Toronto City Council has approved the 2022 budget, despite a $1.4 billion shortfall from pandemic-related financial impacts that could force it to cancel a myriad of planned capital projects and state-of-good repair work.

A special council meeting was held Thursday to finalize the budget.

Municipalities are prevented from running deficits in Ontario so in order to balance its books the city is counting on the federal and provincial government’s stepping up with emergency funding to offset losses related to the pandemic for the second year in a row.

The problem is that so far neither level of government has formally committed to the latest round of funding, creating some uncertainty about the city’s finances even as council meets to approve the nearly $15 billion operating budget and the $46.58 billion 10-year capital plan.

Federal Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland did announce on Thursday morning that Ottawa would provide municipalities with $750 million in one-time funding to address transit-related losses due to the pandemic so long as provinces and territories match the money.

However, it remains unclear how much of that money Toronto will receive.

During a press conference on Thursday morning, Mayor John Tory acknowledged the need for clarity but insisted that he remains “confident” that the city will eventually be made hole.

Staff have previously said that if emergency funding isn’t provided in 2022 the shortfall will have to be addressed through the cancellation of approximately $300 million in planned capital projects and more than a $1 billion in state-of-good repair work.

They have described that a “one-time solution” that could not be repeated down the road if other levels of government don’t continue to provide funding for pandemic-related financial impacts that are expected to persist.

“I've had multiple discussions with people including, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and other ministers and those discussions took place as recently as yesterday. I am cautiously optimistic that they will bear fruit. I think we might hear something in the next very short period of time,” Tory insisted on Thursday.

At the outset of today’s meeting city council approved a 2.9 per cent inflation-based residential tax increase, which is the biggest of Tory’s tenure. There is also a 1.5 per cent increase to the city building levy that was approved back in 2019.

Staff say that the combined 4.4 per cent tax increase will cost the owner of an average home assessed at $697,185 an additional $141 in 2022.

The budget prepared by staff includes $135 million in new investments, including money to hire 63 additional paramedics, restore TTC service to pre-pandemic levels and expand sidewalk clearing across the city.

Tory, however, introduced a motion asking members of council to support nearly $3 million in additional investments, including expediting the delivery of 300 additional housing opportunities for individuals in the shelter system and moving up the debate for eliminating library late fines for adult users.

He called the budget “good and responsible” given the “ongoing financial realities” the city is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But some councillors suggested that the city should be doing more for its most vulnerable residents.

Parkdale—High Park.Coun. Gord Perks even moved a motion calling for $10 million to be taken from the Toronto Police Service budget and reallocated to the Shelter, Support & Housing Administration for the purpose of offering rent supplements to an additional 1,000 people. That motion was ultimately defeated by a vote of 20-6.

“Frankly anyone who makes an argument that a budget is the only budget you can pass is shirking the responsibility for the choices they are making,” Perks said during the meeting. “The budget we have in front of us just as every budget we have ever had is a matter of choices and I choose differently in some key areas.. Specifically I think it is more important to give the police 99 per cent of what they asked for and to house an additional 1,000 people than it is to give the police 100 per cent of what they asked for.”