Surely it’s not unreasonable for Toronto taxpayers to be informed of how successful the city’s $181-million poverty reduction strategy has been over the past four years.
This before the city puts more money into it next year, as part of what is ultimately a 20-year strategy, from 2015 to 2035.
Its ambitious goal is to help vulnerable Toronto residents move out of poverty “to prosperity.”
We agree with Mayor John Tory who, when he originally announced the city’s poverty reduction strategy, said its goal was “making measurable strides toward poverty reduction in Toronto.”
So, has it? Has the $181 million spent to date helped to achieve this?
The Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy reported this week that in the latest update from city staff on the strategy — now approved by the city’s executive committee and headed for council on Nov. 26 — details on costs and accomplishments were lacking.
City staff told councillors 67% of the actions authorized under the poverty reduction strategy in 2015 have been completed, while others are ongoing with new ones being proposed.
But that doesn’t tell us whether taxpayers are getting good value for money spent.
What we do hear, regularly, from City Hall, is that economic disparity in Toronto is growing, food bank use is up, violent urban street crime is up and the city’s social services are hard-pressed to keep up with growing demands.
Obviously, the city cannot solve these problems, or meaningfully address them, without the help of the provincial and federal governments.
Even with that, government finances are limited, in the face of demand for social services that, like health care, is virtually infinite.
All the more reason spending on government programs to reduce poverty — such as enhancing TTC fare subsidies for low-income residents — need to be prioritized on the basis of effectiveness.
That sounds like a good idea. But without independent audits, the risk is that going forward the city will spend good money after bad on a broken template aimed at reducing poverty that doesn’t work, or doesn’t work efficiently.
We’re not saying all the money spent on social programs under the city’s poverty reduction strategy is wasted.
We’re saying taxpayers at present have no independent way of knowing if it is.