Councillor Josh Matlow

City Hall Diary: Cuts? Slow and thoughtful, please

Josh Matlow City Hall Diary

If you live in Toronto, drive or bike, use public transit, utilities or recreation centres, have a social conscience or pay taxes, the decisions made at City Hall affect your life.

Although some of the most seasoned reporters and politicians have told me that how council actually makes its decisions remains a mystery, I’ve found it becomes easier to understand the less one expects a reasonable explanation. Here’s one take on it:

When Rob Ford was elected mayor, he quickly assembled a team of councillors he could count on to support his agenda. Some were obvious choices as they shared most of his political and ideological views and were given powerful appointments to standing committees. Others, I expect, offered the mayor loyalty because they genuinely believed they’d accomplish more for their constituents by being on the “inside” of government, rather than be sidelined on the opposition bleachers.

Although City Hall doesn’t officially have political parties and councillors are supposed be independent advocates for their residents, it behaves like a Westminster parliamentary system. A year ago, when David Miller was mayor and his team ruled, the left wing sought cuts to the city’s bureaucracy and the right wing demanded, with great passion and made-for-TV sound bites, that residents’ services be protected.

At City Hall, the opposition’s voice may be heard at public meetings and through the media, but most decisions, or at least what the mayor’s team hope they’ll be, have already been planned behind closed doors.

Since the 2011 budget process began a couple of weeks ago, each councillor has received literally thousands of pages of documents on nearly every city department. There have been public meetings held, but, aside from some thoughtful comments by residents, they’ve seemed more like extensions of the polarized debate at City Hall rather than a genuine exercise in active listening.

I’ve found that leaving City Hall and actually experiencing a service is a helpful way to truly understand its value to residents.

So when the TTC proposed cuts to several bus routes affecting 250,000 people, I decided to ride some of these buses during hours slated for reduction.

I learned that on the Mt. Pleasant 74 route, there are many seniors, who, without weekday evening and weekend bus service, would simply be unable to leave their homes to visit family, buy groceries or attend religious services. In fact, a senior I met on the bus named Doug, who in his 70s is starting up a publishing business, told me he’d be “trapped.”

All city councillors, no matter their politics, should recognize the need to review every line item in Toronto’s budget and remove waste wherever it is found. They should also make decisions thoughtfully and with consideration to the very people who would be impacted if their services were lost.

Josh Matlow is the rookie councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.

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