Clearly there’s a crush of need in many sectors of city services and programs after years of cutbacks, flat lining and neglect by all three levels of government. Where that fact was on stark display these past two days was in child care and children’s nutritional programs. Oh, and the TTC. Always the TTC.
It is astounding to me the number of people out there filling in the gaps left by governments that, regardless of political stripe, seem to believe we are taxed enough. You can’t get blood from a stone, we’re told. Don’t look at us to be the heavies here. DIY. Do it yourself.
Many do, setting up things like breakfast programs with and/or without assistance from both the public and private sectors along with a healthy dose of volunteerism. And then they manage to take the time to come down to City Hall to express (almost exclusively) a discontent, let’s call it, with the contributions city council is making. For at least some 150 people or so who signed up to make deputations over the last couple days, democracy is much more than simply voting on election day.
I’m hoping what I perceived to be the deputants’ collective tone of quiet resolve wasn’t instead resignation in the face of just 3 years of constant beat down. It might be a product of sideshow freak fatigue, civic efforts in the face of a leaderless political entity trying to get back to business as usual. Who is it I’m addressing here?
Perhaps (and I could very well be projecting my own views onto this) there’s a sense out there that this is also very much a do nothing drastic, it’s an election year budget. Don’t rock the boat with any sudden change in direction and just get on with campaigning. Grit your teeth. Grin and bear it. Register your concern but no outrage. Next year will be an entirely different year.
The lack of, I don’t know, pressing engagement also might have been the result of the prevailing attitude from the budget committee members. With the exception of Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, it felt like the whole deputation process was an imposition upon the rest of them. After quickly passing a motion to reduce speaking time to 3 minutes, they followed up with a 1 minute limit for councillor’s questions that succeeded in impeding any sort of actual dialogue between residents and their elected representatives.
Then, the committee wanted to cut short Monday’s meeting back from its 930 p.m. scheduled end to 6 p.m., effectively eliminating any possibility for those who couldn’t make it to the meeting during work hours from deputing. Councillor Berardinetti initially beat back the motion but Councillor Doug Ford managed to have it pushed through later in the afternoon. Talk about your customer service.
Say what you will about former budget chief Mike Del Grande (and we said a lot, almost none of which was positive) but he at least seemed to revel in rubbing his opponents’ nose in the fact he was in charge of the city’s purse strings. Cupcake this, widows and orphans and he’d bang the gavel with relish. I want to listen to you beg and make a point of ignoring you.
This gang (again, I exclude Councillor Berardinetti from this broadside) couldn’t even bother mustering the pretense of interest. Councillor Ford, flitting in and out of the meeting, started almost every ‘question’ to deputants with a “Do you realize that…” before launching into whatever dubious claim or numbers he thought appropriate. Private sector this, find efficiencies that. Unsurprisingly, it was the lack of outdoor skating rinks IN SCARBOROUGH that grabbed his attention the most.
As for Councillor Frances Nunziata, if there is a more contemptible, less respectful councillor currently representing residents of Toronto, their name is Mike Del Grande and, well, see above. Nunziata wears a permanent sneer and spent more time on Monday watching the clock than listening to the deputations. “Frank! Frank!” she’d snap at the committee chair when he absent-mindedly or graciously allowed deputants to wrap up beyond the 3 minute mark. Her only interaction with the speakers who’d made the effort to come out was to ask if they’d looked elsewhere for help.
But there’d be problems with the deputation process even with a more crowd friendly committee. Unless you’re among the first 10 or so listed deputants, there’s too much uncertainty in your timing. People need to be assigned a block of time in which they know they’ll be speaking and the committee needs to stick to that. Otherwise, people just drift off, having to get back to work, to home, to pick up their kids from school. This usually precipitates a run of no-shows, leading to more no-shows by people who had been following along but hadn’t expected to be called on so soon.
More than that, the public needs to be invited to take part in the budget making decisions much earlier in the process. It’s hard not to conclude, as it works right now, that once we get to the staff proposed budget release it’s all a done deal. Months in the works, behind closed doors, it’s delivered up. A fait accompli. Here it is, boys and girls. What do you think of it?
In quick succession, just before Christmas, the public is offered a glimpse of what to expect, have their say over the course of a couple days, and then it’s off to council to be voted on in late-January. Thanks for playing along. See you next year.
It gives the impression that we’re offered the chance to be heard but not listened to. This budget committee, this week, simply made what was a matter of fact painfully obvious.
— openly submitted by Cityslikr