Toronto service-cuts talks end after 20 hours

Now that Toronto's marathon 20-hour executive committee is over, the real work of finding hundreds of millions in cuts to help balance the city's budget is just beginning.

More than 200 deputations heard over $100M in proposed cuts

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford speaks to the Canadian Club of Toronto on Thursday March 3, 2011, in Toronto. Ford and his executive committee heard from more than 200 deputations during a marathon meeting to debate $100 million in proposed cuts. (CBC)

Now that Toronto's marathon executive committee — which ran more than 20 hours and featured sometimes fiery talk from concerned citizens — is over, the real work of finding hundreds of millions in cuts to help balance the city's budget is just beginning.

The meeting, which heard deputations from more than 200 community members, drew to a close around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday. About 325 concerned citizens had signed up to voice their opinions over $100 million in proposed cuts.

By the end, the committee chose not to push ahead with a contentious plan to remove 2,000 subsidized daycare spots. No libraries will be closed, as many critics of the mayor had feared.

Meanwhile, recommendations that would have reduced or scrapped snow removal, grass cutting and windrow clearing services were also taken off the table. Those decisions were most likely to appease suburban voters, reported CBC's Jamie Strashin, who was at City Hall for the majority of the debates.

With those options off the table, Ford and city council need to find some programs and services to cut to deal with an estimated $774-million budget hole.

The mayor also said taxes would only be raised by a maximum of 2.5 per cent.

"Some people say they want more," he said Tuesday, "and other people at Tim Horton's at 7 o'clock this morning, people were saying, 'You better not increase my taxes one dime Ford.'"

Determining which programs will stay and which will go is likely to be a contentious issue in the weeks leading to budget discussions slated for the end of this year.

'We can't have outbursts'

Several people made emotional pleas to keep the services most dear to them.

Mayor Rob Ford had at one point threatened to stop the late-night meeting unless citizens did not cool down.

"We can't have outbursts," Ford warned at one point. "This happened the last time. We may disagree, folks. If this happens, we'll clear the room, bring in 10 at a time."

David Carey from the Toronto International Film Festival warned against cutting grants to small arts organizations.

"Years ago, TIFF received a $6,000 grant from the city. That was our seed money," he said. "And look how much we've grown. Look how much the city's investment has grown."

Ford accepts blame for long meeting 

Following the meeting, a weary-voiced Ford told reporters if there's anyone to blame for the exhaustive exercise, blame him.

"You can ridicule me, you can call me names, so on," he said. "But this [process] should have been done 14 years ago, folks."

Speaking to CBC's Matt Galloway on Metro Morning on Tuesday, Coun. Karen Stintz said greater efficiencies could still be found, adding that she found the committee meeting to be positive overall.

"I think what's positive that's emerging from the deputations … is there is some compromise moving forward, the mayor has listened to what people are talking about, and recognizes concerns about city services they value," she said.

City councillor Raymond Cho was less optimistic about whether citizens' concerns were truly heard, noting that the amount of time allowed for each deputation was reduced to two minutes, with one minute given to councillors to respond and ask questions.

"I was really disappointed with what happened yesterday," Cho told Galloway. 

"I don't think the Torontonians were given a fair chance to express their opinions."