Budget vote splits local councillors

John Parker said he had reason to both smile and shake his head on Budget Day.

While the Don Valley West councillor rejoiced at the approval of the funding for new ice rink in his ward in the capital budget by his council colleagues, he chided some of them for not taking what he called fiscally prudent steps with the operating budget.

A right-leaning ally of Mayor Rob Ford, Parker was displeased with the approval of a $15 million omnibus motion that reversed a variety of cuts by dipping into a $154 million surplus left from 2011. Like the mayor and finance staff, Parker said the non-recurring revenue should go into savings.

“It means we haven’t turned the corner and we haven’t learned our lesson as a council,” said Parker, a member of the budget committee. “We had our opportunity to put the city on a stable footing, and to have a budget that was sustainable on into the future, but council has chosen to stay with the practice of previous years and to finance operating expenses out of savings.”

The collective work of several centrist councillors in the days leading up to the budget vote, the motion squeaked by with a vote of 23–21 and reversed cuts to school-based childcare rent subsidy, Community Partnership and Investment Program grants, priority centre youth programs, ice rinks and pools, mechanical leaf collection and three city shelters. An additional $5 million in cuts were also prevented in subsequent motions from other councillors.

In Toronto Centre, councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said she was urged to prevent service cuts by a diverse range of constituents, including local action organizations and captains of industry living in the ward.

“It almost didn’t matter if they were north or south of the ward because everyone was looking to achieve some sort of fiscal responsibility,” Wong-Tam said.

The Ward 27 rep said affluent residents who may not have been directly affected by cuts made it clear to her they were not in support of the operating budget presented to council.

“They were able to make the connections that a reduction of service would have hurt the most vulnerable communities, and they’re smart enough to know that by putting people onto the streets, by closing the shelters, you would have found those same persons then in the emergency room and then in our hospital beds,” she said. “Either way, there would be long-term costs that we would still have to bear.”

Wong-Tam said she was particularly relieved to see funding preserved for the Toronto Public Library, the Community Partnership and Investment Program grants, and she’s pleased $5 million will stave off further TTC service reduction.

She said neighbourhoods like Rosedale and Moore Park already don’t receive a lot of direct bus service, so any type of service reduction would have been felt quite hard, she said.

Though defeated on several key items, Mayor Ford also hailed “the reasonable and responsible budget” as a victory, one that brought expenses more in line with city revenue by reducing the reliance on one-time revenues from $346 million to $102 million.

“Council’s approval of the budget reflects what we were elected to do: fix the state of city finances and hold the line on property taxes, hold the line on the debt and ensure that we make every tax dollar count by providing the best services we can,” he said in a written statement.