January 18, 2012
Who says you can’t fight City Hall? Torontonians who successfully pushed back against Mayor Rob Ford’s reckless cuts are the real winners in this year’s budget process. By the hundreds, they came to all-night public meetings; they inundated city councillors with expressions of concern; they tweeted, blogged and organized and, in many cases, took to the street in protest.
It worked. Indeed, democracy worked. By a slim majority city council voted to take almost $19 million from last year’s surplus and use it to save pools and homeless shelters, daycare services, and recreation programs including ice rink hours and library services.
Key to that success was the rise of moderate city councillors who preferred listening to their constituents instead of the spin coming from the mayor’s office. Councillor Josh Colle deserves special notice for leading the way. Other swing voters who did the right thing include: James Pasternak, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Ana Bailao, Josh Matlow, Mary-Margaret McMahon and Chin Lee. Well done.
If children, the poor, and all who rely on those public services that have now been saved are budget winners, Ford is surely the loser. Yes, the mayor successfully delivered the first budget since amalgamation that spends less than in the previous year. That’s an historic accomplishment. But he lost control of the budget and that, too, marks a dramatic break with the past.
Ford and his backers on city council were adamant that not a penny of a $154-million surplus should be diverted to save city services. That, supposedly, would have been bad management. When some services were saved last week without touching this fund, Ford claimed victory because the surplus remained intact.
In typical Ford fashion, after it was tapped, he declared victory again because the pot wasn’t entirely drained.
“Look at my predecessor,” Ford said. “If you would have given this $154 million (windfall) to the previous mayor, it would have been gone. You know it, and I know it.”
But Ford need not look that far back for an example of flushing away unexpected money. He’s done it himself. Former mayor David Miller left Ford a $367-million surplus and it’s gone — lavished mainly on balancing last year’s tax-cutting, tax-freezing budget.
It’s a record that deeply undercut the administration’s claim that it was somehow vital to avoid spending any of the 2011 surplus on saving city services. That smacked of hypocrisy. After all, if tax cuts are deemed an appropriate way to use surplus dollars, preserving programs that people depend upon should be a fair use too.
Centrists on city council — call them what you will: the mushy middle, the mighty middle, or the moderate middle — effectively took control of Ford’s agenda. They made the changes that the mayor refused to undertake and, in the process, made a better and more compassionate city. They should continue in this vein. Toronto needs bold leadership that listens to its people and works to defend what’s best about this place.
To read this article on thestar.com, please click here.