Councillor Josh Matlow

National Post: Volunteers decry proposed advisory council cuts

Toronto residents who volunteer on a batch of citizen advisory committees are speaking out against a proposal to scrap most of the groups.

At the request of Mayor Rob Ford, city staff have reviewed the municipality’s complement of advisory bodies from the last term of council and are recommending that 21 of them be cancelled.

They include the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee, the Pedestrian Committee, the Aboriginal Affairs Committee and the Task Force to Bring Back the Don. Ten of the bodies are described as redundant, dormant or having completed their mandates. The remaining 11 also should not be re-established, says city manager Joseph Pennachetti, while city divisions consider other engagement methods, such as town halls or social media. Mr. Pennachetti is recommending that council keep the Film Television and Commercial Production Industry Committee (previously the Toronto Film Board) and the Community Partnership and Investment Program Appeals Committee.

“I’m all in favour of closing down a task force whose mandate is complete, it’s just, let’s be serious: the Don River is not yet clean,” said John Wilson, chair of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don.

It has been around since 1989 and has spawned such popular ideas as a stewardship program where residents adopt a forest patch and take care of it through the summer. The parks department has been running that program for about a decade, said Mr. Wilson. It was talking about naturalizing the mouth of the Don River years before Waterfront Toronto took on the major project.

“I am convinced that there will be more people just like myself trying to convince city council that this is a wrong-headed decision,” said Mr. Wilson. The Toronto Cyclists Union is encouraging supporters to oppose the recommendations at next week’s meeting of the executive committee.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday defended the move, saying the administration is trying to make the city government a leaner operation.

“Although there is not a dollar figure, they do cost something because we’re involving a lot of staff time that might be better off doing something else,” said Mr. Holyday.

“This is not cutting anybody off. There are other ways for them to be heard,” he said, noting that residents can speak at any standing committee, or they can call their councillor.

But critics say it is sending a signal to Toronto residents that their input is not wanted.

“All of these committees provide opportunities for Toronto residents to engage in the civic government and I would think that a Mayor who espouses an ideology that doesn’t want to have big government would encourage residents, or taxpayers, or whatever you want to call them, to volunteer their time, to get involved, to contribute to the city,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who sat on the pedestrian committee last term as a representative from the school board.

National Post

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