I have already made two submissions this week – one to the Community Development and Recreation Committee and the second to the Library Board. In both submissions I opposed the cuts to programs and services and the proposed privatizations for a number of reasons some of which I will repeat here. I also learned a lot from hearing other citizens’ submissions as well as Councillor comments and motions.
What I have learned is that if the Executive Committee passes all of the recommendations coming from KPMG and the City Manager, the committee will be making a huge mistake for the people of Toronto. I want the Executive Committee to focus on the kind of Toronto we all want to live before making cuts that may damage Toronto forever.
It is now very apparent, both from the Core Service Reviews Public Consultations which I participated in and from more recent media stories of polling of Toronto citizens, that the majority of Toronto’s citizens do not want you to proceed with these cuts before we actually know what may come from the budget deliberations in terms of available revenues. Most people who attended the Public Consultations that were paid for by our taxes, suggested a moderate increase in property taxes of from five to ten percent rather than have services cut. They also preferred City run services rather than contracting out so as not to lose accountability. If you pass these cuts now you are getting the cart before the horse. It is looking more like these proposed cuts are a mindless ideological exercise of reducing the size of government by cuts and privatization without considering the consequences to the citizens of Toronto, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, like children and the elderly whose services are also on the chopping block. Also some trained city workers who receive a living wage and some benefits now will be laid off under the 10% reduction of departments scheme to be replaced by untrained minimum wage hires. No-one can support a family on minimum wage. The present City administration ran on a platform of ‘respect for the taxpayer’. We are all taxpayers and these proposed cuts are disrespectful to Toronto’s citizens. If you wait until you see what revenues there may be in the upcoming budget you may find revenue from assessment increases, savings from last year, even a moderate property tax increase that most people at the Core Service Review meetings in the spring were ok with. In fact a recent media report suggested that revenue can be available from a reintroduced vehicle registration tax (which should not have been cancelled in the first place given that it is permissible under the Toronto City Act and is a progressive tax), a small TTC fare increase, a small increase in the land transfer tax; efficiencies that can be found; limiting the police budget, one time revenues and assessment growth. Some of these sources may eliminate the need for these draconian cuts. I am all for fiscal responsibility, appealing to the upper levels of government to contribute their fair share and even to have as small a government as is possible, but not on the backs of the most vulnerable of our neighbours. Pragmatism is what is needed. Please look first at potential sources of revenue and of course, efficiencies that may be available, but not mindless, ideological cuts to the Toronto we love.
Some stories I heard at one of the City meetings I attended this week in Scarborough:
There was one woman from Scarborough speaking about how she appreciated the recreation centre that was built after amalgamation, that provided her with exercise and how this was a benefit of amalgamation for suburbs like Scarborough. She was fearful of losing her recreation centre and her ability to stay fit.
Another woman spoke of being fearful of losing her job as a cleaner at one of the city jails and spoke of her training and expertise and the special equipment required to keep new inmates, guards and police officers safe from HIV and other infections. She could not see how a person hired to replace her at minimum wage was going to be willing to perform the job she had to perform every day. There is just so much fear in the city about losing relatively good paying jobs with some benefits. A City Councillor used the word ‘grinding down’ – to the lowest wages possible – of the cleaners, the garbage collectors, lawn cutters, snow removal people etc. by this administration – without waiting to see what could be achieved at budget time.
A Fire Department representative said that a 10% cut to Fire Protection represents 476 jobs since 92% of their budget is wages. This would be an astounding loss to the safety of City residents.
A last theme I want to comment on is that of fairness. In The Spirit Level, Why more equal societies almost always do better Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket present United Nations data and data collected from most of the states of the U.S. to show that people from every class, in countries, states, and cities which are more equal economically, benefit from less stress, less crime, fewer people in prisons, lower teen pregnancies, lower obesity, better general health, longer life spans, lower birth mortality and many more. All of these benefits save tax dollars! Achieving greater equality will actually reduce city expenditures. An item in a Wednesday, September 14 newspaper reinforces that this is a problem in Canada and certainly in Toronto. It’s headline is ‘Canada’s income gap widening faster than peers’, and says that ‘according to the Conference Board, Canada is rapidly catching up to the United States as a country divided between haves and have-nots. The proposed cuts before you will impact the poor to the greatest extent, creating even greater inequality than we already have with more misery, costing all of us more in the long run. I realize that it seems to be a paradox but it is true – providing services to all is a cost saver.
Therefore, I encourage you to delay the implementation of these proposed cuts to services and layoffs of City employees until City Council has considered what revenue streams may lie in the budget. It is premature and too damaging to the people of Toronto to accept the City Manager’s Report as it is. People are already feeling frightened, not knowing if there will be daycare for their kids, elders and their families not knowing what standards their loved ones will live under, families not knowing if their library or recreation centre will still be there or will user fees be unaffordable.
The will of the people of Toronto is clear. They do not want these cuts and privatizations to the most vulnerable of our citizens and they are willing to pay for these vital services. Do not send this package of damaging cuts and layoffs to City Council. At least postpone it until budgetary information is more clear.