Toronto cuts total about $26M

Toronto city council has voted in favour of about $26 million in cuts to certain programs and services, a mere fraction of a deficit that has been estimated at between $500- and almost $800 million.

Council votes to sell zoo and theatres, but keeps Youth Cabinet and parking authority

Toronto City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on proposed cuts to city services that would amount to only $30 million in savings, according to figures revealed by a top bureaucrat. (CBC)

Toronto city council has voted in favour of about $26 million in cuts to certain programs and services — a mere fraction of a deficit that has been estimated at between $500- and almost $800 million.

The cuts from the so-called core services review were estimated at around $100 million, but most of the more controversial cuts, such as library closures, had already been taken off the table outright or pushed to future debates.

The total amount of potential cuts continued to shrink during Tuesday's debate, as council voted against some of the reductions. For instance, motions passed making the Toronto Youth Cabinet and Community Environment Days exempt from cuts, and council voted against privatizing the Toronto Parking Authority

Austerity measures that passed included the sale of the Toronto Zoo and three city-run theatres, as well as the elimination of paid-duty police officers at construction sites. Council also voted to eliminate the four free garbage tags residents are given to use when they cannot not fit their trash into city-issued bins.

'I know how to solve it [the shortfall]. We need to lay off 7,000 people.'—Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti

Council members on both sides of the debate claimed victory. Left-leaning Coun. Janet Davis said Mayor Rob Ford's agenda had been rejected, while Ford called Tuesday a victory for taxpayers.

"This is the first step," Ford said. "A lot of people said it couldn't be done. We did it."

Despite the relatively modest cuts, Ford said the debate has been worth it.

"I think this is a very good exercise and at the end of the day people now understand that we have to stop spending down here and we have to focus on delivering core services."

Ford said if council doesn't vote for cuts they'll have to live with the consequences of a large tax increase: "They're the ones that are going to have to look their constituents in the eye and say, 'I voted for a 20 per cent tax increase' or 'I didn't.' Or, 'I voted for a 2.5 per cent tax increase' or 'I didn't.' I know the side that I'm going to be on. I'm going to say, 'I was elected to clean up a mess; I cleaned it up.' "

Ford said a 2.5 per cent tax increase is his maximum.

The mayor is promising that the real decisions will be made during the budget process.

"We're going to find the savings," he said.

City workforce could be target

The city's workforce will come under the microscope of some council members as the city looks to solve its financial woes.

"I know how to solve it," said Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti. "We need to lay off 7,000 people. I know how to solve it. We need to get rid of the top-heavy managers in this city."

Aside from the potential cuts, councillors debated a flurry of motions that some councillors believe could alleviate some of the financial pressure, including road tolls and de-amalgamating the mega-city, motions that were defeated.

Coun. Norm Kelly, a member of the mayor's executive, warned councillors that the discussion must remain focused and that avoiding cuts would mean a double-digit tax increase. "If you think there's blood on the floor now, you wait and see what's going to happen if you don't have the insight and the political will to support the recommendations that have come down to you from the executive committee."

Tuesday's council meeting follows nearly 12 hours of debating Monday, which pitted left-leaning councillors against Ford in a boisterous question and answer period.

Much of Monday's bickering inside City Hall was over the numbers, with city manager Joe Pennachetti saying the service cuts on the table were only worth about $30 million.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday has warned unless Toronto's budget problems are solved, "the province of Ontario will have to step in and run the city."

'He's an enemy of my people'

Outside council chambers on Monday, hundreds of protesters carrying banners rallied at Nathan Phillips Square to demonstrate in support of everything from keeping city-subsidized daycares to saving bus routes. 

Christine Brubaker, a mother and artist who said she depends on public transit and city-subsidized daycares, accused the mayor of tearing apart the urban fabric of the city.

"These are areas with huge impacts in my life. As far as I'm concerned, he's an enemy of my people," she said.

Amir Javeri, who arrived from Iran 20 years ago, said the city helped him and his wife learn English and eventually find jobs.

"I have one son, he's 28 years old and he's a doctor. He grew up here and I'm proud of him because of the good city of Toronto, but [the potential cuts] are destroying it," he said.

Other protesters, like Sarah Blackstock, said it was time to stop talking about cuts to services, and consider having a serious discussion about raising revenues through taxes.

"That's inevitable. I think that's what it costs to live in a good city," she said.