Cut carefully, mayor

Working mothers whose young children are in City-subsidized daycare centres are breathing a sigh of relief that 2000 daycare spaces will not be cut as Toronto City Council struggles to address Mayor Rob Ford’s agenda to eliminate a $774-million overrun in the City’s 2012 budget by cutting services.

Suburban Torontonians can also take comfort that the ends of their driveways (windrows) will continue to be cleared of snow during winter.

Further, Councillor Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother and apparently his closest advisor, may have inadvertently saved our libraries with his dismissal of their value to the city.  The councillor’s declaration of the importance to a community of a Tim Hortons coffee shop over a library stirred many library patrons to take up the cause and put pressure on City Council not to touch them.

So no libraries will be closed, but that still does not mean library hours and staff may not be reduced as a cost saving measure.

What is certain is that our public transit system will be affected since City Council is unwilling to increase funding in the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) 2012 budget. The TTC will eliminate 500 positions, half of them frontline retirees who will not be replaced. Add to that the expectation that the number of commuters will increase in the coming years and transit users can expect less service and more overcrowding.

Toronto City Council will still have some difficult decisions to make to close the $774-million deficit – a figure, by the way, that some councilors charge is inflated by as much as $200-million.

Torontonians who welcomed Ford’s promise to rescind the vehicle registration tax which took away $60-million in revenue have not brought forward any meaningful suggestions for how to maintain services while keeping spending within budget although, at the marathon consultation meeting earlier this week, there were suggestions of increasing property taxes and former city budget chief Shelley Carroll has brought forward a suggestion to add a one-cent per dollar tax to raise revenue.

Selling some assets such as Exhibition Place, the Toronto Zoo and the three performing arts centres, as have been suggested, could be part of an overall solution, but cutting or reducing programs to assist the needy must never be an option. Great cities are the ones which best look after their needy.

Like other mayors before him, Ford has already gone to the province seeking additional funding. He needs to become an advocate for this city at the federal level as well. After all, he claims that it was his endorsement of the Harper Conservatives that helped give them such strong voting numbers in the Greater Toronto Area. So now’s the time for payback.

Toronto, which accounts for 11 per cent of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product, receives only about eight cents of every tax dollar Torontonians pay to the province and the federal government. No wonder the city is in such a squeeze.

But this city has to be about more than the money the city needs or the money it generates.

As mayor, Ford has framed the priorities of this city purely in terms of the bottom line. We get the feeling that he has transferred his job title as Chief Financial Officer of his family’s label company to his position as mayor.

But there is more to being mayor than accounting and bookkeeping. The mayor must not lose sight of the valuable social aspect of city building. That is fundamentally what all those Torontonians pleading for retention of services were pointing to during the consultations this week.

Imagine a Toronto which is divested of the kinds of amenities that make it an attractive place to live, work and play.

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