Mar 12

Shocker: budget cuts can negatively impact services

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, member of Rob Ford’s executive committee and the city budget committee, in her December 2011 newsletter to constituents:

Taxpayers want City Hall to reduce expenses and for the first time ever, we will spend less next year than we did this year. It is a balanced budget that will help rebuild our fiscal foundation. There is a rate of inflation property- tax increase of 2.5% which will be approximately $5 a month for the aver- age tax payer. There are inflationary increases which the city cannot avoid addressing, and we have kept the property tax increase down to the level of inflation.

Through the Core Service Review, service efficiencies and modest service level adjustments we found $355 million in savings. Some of the services being cut were identified as outside of the city’s function.

via Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s Newsletter – December 2011.

The centrepiece of that budget, of course, was a 10% cut across all city departments — including the TTC. Ford’s move to cut the transit subsidy despite record and ever-growing ridership forced the TTC to make several cuts to bus service, most of which took effect in February.

Which brings us back to Berardinetti’s newsletter. From the March 2012 edition:

I have written a letter to TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, to voice my opposition to the impacts of all bus route schedule adjustments. Residents in my ward have reported to me that signs have been posted at the Warden subway station with respect to a reduction in service specifically affecting the Warden 69 bus route. A large number of people rely upon this route for travel to work and school and the proposed reduction in the frequency of service will significantly and negatively impact their commuting time.

In the context of the considerable 2012 Budget surplus allocations of $139 million made to the T.T.C. for the purpose of purchasing new surface vehicles and the significant nature of the impact reductions on this route will have on the constituents of Ward 35, I am requesting that this decision be reviewed and that the service reduction be cancelled.

via Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s Newsletter – March 2012.

During the budget debate, Councillor Josh Colle moved a motion that sought to reverse many of the route cuts on the table. Berardinetti opposed it.

This looks like a sign of things to come. Many councillors supported the 10% reduction target as an abstract budget-busting measure, but now that the impacts to services are starting to emerge, how many of them are going to change their tune?

Another example: 311 announced recently that, in order to meet their reduced budget, they would eliminate email service at their support centres. They’re going to force anyone with a question about city services to call in and listen to their hold music. This prompted Mike Layton to ask “What decade are we in? I wonder if they’ll accept faxes.”

Layton, backing a motion by Kristyn Wong-Tam, will attempt to reverse this cut to customer service at council next week. They should have the support of at least one Ford ally — and enthusiastic supporter of the mayor’s 10% cut — in Paul Ainslie, who told the Toronto Star that he was “certainly going to push for putting [email service] back in.”

It’s easy to support budget cuts. It’s hard to support service cuts. Councillors may want to consider that there’s a link between the two.

Oct 11

Council Scorecard Special: How your councillor voted on sharks & elephants

After months of squabbling, divisiveness and nail-bitingly close votes, Council found some consensus yesterday with a couple of items relating to sharks and elephants. The overwhelming margins on both votes prove that, while councillors stand divided on things like whether residents should have libraries to visit or late night buses to ride, they’re pretty damn united when it comes to animal protection.

The vote on banning the sale of shark fin was the bigger story, and the one that attracted more detractors from council’s libertarianish wing. (A wing that includes Rob Ford.) I enjoyed Corey Mintz’s photos and commentary from the vote. I’d also like to highlight the speech given by Mike Del Grande — I’ll try to grab video –, which came as a passionate defence of laws and policies that protect endangered animals and showed a side of the councillor we tend not to see much of these days in Ford-dominated news cycles.

The elephant vote was a long time coming — read this Toronto Life article if you haven’t already–, and it’s heartening that it passed so swiftly. Aside from the obvious good-news-for-elephants angle, the only other story to emerge from the vote is an indication from Councillor Paul Ainslie that he may resign from the Zoo Board, as he feels the board was overruled and blindsided by this decision. No word yet on whether the other members of the board will be able to carry on without all the talent and knowledge Ainslie brings to the table.

Neither vote fits the parameters for inclusion on the City Council Scorecard — they don’t really relate to the mayor’s agenda in any meaningful way, and neither vote was whipped –, but I had enough people ask if I was going to include them that I decided to make a special chart for posterity’s sake. As a bonus, you get to see which councillors stuck it out until 11 p.m. last night to vote on the elephant item.



Jul 11

Opposition to local food part of a race to the bottom

From last week, the Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney:

The City of Toronto probably can’t afford to buy local food for its long-term care homes, shelters and daycare facilities, say some members of the government management committee.

Work on a buy-local policy began under former Mayor David Miller, but supporters of Mayor Rob Ford made it clear they don’t like it if it costs more.

“I think we should go out there and get the biggest bang for our buck,” said Councillor Doug Ford. “Yes, everyone wants to support Ontario-based food growers, but sometimes it’s just not realistic.”

via Toronto’s ‘buy local’ food policy under attack – thestar.com.

Later in the article, Councillor Paul Ainslie justifies the opinion by noting that he noticed quite a price difference between locally-produced and California-grown strawberries.

The city’s new strategy of going for the cheapest possible option above all else already burned them once, when the discount survey software they used for the Core Service Review frustrated a ton of people. This race to the bottom ignores that sometimes the city can make strategic investments that actually benefit the people in and around Toronto.

The buy-local policy, approved in an unrecorded vote by the previous council, set a target of 50% local food that was later found to be unworkable and unattainable. However, the consultant hired to look at the plan does lay out new targets, which would cap out at 25% local food purchasing, at cost of $125,000 per year to the city. You can read the report at the city’s website.

That cost is small potatoes given the city’s overall budget, and the economic benefits of buying local are bound to outweigh that figure. This doest feel like it should be a contentious issue. Instead, this opposition feels like the work of politicians who continue to believe that “public investment” is synonymous with “wasteful spending.”

A final decision will be made at this month’s council meeting.

Mar 11

Pop will sell itself

News from yesterday that’s made the rounds: Councillor Doug Ford made quite the spectacle of himself at the Government Management Committee yesterday at the same time the committee voted against moving toward 100% healthy options in city vending machines:

In a 3-2 decision, the committee decided to maintain the status quo: vending machines should carry 50 per cent healthy choices. The proposal would have limited the available options to milk, fortified soy beverages and 100 percent juice or vegetable drinks.

An impassioned Councillor Doug Ford argued that government has no business dictating what kinds of drinks people can buy.

“This is socialism at its best,” he said, adding he was working at “socialist city hall.”

Ford went on to thank the cola industry for creating jobs and sponsoring city events. The mayor’s outspoken brother concluded by taking a swig from a Coca-Cola bottle.

via Pop will still be sold at city rinks – thestar.com.

On Twitter, Astrid Idlewild has done a remarkable job questioning Government Management Chair Paul Ainslie about his position on this issue. In an earlier Toronto Sun story by Sue-Ann Levy, Ainslie called the proposal a ‘pile of crap.’

I’ll be a little softer on this issue than some — I have a major weakness for Diet Coke. I’d be open to compromise solutions beyond the simple elimination of anything that’s not milk or fruit juice. Sad as it sounds, revenue implications are important to consider given where the city’s finances are going.

But let’s be clear about one thing: nothing about this is socialism. No one is talking about blanket bans of these items. This is about whether or not the city should be in the business of selling kids unhealthy things. I think that’s a question that deserves more careful consideration than it apparently got yesterday.

Ainslie is now talking about rescinding the city’s earlier ban on bottled water sales on city property, something that was moved by two of his allies, Councillors Del Grande and Di Giorgio.

Worth noting: Doug Ford also commented that the city should sell cigarettes in vending machines if there’s a demand for it. He also accused the Toronto Star of stalking his mother and being a ‘ruthless’ paper. Yet he’s widely still considered the calmer, more intelligent Ford brother.