All night meeting to discuss Toronto's budget cuts

More than 350 people are lined up to address Mayor Rob Ford and his powerful executive committee over possible cuts to the city budget.

Speaking time for 'usual suspects' cut

More than 300 people are expected to talk about budget cuts at City Hall during a marathon session expected to begin Thursday. (CBC)

More than 350 people are expected to address Mayor Rob Ford and his powerful executive committee over possible cuts to the city budget.

The public deputations will commence at noon Thursday at a meeting of the executive committee. The meeting comes at the end of an exercise in which independent auditors identified which services were essential to the running of the city — deemed "core" services — and which are not.

City-hired consultants KPMG identified a number of areas where cuts could be made in all departments at the city amid a looming $774 million budget shortfall. 

Some of the most contentious suggestions  — laying off police officers, closing libraries, major cuts to TTC service and closing some of the city's popular zoo and other wildlife attractions — are being discussed Thursday. With the 350 delegates expected to speak, the meeting is expected to last well into Friday.

The meeting is not expected to break until all speakers are heard.

"I'm going to sit here all day, all night until everyone gets a chance to speak," vowed Mayor Rob Ford Thursday morning.

But Coun. Joe Mihevc said it is unreasonable to expect people to speak at two in the morning.

Each speaker is usually given five minutes to address councillors, but because of the lengthy lineup of speakers, the committee passed a motion to limit speaking time to only three minutes.

Mammoliti skeptical of speakers

Mammolitti contends that the speakers are made up of what he calls the "usual suspects" and that they don't represent public opinion.

He also claims there's a good reason so-called "Ford nation" hasn't made its voice heard at earlier public deputations about possible cuts earlier this month.

"There are a lot of people that work for a living and they can't be down here suggesting that we are doing the right thing. They are at work understanding that we listened to them in the last election," he said.

"The people that are down here are getting paid to be down here — a lot of them through city hall budgets or grants. They are coming down here because we are paying for them to be down here and to me that doesn't make sense. We need to figure out a process that reaches out to everybody."

Arts groups, community centre workers and unions were among those who stepped up to speak.

Many said the city is failing to consider how cultural programs and arts grants — many of which could be on the chopping block — contribute to Toronto's economy and its reputation on the world stage.

The review ignored "the ripple effect" cuts would have on the larger economy, complained Karen Tisch, president of the Toronto Arts Council.

"You're also not considering the values of Toronto residents within that process," she told Ford's committee.

Kim Fry, a University of Toronto graduate student, said the city needs an even greater library network, not less.

"These services are used by Torontonians and it's that public space that makes our city great," Fry said.

The committee pushed back with complaints that speakers couldn't provide any alternatives to cost cutting.

"A number of groups have come to make presentations indicating the importance of what they're doing," said the city's budget chief, Mike Del Grande.

"But I'm not hearing, at the end of the day, the suggestions as to the real problem in terms of our financial shortfall."   After public deputations, the executive committee is expected to issue recommendations about service cuts. The executive committee will meet again in September to discuss possible cuts, and council will vote on the proposals Sept. 26-27.

Mayor Ford promised during his election campaign that city services would not be cut, but he suggested Toronto's budget woes could be addressed by cutting spending and waste at city hall.

Shown below are some of the more notable KPMG suggestions.