether I have the guts to ask permission from my employer while on still on my preliminary starting new job probation period).
“Mayor John Tory has made a few preliminary budget announcements this week — $2 billion to address the city's housing crisis, a $48.3 million (4.3%) increase for Toronto Police Services, $53 million and a 10-cent-per ride fare increase for the Toronto Transit Commission, a $21 million (7.1%) increase for paramedic services, and $523.9 million for fire frontline services.”
But why? Why do we care about the budget? Why does it matter if people speak to councillors who don’t listen to us?
Here are four reasons why we should pay attention and get involved in the City budget process (if possible).
A mass turnout can make a difference.
This used to be easier when there weren’t Strong Mayor powers that impact this (Councillors need 2/3 majority to override the Mayor’s proposed budget). However, the social services and public goods that our City desperately needs are determined by where the money gets allocated to at this time. Numbers of people showing up, telling our elected officials that this matters to us, with united calls to action, is harder to ignore
Your calls for action can be amplified by the media or by community groups.
Our voices are power. When I deputed in 2019, I was highlighted with other young activists —> “This young Torontonian says the city’s budget neglects the future”. This feeling that we all felt similarly about the state of our city renewed a drive to keep improving Toronto, flaws and all.
You can keep the City accountable to what it promised and did/did not deliver on in the previous year.
For example, I worked as part of the budget team at Toronto Environmental Alliance last year. In "Climate and the 2022 City Budget: Ambitious new climate plan, same old budget”, we not only highlighted in the need for climate action funding, but improvements to the Budget process overall. Instead, we are seeing this reduction in deep community engagement via a shortened and more superficial budget process — despite community calls to increase the public’s ability to understand and influence this critical part of City decision-making.
It can be deeply cathartic.
The world is fucked. There is so much to be frustrated about and feel powerless about as well, like hotel shelters are closing and underhoused people are suffering in our neighbourhoods. We can participate in acts of mutual aid, but we can also fight for a more equitable society togther.
In addition, the School of Cities is hosting this virtual event on how government spending affects population well-being.
“At the city level, using fiscally standardized expenditure data and well-being data from over 1 million US participants, our results suggest that diverting government spending away from policing is associated with greater self-reported health and better emotional well-being.” - Dr. Felix Cheung
STILL NOT READY/CONVINCED?
Here are some training options below if you want to really nail your points when speaking to a City committee like the Budget subcommittee this month. (And check if Progress Toronto recorded their Jan 9 session on how to speak to a city committee).
And even if you’re not in Toronto, the Breach emphasized that police budgets continue to go up in most cities across Canada — despite the increased support for defunding the police and re-investing in social services.
It’s worthwhile to see how you can intervene in your municipality’s budget process.
HOUSING & CLIMATE JUSTICE
either or both or taxing the rich
THE NATIONAL HOUSING
As I’ve mentioned before, it is super important that we are deeply critical of the National Housing Strategy. Just because our federal government has a national housing strategy, does not mean that we are anywhere close to solving this national housing crisis. In fact, that’s exactly what the federal auditor general found.
“…Very few of the units delivered in partnership with private real estate developers ended up affordable for Canadians experiencing the brunt of the housing crisis.” (The Tyee’s What Does Our $78-Billion Housing Program Really Fix?)
The analysis also points out that the current funds to “support new co-ops in the housing plan amount to less than two per cent of the total $78.5 billion”. Boo. As such, our informal More Co-op Housing Collective will meet at Danu Social House on Jan 19 to explore how we can spur new co-ops with or without government funding.
HEY, HEY, KUDOS FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE PROGRESS:
How Local Governments and Communities Are Taking Action to Get Fossil Fuels out of Buildings (Rocky Mountain Institute)
Think Local, Fight Global: 5 Climate Wins in 2022 (350 International)
And actually, to that last point, there is some real momentum around energy for all in the UK via the “Warm this Winter” campaign. It’s an inspiring coalition of nearly 50 UK NGO’s and charities advocating for government action to lower energy bills now and to plan for future cheap, clean energy.
LASTLY, (MY) RESEARCH
I considered writing a chunky summary of my own Master’s research findings on renter-centered climate mitigation… but I’m still figuring out how to disseminate it for maximum impact.
For those who are keen, here is my entire 196-page thesis.
For everyone else, I am 95% ready to publish a designed 20-30 page report for practitioners to share key findings and policy recommendations on how to proactively include renters in policymaking processes and protect them against unaffordable housing and local climate impacts. However, I decided that finalizing this report wasn’t a good enough excuse to procrastinate on sending this email… so it’ll have to be in the next one.
It’s nice to be back. Talk to you again soon and stay well!
PS: OK, fine, here are some wedding photos. :)
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