Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim recently revealed plans for an external budget task force. The six-member task force, comprised of high-profile accountants and financial analysts, is charged with reviewing the city’s spending with a “fine-toothed comb” to identify "efficiencies” and potential revenue sources.
The best way to know your mayor and council's priorities is to examine how they approach your city’s budget – and whether or not they embed input from equity-deserving voices at every step in the process. As we said in our “reinvest in equity” campaign, “motions can suggest priorities, but programs and policies aren't possible without funding to make them happen.”
You might have some questions about the Mayor’s budget task force and what it means for equity-deserving residents. So do we:
1. Why is the largest budget line item, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), which consumes 20% of taxpayer dollars, exempt from this review – especially following the Daily Hive’s reporting that VPD chief Adam Palmer makes more per year than the Prime Minister of Canada?
2. Is the task force's mandate of "finding efficiencies" a euphemism for cuts to social services that the most vulnerable residents depend on?
3. The task force has been asked to find potential new revenue streams. Will their work acknowledge that free, accessible, and universally welcoming public spaces (without an expectation to spend money) provide priceless social value, especially for women, gender-diverse people, and low-income families?
4. Will the task force examine pathways to develop progressive property tax systems so that owners of luxury mansions contribute their fair share?
5. The tagline on the podium at the Mayor's press announcement was "respecting taxpayer dollars." Will the task force’s approach also respect workers who make this city run through fair wages or the many front-line organizations that fill critical gaps in social services by respecting their freedom of expression?
6. At the press conference announcing this move, Mayor Sim said they need to "welcome the community to actually give us input.” How will existing avenues of community input that staff have already established be factored into this review? For example, how will the task force and Council weigh the results of the 2023 budget engagement survey, in which residents said decreasing police spending and increasing property taxes is the best way to balance the budget? How will these engagement opportunities be made more accessible to residents in the future?
7. Will the task force analyze the social and financial costs of allowing the city's housing crisis to worsen, including the costs to people experiencing homelessness – which is too often measured in human lives – and the strain on other public services such as our health care and library systems?
8. The terms of reference for the task force state it will be composed of individuals with experience in business, finance, and government. How will the Mayor ensure that diverse areas of expertise outside of accounting – including expertise acquired through lived and living experience – are reflected in the task force’s recommendations? How will the Mayor ensure that the inclusion of equity-deserving communities isn't tokenized or weaponized?
9. Will the task force meetings be open to the public, or is the Mayor moving decisions on public spending behind closed doors?
10. What is the difference between this task force’s mandate and the work already done by both the auditory general and the city's own finance department, which has won awards for its budgeting practices?
While it appears that the details have already been finalized outside of public council deliberations, Councillors will have the opportunity to provide their stamp of approval or offer any amendments, tomorrow (Wednesday, April 12th). We hope these questions will be answered during their deliberations.
You can write to Vancouver's Mayor and Council to ask if they’ll address these questions, or others you might have about the Mayor’s budget task force using the emails below:
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*The cover image for this blog belongs to Ben Nelms/CBC as it appeared in CBC's article here.