By Josh Matlow
City Hall Diary
The Toronto Star
The prospect of cuts to virtually every city service mobilized hundreds of concerned Toronto residents last week to make deputations to eight council committees considering the mayor’s core service review.
I sit on the community development and recreation committee. And over the course of 12 hours, my colleagues and I heard from more than 60 people, including union leaders, academics, activists and average residents, who decided to spend an entire day at city hall to share their opinions and stories.
Many years before being elected to council, I addressed a city committee on the importance of Toronto playing an active role in protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine.
I remember spending several days preparing my speech. And when I walked into the city hall committee room, I was admittedly intimidated by the prospect of trying to convince councillors of the merits of my argument.
While most of the councillors listened attentively, one left the room just as I was starting to speak. I took this personally at the time. But now that I’m on the other side of the table, I’ve come to recognize the challenge of sitting in one place for 12 hours when hungry or in need of a bathroom break. Every councillor needs to step out of a meeting once in a while when a resident in their ward requires their immediate attention.
But there are some deputations that are so persuasive or passionate they capture everyone in the room.
For example, an expectant dad in his mid-30s held back tears as he shared his personal experience about applying to be on a daycare waiting list and then finding out he was number 20,096 in line.
Worried about how he and his wife would earn a living while taking care of their child, he asked that his city protect the few childcare spaces still available.
And although each deputation is restricted to five minutes, some councillors extend residents’ speaking time by asking them leading or rhetorical questions that follow a common theme — “here’s what I think, now tell me why you agree that I’m correct.”
As the meeting continued into the evening, it became clear to me that it’s vital to understand how residents would be affected if a service were cut before determining whether it’s necessary. And although there are some services that Toronto is legislatively mandated to provide, and some are selective, to most residents the term “core service” is entirely subjective.
Once the committees hear from residents and make their recommendations on what cuts council should explore, there’ll also be a review of how to run the city more efficiently, along with a user fee study.
I have a theory that the proposed cuts were deliberately announced first to shock residents into accepting that the city must be run differently than it has before.
I agree that the city must be run better.
But rather than scaring Torontonians into submission, if council actively listens to residents who understand city services in ways most politicians — and certainly high-paid consultants — could not, we’ll most likely find the answers we’re looking for.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.