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Mayor’s newly released budget strategy sets stage for battles - Globe and Mail

September 12, 2011
Patrick White and Elizabeth Church
Globe and Mail

Mayor Rob Ford’s long-awaited strategy for slaying a budget shortfall pegged as high as $774-million has crystallized with the release of a staff report that sets the stage for a raucous session at City Hall.

The report from city manager Joe Pennachetti includes 24 service “adjustments” such as phasing out childcare spaces, shuttering museums and limiting new affordable housing developments. It also includes a list of reductions for consideration by city agencies, boards and commissions – everything from night bus service to library hours – and recommends selling or closing zoos and farms and putting three city-owned theatres up for sale.

Mayor Ford came to office on a pledge to cut costs, and said the reductions, estimated to save the city $100-million next year, are just the beginning.

“This is just scraping the surface right now,” the mayor told reporters on Monday.

His opponents say the report betrays one of the central planks of his election campaign: that the budget would be cut without sacrificing any services – a bit of fiscal alchemy that now seems unlikely.

“Everybody’s worst nightmare is in this plan,” Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said. “The mayor has lied to us. The mayor has said very clearly over and over both before and after the election, ‘I can find the money. Vote for me and I can find the money. I know where it is hidden. I know where the gravy is. There will be no cuts.’ ”

Mr. Ford said that, given the budget shortfall, the only other option is a double-digit tax hike, and denied his actions are at odds with his campaign pledge.

“I call it efficiencies,” the mayor said. “We have to find different ways of delivering services. If the private sector can deliver them more efficiently, then why not have them.”

Here is a rundown of some of the cuts likely to spark the most debate. The mayor’s inner circle will debate them next Monday before sending recommendations to city council later this month.


The mayor has been telegraphing this one for months, stating publicly that the city has no business running theatres, farms and the Toronto Zoo. The city manager’s report finally puts meat on those rhetorical bones, recommending the city close the Toronto Zoo, Riverdale Farm and museums with low attendance if it can’t find a buyer. As well, Mr. Pennachetti advises selling the Toronto Centre for the Arts, the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts and the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. Community groups are already rallying in opposition. “There is going to be a major fight about this. [Riverdale Farm] will not be closed,” said Cabbagetown community organizer Randy Brown. “It will be a battle and there will be blood all over the ground over this.”


Mr. Pennachetti wants council to phase out 2,000 subsidized daycare spaces it can no longer afford and press Queen’s Park to increase the provincial commitment to Toronto childcare funding. At the same time, he wants to cut the Christmas Bureau, which co-ordinates holiday gifts to underprivileged children, and would terminate the Hardship Fund, a program that subsidizes funeral, vision and drug expenses for hard-up Torontonians.


Under the city manger’s vision for a fiscally prudent city, snow-clearing crews wouldn’t hit parks and open spaces until accumulation reaches eight centimetres, up from the current six centimetres. And landscaping crews would let the weeds climb a little higher before they crank up lawnmowers. In the suburbs, windrow clearing – moving the snow burms that plows throw up in driveways – would be replaced with an outsourced plowing program for seniors and the disabled.


Mr. Pennachetti wants to shrink the Toronto Environment Office and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund down to their components that either make money or are required by law. Those recommendations amount to a stay of execution for the departments, both of which KPMG suggested eliminating. In addition, he urges eliminating Community Environment Days and a program that provides four free garbage bag tags.

“Why are we even talking about shrinking TEO and TAF,” said Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “TEO is Toronto’s equivalent of the Ministry of Environment. They have helped the city save $50-million annually.”


Some of the more controversial cuts in Mr. Pennachetti’s report will rest with city staff. He said that the city should consider closing library branches, eliminating the TTC’s Blue Night Network, cutting flower planting in parks and laying off police officers, but that each of those proposals was up to department and agency heads.

“Clearly, Torontonians have said that they are not interested in cuts of any kind to the libraries, and the Ford administration is again showing contempt for them by going ahead in this direction,” said Maureen O’Reilly, president of the Toronto library workers union.

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