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All Aboard the Gravy Train: Nature, Parks, and the Toronto Environment Office


Due to budgetary pressures, the City commissioned KPMG to evaluate municipal programs and services and compile a list of which could be cut, or cut back. The results of those findings are being released in a series of reports this month. Each day a report is released, All Aboard the Gravy Train will look at what, in our current administration, is considered expendable.

Report for: Parks and Environment [PDF]
Not Gravy: 85 per cent of services in this area described as “essential” or “mandatory.”
“Gravy”:

  • The whole notion of parks and environment. From the report’s introduction: “While some services within the two programs are being delivered at levels somewhat below standard, the majority fall into the Standard+ category. Furthermore, the vast majority of standards have been set by Council or management. As a result, the Committee may consider reducing levels of service and reviewing set standards in order to realize cost savings.” The report later notes that “Toronto has less parkland per capita than other Ontario cities, and spends more per hectare of parkland to maintain it, both of which are consistent with the much higher population density,” and that 59 per cent of us visit a park at least once a week.
  • Parks and facilities maintenance. These could be contracted out—to the private sector or to groups which use the parks (e.g. have sports associations bear responsibility for maintaining the fields on which they play)—and service standards (for instance, when snow is cleared or grass is cut) could be reduced.
  • Zoo and farm attractions. These programs, such as Riverdale Farm, could be eliminated. “These are ‘above-standard’ services,” the report finds, “but enjoyed by many residents.”
  • Urban agriculture and horticultural programs. These could be eliminated. For instance, the report states that horticultural activities “are not related to maintaining the safety of Toronto parks” and therefore are expendable. Similarly, urban agriculture programs are not strictly necessary.
  • Trees. We could have fewer of them, reducing the “target canopy cover…allowing a lower rate of new tree planting and maintenance of existing trees.” The report notes that the City is not currently meeting its own service levels—which could either mean we should put more money into this to meet the standards we’ve already set, or lower the standards to meet what we’re doing, depending on your point of view. As the report states, “Trees add to the quality of the urban environment.”
  • Toronto Environment Office. The TEO “addresses the environmental priorities of the community and the [City] by: supporting the growth of Toronto’s green economy; providing research and policy expertise; establishing and leveraging policy and program partnerships…and delivering tools and resources to engage Toronto residents and businesses in adopting sustainable lifestyles and business practices.” This could be cut entirely; the report finds that “activities of the Toronto Environmental Office are largely non-core and could be eliminated, albeit with some damage to Toronto’s record and reputation in the environmental field.”

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