Members of the Executive Committee during the first meeting of this term of council. Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.
The good news emerging from yesterday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting was that there was no last minute, duplicitous motion put forward by any of the mayor’s men to derail or erase projects in other councillors’ wards. In May, Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale) nixed the Fort York bridge, pulling the rug from out under Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina). Last month, it was Councillor John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West) blindsided Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) with the news that plans were afoot to remove the Jarvis bike lanes.
The bad news, however, was three-fold.
First, the KPMG core services review report was revealed to be wholly unsatisfactory in addressing our alleged budget crisis. Under questioning from committee members, councillors Layton and Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), as well as visting (i.e. non-committee member) councillors like Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) and Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), the report and its corporate authors (along with City staff) went limp. It quickly became clear just how narrow the report actually is, offering only the broadest strokes of possible “savings opportunities” (a.k.a. cuts), with little to no examination of the impact or implications of taking such opportunities. (For instance, the health impacts—and subsequent economic burdens—of rolling back fluoridation in the water or scaling back environmental programs were not included in the report that recommended those cuts.) The validity of the report’s comparative analysis with other cities came under question too. Aside from size, why Melbourne, Australia? An entirely different beast, structurally and governmentally; where were the instructive comparisons? And why were no other municipalities in Ontario examined in the report? They suffer under the exact same provincial handcuffs as Toronto does. Wouldn’t that be more helpful?
Even worse was how the subject of waste diversion was handled. The report clearly ignored key relevant numbers—such as the amount of money the city receives from recycling, which brings down the actual cost to us of collection—in assessing the financial benefits of potential cuts. Additionally, KPMG’s suggestion that our target rates were too ambitious was questioned by a deputant who claimed, in fact, the city of Toronto lagged behind almost ever other municipality in the GTA and was still below a proposed provincial target of 60 per cent.
Such deficiencies just begin to scratch the surface of the problems with the KPMG report. After nearly eight hours of listening to presentations, deputations, questions, and answers, it was hard not to come to the conclusion that the report is little more than a big ol’ softball for the mayor to hammer for extra bases. Big, scary cuts will be dangled out at us with no intention of ever implementing them, so that other cuts will actually happen and we’ll all breathe a heavy sigh of relief, telling ourselves that, well, it could’ve been a whole lot worse.
Bringing us to problem number two. The right wing on the Public Works Committee doesn’t give a shit about any of that. To a man (and they were all men) they couldn’t have looked less interested in yesterday’s proceedings if they’d pulled out blankies and pillows and taken a nap right on their desks. At one point of time, three of them—councillors Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), Parker, and Shiner—left the room entirely, bringing things to a halt due to a lack of quorum. The questions they asked of staff, KPMG, and deputants were few and far between. Committee chair Denzil Minnan-Wong’s (Ward 34, Don Valley East) sole purpose, it seemed, was to run interference for staff and the KPMG representatives when the line of questioning from other councillors got a little too aggressive or demanding.
All of which leads to the third and most damning problem of the committee meeting. After all was said and done—reports given, deputations made, questions asked—the councillors on Public Works voted to punt the report to the stacked-with-mayoral-allies Executive Committee. Except for seeking further information on snow removal (a big item in places like Shiner’s North York ward), street cleaning, and water fluoridation, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee decided to make no decisions or even recommendations on the KPMG report, leaving it entirely in the hands of Mayor Ford and his executive. It is a move that will quite likely get repeated at every committee meeting over the course of the next 10 days or so. There will be much posturing and posing, ignoring of deputations, blowing smoke and spinning narrative, sound and fury signifying nothing, only to have each and every decision handed meekly over to the mayor to deal with as he sees fit. A complete and utter abrogation of responsibility by the majority members of the City’s standing committees.
Perhaps, that’s overly harsh. Maybe it’s a gambit on some councillors’ part to try and make the mayor show his hand, to be the first to go on record saying what he wants cut. Either way, it seems that the committees are telling us that tough decisions have to be made. Just not by them.