Learn More and Methodology

What’s the purpose of this tool?

This tool is designed to illustrate the decisions made in public budgeting at the City of Toronto. Its purpose is to inform a conversation around how to improve health and well-being in the City of Toronto. It provides users the options to make big changes to spending and services the City of Toronto undertakes.

How does the City budget impact health?

Budget decisions affect health and well-being through the social determinants of health. These are the social, economic, and environmental conditions in which people live, work, and play throughout their lives. Over individuals life-course, the effect of these conditions accumulate, and collectively they have large impacts on population health. It’s good for people’s health to have enough money to meet their needs, to have a stable home, and to be politically and economically included in their society. These relationships have been studied extensively, including by the World Health Organization and the Canadian Senate.

How realistic is this tool?

This tool is designed to be as accurate as possible while providing users a wide range of options and decisions in the simplest manner. It is designed to be illustrative of budget decisions and trade-offs in order to inform an evidence-based public discussion on improving the City of Toronto budget. Budget proposals are rounded to the nearest million, and in a number of cases best estimates are used in lieu of City of Toronto reported costing information.

This tool does not include all the aspects of the budget process, which is long and complicated. The City of Toronto provides a wealth of information on the budget process on its website.

What are these budget proposals based on?

The budget proposals included in this tool are based primarily on information found in the City of Toronto Budget Analyst Notes. Other information comes from City of Toronto staff reports, independent research reports, Wellesley Institute research, and our own calculations. Best estimates are used when other information is incomplete. Area experts were consulted to provide users with a significant range of budget options. Any errors are the sole responsibility of the author. More proposal-specific information and sourcing can be found here. Any errors can be reported to the author at scott@wellesleyinstitute.com.

This tool does not include many programs and policies of the City of Toronto. There are many important programs that the author would have liked to have included, though they were left out to keep the tool short and simple to use. The budget proposals that are included are focused primarily on policies and programs which affect health and well-being according to the social determinants of health literature, along with revenue tools that could fund such programs and policies.

The foundation for this budget is the 2018 staff recommended operating budget, which begins balanced. This is why there is no opening gap in this tool. The decision was made to exclude the opening budget gap for simplicity. More information is available on the Budget Builder homepage.

Some of these proposals attempt to isolate City contributions to programs from provincial and federal contributions. Many programs, such as childcare, are jointly funded by the City, the province, and the federal government. The method for isolating costs used here is to take the program budget, divide it by the program output (e.g. childcare subsidies) to arrive at a cost per program output (cost per childcare subsidy). This is then divided by the City’s fiscal contribution to arrive at the number of program outputs covered by the City’s contribution. There are issues with this approach. For instance, a number of programs are cost-shared, and City contributions leverage cost-shared dollars from other levels of government. In these cases, if the City cut its contribution, it could trigger a larger reduction in cost-shared dollars resulting in an outsized impact on services. This cascading impact is not taken into account in this tool. To see the source of each budget proposal please click the “Learn more” icon beside each proposal.

Why were these expenditure categories chosen to include in the Budget Builder?

These expenditure categories were chosen because they represent the main program expenditure categories of the City of Toronto and they include large net or own-source funding from the City. A number of large of expenditures were excluded because City’s discretion in these areas is largely constrained and circumscribed by other levels of government. For instance, the City of Toronto administers the Ontario Works program (commonly referred to as ‘welfare’), though the funding for this $900 million/ year program is sourced from the Government of Ontario with strong controls on how this money is spent and distributed. The City of Toronto has relatively little ability to fundamentally alter or cut this program, and thus it is excluded from this tool.

A number of other categories that have large and important impacts on the social determinants of health could be included in this tool. For instance, the World Health Organization in 2003 identified 10 social and economic determinants of health, while this Budget Builder tool only includes 6 expenditure categories. More categories could be added in the future to this tool, though the limited number included now is due to an effort to keep the tool concise. For more information on a number of social determinants of health, see Wellesley Institute’s Making the Connections.

Does this tool use dynamic scoring?

This tool does not use dynamic scoring, it uses static budget scoring. Many of the proposals in the Budget Builder would have an impact on spending and revenue in other areas of the budget, for example, spending on affordable housing could decrease costs associated with the shelter system. These dynamic calculations are not included here as they involved a significant degree of uncertainty and there is no standard for applying these costs.


In preparing this tool I benefited from the assistance and insights of many. I would particularly like to thank Zack Taylor at Western University for early comments and support, Wellesley Institute staff for their time and encouragement, Brenda Roche for her supervision, and Kevin Pope & Northview Online for their technical skills. This project was designed and led by Scott Leon, who is solely responsible for any errors.
I would also like to thank numerous precedents of budget builder type tools including Open North’s Citizen Budget, Bipartisan Policy Centre’s BalancingAct, Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s Debt Fixer, and Brookings’ The Fiscal Ship.