Bully Budgeting

January 14, 2016

It was just a coincidence, I’m sure, that I was reading through Torontoist’s 2015 Heroes and Villains list while listening to the first of the public deputations on the 2016 budget. TPLTorontoist(Truth be told, I’d held out following the annual Torontoist series as, once again, I’d been snubbed despite my unrelenting and uncompromising work covering the politics of this city. Hero or Villain. It didn’t matter to me. Just a little recognition might be nice, Torontoist.) As it so happened, I was just getting to the final reveal – Superhero of the Year – when the library workers union president, Maureen O’Reilly, sat down to speak to the budget committee.

No, really. That’s exactly how it happened. Sometimes life can be that serendipitous.

Read what Eva Hd wrote about the Toronto Public Library, in nominating it as Superhero of the Year:

The individual branches’ lovingly curated and topical displays, whether tying in to contemporary political issues such as Idle No More or featuring mystery Valentine books wrapped in red tissue paper for February 14, always amaze and amuse. On any given day, TPL’s librarians can be heard giving tips to adolescents on how to find books and movies about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, showing seniors how to use the internet, guiding researchers through the archives, and telling homeless people where to find the bathroom with equal amounts of patience and grace, while the security guards interact respectfully with everyone and will often be seen helping out at kids’ story time.

Now here’s David Nickle writing about Maureen O’Reilly’s budget committee deputation:

“It’s 2016. It’s no longer acceptable to underpay the ladies of the library and to continually cut them.”

O’Reilly was referring to the Toronto Public Library Board’s recommendation to save $250,000 by cutting 6.7 full-time equivalent page positions – a move that would mean between 12 and 14 of the minimum-wage pages would lose their jobs.

The pages, said Reilly, are bearing much of the weight of a cut in library staffing that she said amounts to 25 per cent since 1992. The position of page was traditionally a part-time job for high school students, but currently, the average age of a page at Toronto Public Library is 43. They do the work of reshelving materials and helping at checkouts.

That’s what you call working ‘harder and smarter’ with less. It’s just what budget hawks like our mayor (like so many mayors before him) love to hear, love to tout. See, Toronto. texaschainsawmassacreWe continue to nick and cut at library services, and they still keep providing exemplary service to residents of this city. It can be done!

Libraries, and those who work so diligently to make them the key community hubs that they are, represent the kind of soft services line-by-line, always searching for efficiencies, nickel-and-dime politicians love to go after. Easy targets. Libraries don’t directly provide life-or-death support to residents. They aren’t grand infrastructure symbols elected officials can cut ribbons at.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Almost any politician who isn’t a Ford – Doug was convinced there were more libraries than Tim Horton’s in his ward and would’ve slashed them ‘in heartbeat’ — loves to oversee the building of a library. The 100th TPL branch was opened in Scarborough last year. It’s the funding of their operations that’s so tempting to shave, trim and hack at.

So, working at the library for many falls into the precarious employment category. Half of the workers are contracted, meaning benefits, a living wage and the like are but a pipedream. library2At Tuesday’s budget deputations, library worker Tori MacDonald talked about scrambling to branches all over the city in the search of hours. For Ms. MacDonald, the librarian’s lot in Toronto was not one where she could see buying a home, raising a family.

Bully for them, those of us with plenty of space at home to find a quiet spot to work, with easy access to all the internet we need, with that book we want one Amazon click away, with our own communities already carved out, will say. What’s a librarian’s job anyway? Checking out books. Putting them back on the shelves when they’re returned. Why should we pay a premium for that?

But read the Torontoist piece and realize that our library system represents much more than that to many residents of this city. In fundamentally important ways, our libraries and those (wo)manning the desks, counters and stacks – Yes, 75% of library workers are female. Women and precarious employment. Surprise! — serve as, if not gatekeepers, librarythen the welcoming committee of this city for newcomers and other oftentimes marginalized segments of our community. Libraries provide both a physical as well as social shelter for this city.

How much should that be worth to us?

It’s easy to embrace the big gestures, the grand symbols of our civic well-being. The shiny new transit projects and plans, the high rise office towers, the beautiful, “world class”, outside public spaces. What we always overlook, however, in our seemingly perpetual chest-beating, looking out for the taxpayer push to scrimp toward balanced budgets is the vital element of the human scale. “Finally,” Hd writes in the Torontoist, “TPL locations are also some of the last places in Toronto where you can still get a glass of water and use the bathroom for free, a not insignificant attribute in our increasingly precious metropolis.”

Our libraries and the people working to make them cornerstones of neighbourhoods and communities are indeed significant attributes ‘in our increasingly precious metropolis’. libraryWe need to defend them from those intent on only counting costs and ignoring the benefit side of the ledger. A strong library system is not simply a nice-to-have. It is a need-to-have, and we have to start treating it as such, beyond just the easy to spot and promote bricks-and-mortar, to the people inside, working to make it the remarkable enterprise it is.

bookishly submitted by Cityslikr


Colle Cocked

January 19, 2012

A remarkable day starring two, up until now, unremarkable councillors.

And I don’t use ‘unremarkable’ in a pejorative sense. Just not noteworthy. Bereft of distinction. Having made no real dent or splash yet. A kind of, who’s my councillor again kind of councillor.

Until budget day on Tuesday. In one swift motion (ha, ha), rookie councillor Josh Colle made his presence felt and established himself as a very real force to be contended with. Not only did he catch the mayor and his guard flat-footed with a move to reinstate some $15 million of the more controversial cuts back into the 2012 operating budget, he withstood a blustery, cantankerous line of questioning from a brigade of under-prepared Ford Teamsters in a polished and confident manner that suggested a much more veteran politician. He was politely aggressive with the baiting line of queries and also very funny. When a more friendly colleague, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon rose to ask him her questions and accidentally referred to him as the other Josh, Matlow, Colle waited for the laughter to subside before responding, “Yes, Councillor Doucette?”

His performance and not unreasonable motion changed the tone of the day’s debate and paved the way for moves by other councillors to stave off another $4 million in cuts including the additional savings demanded of the Toronto Public Library. Councillor Colle nudged Mayor Ford from the driver’s seat, sending the administration into scramble mode in the hopes of beating back the motion and preserving the mayor’s budget.

In the end, they didn’t. The mayor suffered a string of defeats, close, close, close but inevitable defeats and as much credit as Councillor Colle deserves for that, so does Councillor James Pasternak. Arguably traversing much more political ground than Colle to wind up on the opposite side of the mayor – he had been pretty much a sure thing for Mayor Ford for most of the year+ he’s been councillor for Ward 10 – Pasternak wound up being the very unlikely swing vote that pushed Councillor Colle’s motion over the top.

Not for a lack of trying to keep him in the fold by the mayor’s forces. At one point during Tuesday’s meeting, both the mayor and his brother, Doug, made their way across the chamber floor in Councillor Pasternak’s direction. The mayor gestured like a grade school principal who’d just caught a child running in the hallway for the councillor to follow them to backroom. Councillor Pasternak willingly obeyed and the three of them disappeared from the room.

What was said and how, I couldn’t tell you. One would assume it took more dark, threatening tones because for the mayor to be offering up goodies in return for the councillor’s vote, well, that would just be antithetical to what we’ve been hearing from the mayor’s office for months now. The cupboard’s  bare, there’s no money for ‘pet projects’. So as important as the vote was, and we’re talking really, really important, like 4 new libraries, 3 new community centres and a subway right up to the councillor’s door important, it would be monstrously hypocritical for the mayor to be promising favours in return for votes.

Whatever was said, offered, threatened behind closed doors failed. Councillor Pasternak didn’t blink. He defied the mayor and voted for Councillor Colle’s motion.

As did another right of centre councillor, Chin Lee who continued his drift from the administration. And let’s not forget, Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, the only girl allowed in the Etobicoke Councillor Boys Club that includes the mayor’s brain trust, his brother and the Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday, along with the hangers-on, Councillor Vincent Crisanti, Mark Grimes and Peter Milczyn. While her intentions might not have been the most noble (“Leaf collection, for me, was absolutely important”), she stood her ground, gleefully flashing her thumb in the opposite direction of the one Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti insisted on displaying despite its noticeable lack of efficacy.

Combined with the other members of the newbie mushy middle, Councillors Ana Bailão, Josh Matlow and Mary-Margaret McMahon, it was enough of a faction, along with the left of centre crowd of councillors, to best the mayor in every budget motion save two, I believe. It was a rebuke if not quite a repudiation of the direction Mayor Ford wanted to take the city. It put on the brakes but did not turn the car around.

The budget that passed remained chock full of highly questionable cuts. The mayor and his team can still rightly claim that they are spending less than they did last year which, to their way of thinking, means something significant. Before losing control of the budget meeting, Team Ford deftly managed to snip off any nascent move that may have been building to increase the property tax increase from 2.5%. Budget 2012 can still rightfully be called a Mayor Rob Ford budget.

But at what cost?

There’s now clearly disorder in the ranks. If they can lose an ally like Councillor Pasternak on such an important vote as a budget vote, who’s next? Fellow rookie councillors and Executive Committee members, Michelle Berardinetti and Jaye Robinson, must feel as if they were hung out to dry. They now have to wear things like their vote in favour of demanding a full 10% cut to the TPL and explain it to their constituents. For what? Where an unwavering allegiance to the Ford brand might’ve seemed like just good politics last year, six months ago, two weeks ago, it’s suddenly more like a millstone around their necks.

Ditto Councillor Crawford. Another Ford stalwart, Councillor Michael Thompson was awfully quiet during the budget meeting. He dutifully voted along with the mayor but certainly kept his head low while doing so. And how long will even Councillors Grimes and Milczyn – both of whom were targeted for defeat by the Ford campaign during the 2010 election – blindly follow him, realizing the mayor can’t even win over city council on important matters let alone orchestra a successful race against them in 2014 if they don’t now obey his every command?

Yes, Councillors Josh Colle and James Pasternak may’ve just skimmed a speck of dosh from the surplus stash the mayor tucked away on the capital side of the budget on Tuesday. A mere less than .2% of the operating budget, as Edward Keenan pointed out in his comprehensively excellent article yesterday. But there is every reason to suspect that they succeeded in blowing up the prevailing Ford era dynamic at City Hall where the mayor pronounces and it is so.

They’ve opened the floodgates. The Curtis Flood-gates, that is. Free agency has come to city council.

borasly submitted by Cityslikr


Scarborough Unfair

January 14, 2012

(A reposting of a piece we wrote for the Torontoist this week about our field trip to the wilds of Scarborough.)

*  *  *

By any measure in the rather narrow definition of today’s common currency I am a downtown elite. That means I live downtown and I’m not onboard with Mayor Rob Ford’s agenda. Full stop.

This place I thought of as my home and the lifestyle that came with it, the ease of mobility, the array of opportunity, had come under fire by the antiest of anti-urban municipal governments this city has seen in some time. This was an administration that threatened the very things I viewed as vital to what makes my home so special to me. I was growing increasingly aggressive in my defence of it.

And then I went to Scarborough last Tuesday night. Three and a half hours later I realized I don’t know anger. I don’t know outrage. I don’t know such fiercely loyal pride of place.

The ten councillors representing the former east side municipality met at the Scarborough Civic Centre to present the proposed 2012 city budget and listen to feedback from their residents. Man oh man, did they get a collective earful. Sixty-seven folks had signed up to give a deputation although, by my count, only about forty or so made it down to the microphone. Of that number, two spoke in favour of the course the mayor and his team were currently charting.

Now, I already heard chatter about the alleged ‘usual suspects’, CUPE backed and prepared speakers, special interests, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. The same old same old whenever the deputation process so overwhelmingly speaks out against the mayor. Your basic case of shooting the messenger.

I readily accept the argument that those who come out to have their voices heard aren’t necessarily fully representative of the population as a whole. (Although I’m not sure exactly how those in favour of the Mayor Ford’s budget would even know to come out and voice their support. I could only find notification of Tuesday night’s event through what we’ll cal ‘opposition’ websites. Neither the mayor nor any of the councillors from Scarborough seemed to have given residents a heads-up about the event as far as I could tell.) People don’t tend to take time out of their schedules to cheer on issues, to express a favourable opinion of them. This, I think, is especially true with the budget proposal put in front of us. Yeah! Cut more! Pump up the user fees! Further reduce the role of government! That side is more of a Tim Horton’s nod and stay the course interaction.

But even measured against other deputations I have witnessed throughout the city, last night’s was high-pitched, angry, outraged and very, very personal. One deputant, in summing up this year’s budget said, “Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Scarborough’s screwed again.”

That’s not simply a where’s mine parochial attitude. In all the divisive downtown-suburb hubbub over whose money and how much goes where that’s been a part of the post-amalgamation discourse, it’s become pretty clear that Scarborough has consistently got the short end of the stick. Not just versus downtown but in comparison to other former municipalities like Etobicoke and North York. Their anger at City Hall is justified.

Which was one of the reasons Scarborough went so overwhelmingly pro-Rob Ford in the 2010 election. He promised to change all that. He would cut the boatloads of gravy and the sense of downtown entitlement that was so pervasive at City Hall and redirect all the savings back to where it was really needed like in Scarborough. They’d get better transit. They’d get better service. And they wouldn’t have to pay more for it.

Jump cut two budgets later to 2012.

Scarborough is looking at reduced service on 26 of its bus routes. Their subway? Still a figment of Mayor Ford’s imagination. Eleven of their libraries are threatened with reduced hours as are ten of their arenas. Shelters are being closed. Recreation programs cut and higher user fees implemented.

“Thanks, Mr. Mayor. Scarborough’s screwed again.”

More than anything, the palpable feeling at last night’s budget session was one of betrayal. Scarborough had put their faith in Rob Ford and the residents there were being repaid by, well, actually they weren’t being repaid at all. Scarborough was being gouged, bludgeoned by an austerity bat that many who spoke out saw as unnecessary and ideological. The mayor had turned on them and now they were turning on him.

Betrayal is something a politician, no matter how savvy, has a hard time getting past even two and a half years down the road. Voters may have short term memories about many things political but betrayal lingers. Candidate Rob Ford promised he’d be looking out for the little guy. Seventy-one percent of voters in Scarborough believed him, more than anywhere else in the city.

That’s a mighty big voting bloc to have turn against you. Lose even twenty percent of that, and a 2014 re-election suddenly becomes very, very iffy. Mayor Ford and the ten Scarborough councillors better hope the deputations in their backyard last night aren’t representative of the wider swath of Scarborough voters. If they are and this budget goes through next week as is? Their collective political futures should be considered very much in question.

Mike Myersly submitted by Cityslikr


Numbers Without Meaning

January 13, 2012

Just after yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting lunch break, itself coming only 30 minutes after the 45 minute recess Mayor Ford hastily called when he became overwhelmed at the series of motions being put forth by his handpicked wrecking crew – Hey! Come on, guys! Didn’t we have this all worked out on Wednesday?! — Councillor David Shiner took to the overhead for a hand-doodled presentation.  He claimed it was scratched out on paper because he’s a technological Luddite. That’s another way of saying, yeah, this is going to be completely slapdash but in no way does that mean it should be seen as ill-thought out or anything.

What the councillor proceeded to show was that since amalgamation, the city has increased its spending on libraries and public transit quite substantially. A whole lot, in fact. I couldn’t quite make out the numbers (neither could Councillor Shiner at times) but I think he suggested the TTC’s received a 103% boost in funding since the late 90s.

There was no motion to go with it, nothing substantive at all. Councillor Shiner just wanted everyone who was watching to know that the city’s libraries and the TTC were doing just fine, thank you very much. A cut here or there, a little off the top and sides wasn’t going to make a lick a difference in the long run because, you know, we’d all be dead. The important thing for everyone to realize especially those clamouring to save library hours or to stave off reduced bus service way out in the middle of nowhere Scarborough was the city was still forking over a really big number of dollars for both books and buses. Really big numbers.

Really. Big. Numbers.

Got it?

What was missing from the councillor’s pitch, aside from any semblance of late-20th/early-21st technology, was context. It was just a set of numbers presented in the void of an administration trying to present itself as all reasonable, responsible, commonsensical and not in the least bit reactionary, radical, heartless. That’s a lot of money we’re spending, folks. They’ll barely even notice 5, 6, 7, 10% less.

No talk of how increased funding has both spurred and been caused by a record ridership on the TTC. Until we get fully automatic, multi-person jetpacks and drone driven propulsion tubes firing us en masse up and down Yonge Street, the more transit gets used, the more people we need to operate the heavy machinery. Ditto libraries. The more demand for their services and materials, the higher the costs.

That’s all a good thing. At least it is for those who think public transit and libraries provide a net societal benefit. Reducing service in either (especially while increasing the costs for using them) tends to dampen demand and who would possible want that? Only reactionary, radical, heartless ideologues and there’s none of those in these here parts. We are all reasonable and responsible, we are.

And as any reasonable and responsible person does when faced with such daunting, really big numbers, they cower, curl up into a foetal position and try not to understand or explain them at all. Almost as if it’s incomprehensible that a government, regardless of size or how many people it serves, should be dealing with numbers that big. A fiscal ideology, let’s call it, allowing for little understanding or conviction that those holding the public purse strings are capable of making sound financial decisions that benefit the most number of people.

Thus, big always equals bad. Never mind population growth. Never mind aging infrastructure. Never mind any mitigating circumstance that would wholly justify or warrant increased expenditure needs. It’s totally beside the point. If you believe that small governments are better, there’s absolutely no reason for their budgets to ever get this big.

At least, I think that’s what Councillor Shiner and his cave dwelling scrawlings was trying to tell us.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr


What Now?

November 23, 2011

I’d asked him the question at least 5 minutes earlier with still no answer.

His beard had become excessively long, past Tolstoy length, approaching Gandalfian. Curiously, he had shaped his moustache into a handlebar transformation, both ends of which he was twirling currently as he sat, gazing out the window. “It’s a Movember thing,” he’d told me when I’d asked.

Which hadn’t been my question he was now ignoring. So I repeated it.

“So what now?”

Our resident protest expert, Acaphlegmic had initially been excited about the Occupy movement but had steadily become not disenchanted, just bewildered. Now that they were being moved from their spot in St. James park, the inevitable question was being asked. Repeatedly.

“Did you hear me?”

Acaphlegmic stopped fiddling with the ends of his moustache and clasped his hands together as if in prayer, turning from the window in my direction but without looking at me. He leaned in, still not saying anything. I followed suit, leaning toward him across my desk, hoping that this might help kick start the conversation. It did. Eventually.

“Who knows?” came the answer. Hardly worth the wait. I sat back in my chair in a huff, sighing exasperatedly. It was an all too common response for my liking.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. The situation is fluid. So I keep hearing.”

“The thing is, Damien,” Acaphlegmic continued, as usual getting my name wrong, “back in my day, it was easy to answer that question. The demands were concrete. Equal rights. Stop the war. Disco sucks! Now… now… How do you encapsulate into slogan form, ‘We’ve Gone Down The Wrong Path For The Last 30 Years?’ Wegodo..th..”

“How about this,” I interrupted, Acaphlegmic’s attempt at acronymizing always led down long, winding roads that could take hours to cover. “Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy. It’s catchy and points us in a direction.”

It was also, apparently, completely new to my colleague who took some time letting it sink in before nodding his head and leaning back in his chair.

“That’s good,” he said. “You come up with that yourself?”

Hardly. It had been making the rounds for a couple weeks now down in the States but had struck me as something much more universal than Occupy Wall Street or Occupy the Banks. Not as easily and smugly shrugged off as those two had been here with the somewhat specious claim that Canadian banks had been good as gold during the black fall of 2008. Austerity measures were looming under the pretence that somehow government spending had gotten us into this mess in the first place rather than the result of backstopping a global recessionary economy brought on by a criminally reckless private financial sector.

“The McGuinty government has made its intentions known with the Throne Speech yesterday,” I told Acaphlegmic who now had his head tilted back into his hands and staring up at the ceiling. “Aside from health and education, it’s going to be belt tightening all round. Infrastructure needs? Up yours. Transit systems? Ha, ha. Ha, fucking ha. Growth is anaemic, job losses are mounting and this government’s response is to crawl into a hole and hope it doesn’t get too ugly? So yeah. Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

Acaphlegmic remained silently staring up at the ceiling. It was quite possible he’d fallen asleep. I leaned forward across the desk and tugged at the end of his beard. Nothing. Already on my feet, I circled around behind him and looked down into his face. His eyes were open. We stared at each other.

“Our already obscenely low corporate tax rates are still on target to go even lower,” I pointed out to him. “And what’s their response? The Chrysler CEO wants wage concessions from their Canadian workers. So government revenues drop doubly. How the fuck is that supposed to bring us out of recession?”

We continue to stare at one another. I’m not sure why exactly. Although a handle bar moustachioed, long bearded face at a 180-degree angle is very, very intriguing.

“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

I went back to my chair, wondering what to do next. Me and almost everyone else, I guess. What we shouldn’t be doing is making a stand now in a park that had little bearing on the real battle at hand. I’d listened this morning (17’26” mark) to an occupier chained up in the camp’s library stress how important it was to defend it. Hopefully he’d also attended Toronto Public Library board meetings where deputant after deputant stepped forward to speak out in defence of the other free libraries in town under threat of closure and hours reduction.

That’s not to diminish what Occupy Toronto set out to do. Establishing dialogue is good, injecting the standard narrative with dissenting views is necessary. But now it’s time to bring the fight inside to where decisions are pending that will adversely affect those whose cause you’ve taken up. Dwight Duncan, the provincial finance minister, is talking about 33% reductions to some ministries. Occupy Dwight Duncan’s office. Next week the city’s budget committee and then full council meet to begin debate on what is being proposed as a slash and burn budget. A falsely hyped and manufactured funding short fall deliberately made worse by ill-thought out revenue cuts in order to gut of services that were promised to be untouched. Occupy the budget committee on Monday. Occupy City Council on Tuesday and Wednesday. Occupy councillors’ offices.

“Resist Austerity. Reclaim the Economy. Recreate Democracy.”

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” Acaphlegmic responded.

**sigh**

It seemed that maybe the fight had gone out of this old, one time rabble-rouser. The torch had been passed. I got up to see if I could make his nap a little more comfortable. Looking down into his face, I noticed his eyes remained open and he was smiling. I waved him off but he didn’t flinch. Putting my hand closer to his face, I waved more vigorously.

“Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”

Sleeping with his eyes open and a smile on his face, I took this as a good sign. Maybe we were on the right track.

as it happenedly submitted by Cityslikr


According to Sue-Ann Levy

August 24, 2011

I wonder how often administrators over at the Rotman School of Business think of revoking Sue-Ann Levy’s alumna status whenever she writes out those words? “According to my calculations…” Beware conservative hack math. Numbers are meaningless. Conclusions suspect.

She was at it again yesterday, yapping about free passes to various Toronto cultural venues by the Toronto Public Library. Never mind that the Sun Life Financial Museum and Arts Pass program $200,000 is a “donation Sun Life gives… [that] covers the printing and promotion of the passes and the money to hire an administrator [bolding ours].” Just remember that it’s a program initiated under former mayor David Miller, ‘Mr. Culture and Creativity Himself’. Don’t you just hate it when our mayor is all culture-y and creativity-y? Himself.

Despite the fact that Sun Life covers the cost of printing and promoting the passes as well as hiring the administrator to oversee such things, TPL staff puts in all that time to organize and supervise the weekly draws. Toronto taxpayers have to foot that bill which must amount to… well, Sue-Ann doesn’t take the time to calculate those numbers. But they must be huge because Ms. Levy sniffs at the $200,000 Sun Life donates. “That’s it”, she concludes, implying that the real money is paid out come draw time, what with all those slips of paper, pencils and cardboard boxes necessary to pull off such complicated manoeuvres.

No, Sue-Ann has bigger numbers to cook, taking her Jethro Bodine guzinta skills to calculate the money lost by all those money losing organizations these library using freeloaders are trying to crash.  “According to my calculations,” Levy scribbles, “the Toronto Zoo’s involvement in the program will add up to nearly $600,000 in foregone revenue this year while Casa Loma will not collect $530,000 due to these passes.” Gasp! Such big numbers!

But wait, it gets even juicer.” Toronto’s eight historical museums will give up $3.2-million in potential revenues.” Gravy! Sue-Ann Levy sees gravy!

When asked to comment about such outrageous non-spending, the city’s Chief Librarian, $205,720/year (no one in the public sector is worth a 6 digit figure salary) Jane Pyper was not available for comment.  She was just back from vacation – what? 200K a year and she goes on vacation?! – and, according to Sue-Ann, was “overwhelmed”.  Also, “TPL Board member Paul Ainslie couldn’t be reached for comment either,” whined Levy. I imagine he was simply too embarrassed to go on record commenting on such drivel.

Not so Budget Chief Mike Del Grande. This is just the kind of profligacy that “… makes his ‘hair stand on end’”.  “It’s very interesting when you consider that some of the venues (donating passes) are losing money … yet we’re giving out freebies to everyone and their uncle,” Del Grande said.

Now, no one should be surprised by such fiscal fatuousness coming from Sue-Ann Levy despite her Rotman MBA. But from someone overseeing a nearly $10 billion annual operating budget? A loud and proud chartered accountant no less? Head shaking in its myopic simple-mindedness.

Does the budget chief actually believe that people who wait in line to enter a draw to win passes to places like the zoo or Casa Loma – some as long as 4 hours according to Sue-Ann’s calculations, so take that as you will – are somehow gaming the system? Deadbeats with the time on their hands to stick it to all the hardworking taxpayers of Toronto and score themselves some freebies? Perhaps the more logical conclusion is those who would put in that kind of time in the hopes of winning an entry into some of our cultural institutions do so out of economic necessity. Without the passes, they would be unable to go. So they’re not freebies at all. The millions of dollars Sue-Ann Levy cites as giveaways are, actually, never-would-bes, nothing even close to lost revenue.

And don’t many service oriented businesses offer up these kind of ‘giveaways’ in order to bring customers to them? A certain percentage of those who come with their free passes might fall in love with the zoo or Casa Loma and decide it’s worth budgeting for a return visit. They might bring some other family members or friends with them next time. Failing that, with the money they’ve saved on admission, they might spend it on souvenirs or concessions. That would be found money. Simple good business sense. Something this administration is all about, right?

“[Del Grande] says this is not part of the Library’s core responsibilities, nor should it be.” Just how much of a backward philistine is the budget chief anyway? Introducing people who might not otherwise be exposed to a wider array of cultural institutions is not a library’s core responsibility? That’s exactly a library’s core responsibility. Saying it isn’t simply shows a monumental ignorance of the purpose of having a public library system in the first place. It helps enhance the public sphere by building a better informed, enlightened citizenry.

Instead of railing about phantom gravy and making grand pronouncements on topics you know little about, Sue-Ann Levy and Mike Del Grande should really do the city a favour and spend more time at their local libraries. We’d all benefit having more knowledgeable newspaper columnists and broad-minded budget chiefs.

davidly submitted by Cityslikr


Librarians Unite!

November 26, 2010

Shhhh!!

No talking and listen to what the folks at the Toronto Public Library Board are saying.

“The Toronto Public Library Board adopted a 2010 budget request this week that seeks a 3.3-per-cent or $5.51-million increase over last year…”

Clearly no one from the TPL has taken their nose out of their book and realized it’s November 2010 not 2003-2009. There’s a new sheriff in town, poindexters. Budgetary increases?! Are you kidding me?

Austerity’s the new black, people. 47% of Toronto voters have spoken, so there will be no compromising, no consensus building, no back talk. And absolutely no increases to budgets whatsoever. Unless it’s for the TPS, of course.

So go back to the drawing board and don’t return until you’re ready to talk cuts. To the budget, that is, not services. There can’t be any cuts to services because a guarantee was made. Just decreases to the budget. How?! I don’t know. We’re idea guys. You’re the ones with all the books and learning materials. You figure it out.

So while everyone else waits, slightly fearful, watching from the sidelines as the Ford storm front masses and creeps in ever closer from the horizon, the plucky folks at the TPL have stepped up and basically said, Oh yeah? Well, fuck you. The Globe’s Kelly Grant suggests that it isn’t an “aggressive” budget ask but I believe its symbolic statement is substantial.

With the public announcements of committee chairs made this week, it’s obvious that mayor-elect Ford isn’t prepared to make nice with anyone who doesn’t share his blinkered view on the role of government. His executive committee is stacked to the rafters with right wingers and as Grant wrote earlier this week in another piece the agenda for his first ‘working’ council meeting as mayor on December 16th will be packed with proposed tax cuts (let’s start calling them ‘government revenue cuts’) and cuts to councillors’ office budgets. A juicy shock and awe display of neo-conservative belief that’ll have the likes of the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy drooling in imbecilic delight.

Which is why watching the TPL getting out in front of it is so edifying. Simply because Rob Ford thinks he has a massive mandate or (weirdly, according to Grant) “moral authority” doesn’t mean those in opposition have to bow down meekly before it. The proposed TPL 3.3% budget increase appears to be quite modest, made up of only “inflation and contractual salary and benefit increases” with no new hiring or spending but no cuts in services either. That’s the key.

Rob Ford pledged – no, guaranteed – he’d tame the perceived out-of-control spending without cutting any services. The board of the Toronto Public Library has stepped forward and lobbed out the first pitch. We all should take careful note how the incoming administration swings away. It’ll be instructive and reveal the plans they have for running the city.

The stuff you can learn from your local public libraries, eh?

bookishly submitted by Cityslikr