Budget Proposal Goes Public

Hey-ho! Off to City Hall we went for day 2 of public deputations for the council’s budget committee’s proposed 2010 operating budget. Hopefully the sparks will fly like they did the previous evening when councilor Paula Fletcher got into it with one of the deputationees and a heckler from the gallery. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!!

Unfortunately upon our arrival, a subdued air hangs over the council chamber. Budget chief Shelley Carroll who is chairing the meeting reads a letter of apology from Councilor Fletcher and then lays down the law to the other councilor’s present about their comportment. This seems to have a chilling effect on the proceedings as the first few deputations come and go with nary a question posed by council.

First up, a representative of a branch of CUPE civic workers with serious questions about transparency. The budget proposal has been drawn up absent public scrutiny and, according to CUPE, contains confidential documents about cuts to staff and services that won’t be released until after the budget has been passed by council in April. For CUPE, this is not participation. It is rear-guard reaction to a done deal.

It’s hard to argue with this point as the afternoon unfolds. What kind of impact will a string of 5 minute presentations before the 7 members of the budget committee and a smattering of other councilors have on the final budget? A cynic might call it little more than an exercise in political theatre. Yet compared to the federal budget coming down at us this week that’s been drawn up in the darkness of a prorogued parliament, these public deputations represent the height of inclusive and participatory democracy.

The comparison is even more apt given what we witnessed during the course of our stay in the chamber’s peanut gallery. Our impression of the proceedings was one of a city council desperately trying to hold together the fraying fabric of the social safety net shredded to pieces by big ticket decisions made at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa. It was no longer a question of attempting to save everyone at risk from falling through the cracks but simply minimizing the number who do.

Child care advocates were out in full force, alarmed by the budget committee’s proposal to end council’s coverage of the rent for child care spaces in Toronto District School Board properties. This would be catastrophic for many low income households, we are told, while also deepening the city’s budget crisis as it would send parents back out of the workforce and onto social welfare rolls. Budget chief Shelley Carroll and councilor Janet Davis tried explaining that their computations were such that only full pay parents would be forced to pay more for their childcare and only then some $2+ per child per day.

Oddly enough (or maybe not) the male councilors present kept silent, asking no questions nor offering any answers on the childcare matter. Or maybe they were still a little gun shy about over-stepping decorum with the budget chief’s instructions still fresh in their minds because they were none too interactive with the other deputations either. Youth at risk programs. Social housing and homelessness. Children’s Aid. Marginalized communities and groups all facing even more dire straits with the inevitable belt tightening that’s in the offing with the proposed budget.

It was unfortunate that we didn’t catch sight of either George Smitherman or Rocco Rossi present while we were there. (Although we will give a shout out to Sonny Yeung, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first Meet A Mayoral Candidate profile, who was dutifully in attendance.) It might’ve been instructive for Mssrs. Smitherman and Rossi to hear firsthand the possible results of their fervent dedication in finding “efficiencies” at City Hall. But this afternoon, clearly, council chamber was not filled with their crowd.

Those folks were out at Monday night’s meeting. Overburdened taxpayers, business owners and radio show host John Tory (doing his schtick from the City Hall rotunda) listeners gave their own deputations, imploring the city to reign in out of control spending or else face capital flight and economic collapse. This was the too much group. Too much was being asked of them to keep the city running. Tuesday afternoon was the too little group. The city was providing too little for them to survive.

This is the balancing act city council’s now attempting to pull off. Appeasing the solid middle and upper classes may lay waste to the growing number of have-nots we share the city with. Caving into the special interests of the less fortunate will send home owners and businesses heading to the hills of more tax friendly jurisdictions. Depending on what tipping point you think we’re poised upon (and every year come budget time, we seem poised on a tipping point) will determine the deputation you want to deliver even if it’s all just for show.

deputationally submitted by Cityslikr

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