As Toronto city councillors struggled with budget cuts inside City Hall on Monday, and other people got ready to protest outside, one council member couldn't help thinking of the old days.

Coun. Paula Fletcher said everyone in the city might be better served by "de-amalgamation" — a return to a time when a smaller Toronto and five other municipalities each looked after much of their own business, often, apparently, without the acrimony that has marked the current debate over cuts.

Amalgamation of those municipalities to form present-day Toronto hasn't worked, Fletcher said as city councillors argued over what they should cut to try to balance the books.

An amalgamated Toronto came into being in 1998 under the Conservative government of Mike Harris. The creation of the so-called mega-city was promoted as a way to save money and deliver more efficient government. Toronto became the fifth largest city in North America.

But Fletcher suggested that a bigger city has just brought bigger problems, and that people would be better off if Toronto, North York, Etobicoke and the other municipalities could be separate again.

Mayor Rob Ford acknowledged the idea of restoring the old municipal boundaries might appeal to the public, but he doubted it would be practical.

"Would I like to go back to the old Etobicoke?" the mayor responded to Fletcher. "Sure, if it didn't cost us a dime. I think everybody would agree, 'Let's go back.'" 

But the mayor, whose plans for major cuts in city spending drew protesters to City Hall on Monday, would need convincing.

"Show me the numbers," he said.