Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow tries to ‘set the record straight’ on police funding

Click to play video: 'Chow pushes back in fight over Toronto police budget'
Chow pushes back in fight over Toronto police budget
WATCH: Amid accusations the proposed budget is cutting the police budget, the mayor attempted to set the record straight. Mayor Olivia Chow pointed out while it may be lower than they expected, the Toronto Police Service budget is growing by more than $7 million and will add new staff members to the force. Matthew Bingley reports. – Jan 24, 2024

Toronto’s mayor is attempting to dial back some of the pressure facing her office amid a growing spat with the police over a budget they are framing as a cut, despite the fact spending on the force is set to grow by millions of dollars.

Mayor Olivia Chow will have to deliver her first budget next Thursday and as the budget process has been moving forward, the Toronto Police Service has been waging a vocal and public lobbying effort to increase its allotment of the roughly $17-billion operating budget.

Appearing before the budget committee last week, police Chief Myron Demkiw said the budget proposed by city staff fell short of police expectations by several million dollars. The chief is warning that the city’s plan would prevent the force from hiring staff to lower response times to priority calls, which are currently over 22 minutes.

Demkiw has framed the money the city will receive this year as a budget cut, even though his budget is set to rise by more than $7 million. That increase, however, is lower than the $20-million increase the Toronto Police Service Board approved late last year.

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On Wednesday, Mayor Chow appeared next to fire Chief Matthew Pegg at an east-end firehall, to reaffirm her commitment to funding emergency services. Chow also took the opportunity to push back against the messaging from Demkiw and the union representing police officers.

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“Let me set the record straight: the Toronto police are receiving millions of dollars more in the budget. There’s no cuts,” Chow said.

With the staff-proposed spending, the police force would receive about $1.17 billion, making it the second-biggest budget spend for the city, next to the TTC, which will receive $1.23 billion if the budget is approved. On top of this year’s increase, last year the TPS received about $48 million in the final John Tory budget.

Pegg, whose department is slated to get $518 million, said the funding levels were enough to make Toronto’s fire service among the best in the world.

While pressure is being dialled up, Chow refused to escalate a public spat, declining to say whether she thought messages lobbying the public for support were appropriate on the TPS social media channels. Instead, Chow pointed to the new officers the budget will afford the force while acknowledging the pressure police face on the job.

“I understand the pressure, the pressure to deal with hate crimes, the pressure dealing with all the demonstrations that are happening,” Chow said. “I understand the need to hire officers, which is why in this budget there is 197 uniformed officers, there’s close to 100 civilians, so if you combine that they are getting more people to assist.”

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The budget committee is set to deliver the mayor a report by the end of the week before she shapes her final document, which will be debated at a special city council meeting on Valentine’s Day.

Mayor Olivia Chow speaks about her commitment to maintaining emergency services at a firehall on Gerard Street East. Matthew Bingley/Global News

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