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Trends in Municipal Spending: Climate Change & Policing

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

My name is Rachel Howlett and my pronouns are she/her. I am presently located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, which is the traditional land of the Mi’kmaq known as Mi’kmaki in the region of Sipekni’katik. The Mi’kmaq Nation is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy, which includes land from what is now known as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Maine. Throughout my writing, I do not intend to speak on behalf of BIPOC communities. I recognize my privilege as a white settler and I am trying to use that privilege to amplify injustices that have already been identified by BIPOC communities. My goal as an ally is to reduce environmental injustices through encouraging climate action and demanding political accountability.

Find our email template here to contact your municipal councillor to call for climate funding & to defund the police.

The priorities of municipal governments are typically reflected in their annual budget. As the City of Ottawa clearly states, municipal governments are responsible for roads, clean water, parks, public health, waste disposal, libraries, the transit system and emergency services (1). It is important as a society to hold governments accountable to human health and wellbeing, environmental protection, and climate action. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities states that “municipalities are on the front lines of climate change” and that they influence about half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions (2). Comparing municipal budget lines from previous years can provide valuable information relating to the importance of climate change initiatives for those cities.

As the largest city, Toronto’s total annual budget for 2019 was $13.47 billion (3). The 2019 summary budget council vision includes a statement on the responsibility to maintain and improve the health of the environment for present and future generations (3). As the budget line includes both energy and the environment, this category covers research and policy development, renewable energy, environmental & energy outreach, and energy management & programs (3). In 2019, the environment and energy service spent $33.87 million which was slightly increased from 2018 at $31.38 million, representing a 7.90% increase (3). The second largest city in the country, Montreal, had an annual budget of $5.71 billion for 2019 and they list their four biggest priorities as economic development, housing, transportation and the environment (4). The budget presents one environmental allocation at $144.31 million, which includes food safety, education related to environmental issues, waste disposal, and responsible land use (4). The previous budget for 2018 was $131.43 million, which corresponds to a 9.79% increase in 2019 (4). To compare with Vancouver, their total annual budget for 2019 was $1.73 billion (5). The relevant allocation regarding the environment is represented by planning, urban design & sustainability category, at $26.48 million in 2019 and $23.43 million in 2018, showing a 11.20% increase (5,6). The 2020 budget notes a priority to accelerate action on climate change with an estimated $6.80 million investment (5). It is worth mentioning that the budget reports do not provide a clear picture of how the money is specifically allocated within the category of environmental spending. It is thus difficult to comment on the amount of funding specifically targeted towards climate change initiatives.

Recently, the term “defund the police” has emerged in traditional and social media alongside the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Policing is included in emergency services and can be a large expense for cities. Notably, the Toronto Police Service 2019 net expenditure budget was set to be just over a billion dollars at 1.03 billion compared to $998.64 million in 2018, an 0.17% increase (3). This represents almost around 7.70% of the city’s $13.47 billion budget. The city of Montreal spent $9.19 million on policing in 2018 and just over $14.23 million dollars in 2019, which is a 54.8% increase (4). The city of Vancouver spent $21.03 million dollars in 2018 and $20.71 million in 2019, representing a 1.5% decrease (5). It is important to note that although there was a decrease in police spending for the city of Vancouver in 2019, they are still spending more than the city of Montreal on policing with a budget that is nearly four times smaller.

It is evident that our most populous cities are spending a considerable amount on policing. Critically, data collection from the United States concludes that Black men are 2.5 times more likely than White men to be killed by police (7). Additionally, Black people who were killed by police were twice as likely to be unarmed compared to White people (7). Racial bias is present in our current policing system and it is imperative that our municipal government look at how we are funding these systems across the country.

Circling back to climate change, there is evidence that people of colour are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. In the past, the government has also failed to support and protect BIPOC communities throughout these cases of environmental racism, see examples on our site here (8). Municipal governments are responsible for their constituents, especially those most affected by climate change and policing. It becomes clear how the intersections of municipal spending can work to disproportionately affect BIPOC communities. We have a responsibility to be advocating for more municipal money towards climate change initiatives and less towards policing. To find out how to contact your municipal government representative, see our resource here.

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