Last week the City of Vancouver passed its annual operating budget for 2023.
In response to concerns from front-line organizations and community members, Women Transforming Cities and 14 other organizations wrote an open letter to Vancouver City Council urging them to reinvest in equity in the 2023 operating budget.
Our letter highlighted that cuts and persistent underfunding of services and strategies that equity-deserving communities rely on won’t go unnoticed. We stand together to fight for critical investments in measures that allow the city’s most marginalized residents to live in safety and dignity.
Thank you to everyone who showed up to the meeting, signed up to speak and wrote emails.
On some fronts, our voices were heard. After receiving our letter, councillors passed an amendment to the budget, which funded several areas we highlighted. However, Council chose not to invest in other critical measures––and equity-deserving communities will have to shoulder the harm from that choice.
Meanwhile, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) appeared to receive funding increases for every line item they asked for.
A majority of Councillors chose to hand over an additional $3.4 million to the police. This is on top of the existing 20% of the City’s budget the VPD receives annually. In total, the city wrote a cheque for $401,834,522 to the Vancouver Police Board.
This flies in the face of the results of the city’s own budget survey and the evidence that increasing police funding does not increase community safety. This increase comes on the backs of workers, and it comes at the expense of other critical, life-saving strategies the city could pursue.
The ever-ballooning police budget creates a manufactured environment of scarcity for every other priority and community that the city ought to serve. We’ll never create a city where everyone belongs while this imbalance exists.
Ultimately, this budget reminds us that meaningful equity won’t be realized so long as leaders prioritize carceral systems of “safety” over community-led solutions to crises that stem from colonization, misogyny, racism, ableism, and classism.
Equity-deserving communities should not have to fight for scraps during the budget process while police get every dollar they ask for.
Let’s break down what we saw in the budget a bit more.
Councillors passed an amendment to the budget, which funded several areas mentioned in our letter including:
$210,000 for gender equity and safety initiatives to address gender-based and sexualized violence in public spaces and the MMIWG2S+ crisis
$300,000 for accessibility improvements to align the city with new provincial requirements
$110,000 to hire one position to support library workers with crisis intervention and resilience training
$100,000 to implement the City’s Language Access Policy
These investments will help more people find safety and belonging in Vancouver.
Where Investments Fell Short
We welcome these last-minute additions but they don’t go nearly far enough. For example:
While we’re pleased that the budget included funding for free period products in park facilities, previous Council motions for period products in city facilities (think civic theatres and government buildings) were not funded.
The library board told Council they needed three support positions to increase staff resilience and help employees better cope with the increasingly complex demands that various governments are downloading onto them. This budget only provides support for one position across the whole city.
While we celebrate the prioritization of anti-racism and cultural redress initiatives, it’s disappointing that Council opted not to fund this with a tax increase. Instead, they told staff to scrape together the money within existing budgets. This could mean a decrease in social service grants, many of which go to organizations that lead anti-racism and cultural redress work.
The Missed Opportunities
Council did not reinvest in several areas that would make life safer for many residents. Despite constituents highlighting the need for these services repeatedly, Council chose not to prioritize:
Implementation of UNDRIP and alignment of policies with the City’s Reconciliation Framework
Programs offering residents and businesses alternatives to calling the police
Providing emergency materials (like cots and cooling kits) for vulnerable populations in extreme weather events
Expanded library branch hours, which would enable residents who rely on this public space––for a washroom, for access to the internet, for leisure, enrichment and more––to access these services when they’re most needed. Expanded library hours are also essential during periods of poor air quality and extreme temperatures.
Council’s decision means that this critical work cannot move forward at the necessary pace.
Thank you for your support and for taking the time to write and speak to council. Your voice and actions made a difference, but this budget process is a good reminder of how much more there is to do to ensure Vancouver is a place where everyone can belong.
We hope you’ll join us for the work ahead.