Cuts will hurt poor most

There is no question that Toronto’s new mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug, the new councilor for Ward 2, Etobicoke North, are polarizing figures. Therefore it comes as no surprise that people with strongly held views – contrary to theirs – would react strongly to them. Ford ran on a campaign to bring change to City Hall by cutting spending while retaining services. Yet, while a significant number of Torontonians voted for that change, there are many who are concerned, if not angry, at the changes being implemented or proposed.

Such was the case last week with a protest at City Hall led by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), which was typically unruly, and which hijacked the budget meeting being chaired by Doug Ford. OCAP members took over the meeting and proceeded to yell slogans and epithets, some directed at Councillor Ford. (Ford has been criticized for yelling back at the crowd in the heat of the moment, telling the OCAP protesters to “get a job”.)

While OCAP is understood to be a group on the radical fringe, we still have to wonder whether we are beginning to see echoes of the Mike Harris era. During Harris’ ‘Commonsense Revolution’ even mainstream groups such as the Ontario Teachers Federation took to protesting. OCAP’s City Council assault last week might only be the beginning.

The OCAP protesters’ message to the new mayor and Council was not to forget the needs of the poor in this city while they make cost saving a priority, for common sense says that spending cannot be cut without cuts to services.

One sign that Council is moving in that direction was the announcement that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was considering cutting service on 48 bus routes in an attempt to save $8-million because the City decided to not increase TTC funding for the coming fiscal period.

Cuts to TTC routes were such a cause for concern among public transit users that the publicly held debates over the proposal, while not as raucous as the OCAP protest, was loud enough to cause a reflective pause which resulted in a modified plan. So, while some routes still saw cuts, service on 26 of the 48 routes were retained.

Could all this be an indication of a council and a mayor willing to compromise when the public pushes back?

Still, cost cutting is the ongoing objective. Toward that end, Mayor Ford has announced plans to contract out more of the city’s waste management. The mayor’s goal is to privatize 50 per cent of waste management services. That would include initially contracting out daytime residential curbside collection west of Yonge Street to the border of Etobicoke, which would cover some 165,000 residences. (In Etobicoke, garbage collection is already contracted out.) Contracts would also be tendered for litter collection and recycling in all city parks and an additional 25 per cent of the city’s litter vacuum operations.

Anyone who suffered through the garbage strike of 2009 will understand why City Council feels inclined under the new mayor to head in that direction. The question is whether opening up the bidding for waste management to private companies will in the end result in savings. Or better service.

What Torontonians want are efficiency and no threat of strikes. What City Council wants is to save money. If we could have both, everyone would be happy.

At the same time, these actions are another step in weakening unions so we sure that the unions will have a strong argument on this issue.

We all want a city that works and we want a City Council that is pulling for all the people who live here, but the reality is that when the focus is the bottom line, it is the most vulnerable who inevitably suffer.

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