Riverdale Farm Reprieve
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Riverdale Farm Reprieve

Executive Committee decision to continue funding Riverdale Farm reveals a growing ideological divide among its members.

Riverdale Farm has been saved—or is much closer to that, at least.

This morning at City Hall, the Executive Committee voted to accept a staff recommendation to implement the Riverdale Farm Coalition’s business plan to keep the Cabbagetown farm up and running [PDF]. That plan includes a fundraising strategy that Farm supporters think will raise $345,000 a year once they have ramped up; they anticipate raising $100,000 this year. It also calls for the City of Toronto to maintain its current funding to the farm; that funding is to be offset with the money the Farm fundraises as those revenues become available.

The item runs contrary to Mayor Ford’s push to get the City out of all “non-core” businesses. If it isn’t about keeping the streets clean, safe, and car friendly, the mayor doesn’t think the municipal government should be involved. Given that the committee that made this decision is populated with his staunchest allies, their rejection of that approach today is certainly worth noting.

Budget chief Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) sits on Executive, and is very much with the mayor on this issue. Arguing that the Farm’s proposal failed because it didn’t meet the desired goal of not costing the City a penny, he launched in to what has become his standard speech on this. (“Nice to haves” featured prominently.) The City was facing a preliminary shortfall of $200 million for 2013, he warned. (Note: if true, that’s actually a much smaller number than in previous years.) Discipline, he demanded. Learning to say no. Don’t go getting all wobbly on me in the face of some windy pushback from engaged citizens. Grow a spine, he urged his colleagues.

When councillor Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) began speaking about the merits of keeping Riverdale Farm alive at what seemed to him a reasonable cost, the budget chief left the room in protest, not to return until after the vote. Kelly’s speech began what turned out to be a tide in favour of the staff report and business plan; when it came time to decide, members of the Executive Committee decided by a vote of 5–4 that the gem that is Riverdale Farm, as councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) referred to it, was in fact a core item, a vital part of the city. A nice to have became a need to have.

Ultimately, why wouldn’t they think so?

The business plan presented by the Farm represented what seems to be a template for the much vaunted public-private partnerships right wing councillors always champion. For a little outlay of cash—and yes, the $493,900 the City will spend in 2012 is a little outlay in the scheme of things—City Hall would help foster increased private engagement with Riverdale Farm. That’s how these things are supposed to work, aren’t they?

More importantly, the vote revealed a growing split at Executive Committee between the hardcore adherents of Ford’s political stance that the best government is the smallest government possible, and those with less libertarian leanings. Yes, there is a role for government to play in the life of the city that goes beyond simply plowing our roads and taking our garbage. There’s always been that divide on city council. But to have it bubbling up at Executive Committee has profound implications for the mayor’s ability to push forward with any sort of agenda of his own.

Photos by Giordano Ciampini.