Public must have its say

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Tue Jul 19 2011.

As fresh consultants’ reports are rolled out detailing potential new cuts to Toronto’s services, it’s a good time for residents who want to save municipal programs to mobilize and speak out.

City hall shouldn’t just hear from Mayor Rob Ford’s high-priced consultants, hired to compile a handy list of programs to slash and burn as the city tries to balance its books. Councillors also need to hear from those who want to preserve what makes our city great.

While it’s true that Ford and his budget-slashing backers on council are unlikely to be swayed, they need not necessarily carry the day. Public pressure can persuade council to protect threatened services.

And indeed, a resistance movement of sorts is beginning to muster. A coalition of community groups plans to protest Thursday outside the Bay St. offices of city hall consultant KPMG. But taking to the streets isn’t the only way to proceed. The municipality’s website provides email addresses and telephone numbers for all 44 city councillors. Concerned residents should use those channels, and speak to friends, neighbours and others about saving services.

Opponents of the Ford agenda on council are far from alone, at least according to a special online “e-consultation” done this spring as part of the mayor’s service review. Almost 13,000 people took part and the prevailing first choice was to pay more property tax to maintain service levels.

Many comments were telling. “Please stop demonizing taxes,” wrote one participant. “I love Toronto because it’s an amazing city, in large part due to how public funds have been spent.”

Another concluded: “Let’s not abandon the things that help make this city great to save a very few bucks.”

There’s a legitimate debate to be had over delivering services more effectively, lobbying Queen’s Park for more support, trimming what waste the consultants may identify and raising taxes to make up any shortfall. But no city achieves greatness by blindly pinching programs and slashing services. What Toronto needs is a vision that soars, not one that shrinks from challenges.

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