Budget Showdown at City Hall
On January 17th, concerned citizens of Toronto and the GTA congregated at City Hall in response to the proposed budget cuts of Rob Ford and the City Council. Essential citizen services such as daycare, shelters and transitional housing, the mobile health care unit for immigrant women, community pools, and education were slated for significant cuts that would affect those who are most vulnerable in our communities; visible minorities, immigrants and the impoverished. Libraries, the Hardship Fund and TTC were also slated for cuts and the High Park Zoo which was established in 1918 for the free enjoyment of the public was facing closure.
The Council Chambers were filled with citizens taking active participation in the political process, but not everyone was allowed in. When Speaker Coun acknowledged the presence of Fieldstone Day School who were there “to learn more about their local government”, it became known to those present that the students had been denied entrance into the Chambers. The issue was eventually resolved and the students were allowed to enter the meeting. This would not be the last denial of the citizen’s right to be present for an open Council Chamber meeting that day.
Councillor Michelle Berardinetti proposed to increase funding to the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre which is a service that delivers clinical sexual health services to immigrant women who are a targeted priority population. She argued that her proposal would put gender equality and women’s health at the fore-front of the budget.
Councillor Gary Crawford (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest) fought to protect transitional housing. With three shelters slated for closure, Bellwoods House, Birchmount Residence and Downsview Dells; Crawford was concerned about where those who needed this essential service would go as the in-take demand would not diminish. He agreed that an alternative model would be more effective and needs to be found. However, transitional housing needs to stay in place until this is accomplished.
Councillor Gloria Lindsay (Ward 4 Etobicoke Center) Luby was applauded by citizens present when she voiced her concerns regarding the library cuts, stating: “It’s 1984 all over again.”
Councillor John Parker (Ward 26 Don Valley West) brought up the point that when he had previously asked questions regarding the particulars of the motion on capital spending and operating costs, “the answer [he] received was that ‘We have question period, but we don’t have answer period’.” An interesting answer to be sure. “I do wonder how we live with ourselves as we are going to provide subsidized daycare facilities to some families and not to others,” he stated. “That was a discussion that didn’t seem to be welcome this morning although I tried to introduce the subject for discussion and debate.”
While councillors in overwhelming numbers had fought to voice the concerns that their constituents had brought forward to them, not all were supportive. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7 York West) had several outbursts of frustration with those counsellors who had a proposal that he did not side with, or those who were simply seeking clarification and understanding of a proposal. An example of said outbursts would be his behavior towards Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby which was reprimanded by The Speaker who defended that Councillor Luby had “the right to ask the question.”
With such ‘hot topics’ on the floor in Chambers, citizens were clambering to be present to hear the proceedings, but many were denied their right of entrance into the meeting despite many seats being open for spectators. The Council Chamber is on floor 3C and only accessible by elevator. As many citizens quickly learned, when it has been decided that noone was further permitted entrance, noone else is getting in. Those who took the elevators discovered that they were being taken to Floor 4 where the elevator would remain until the ground floor was selected. The doors would not open and floor 3C would be skipped. Citizens crowded the main area on the ground floor where they could view the meeting on large screens, their only option to participate in their local political process.
We asked security why there had been no process set in place for accommodating all interested citizens and why the Chambers were locked when there were still seats empty, but they did not have any interest in answering our questions.
Reported by Anna
*All quotations and information were taken from live film footage by the MediaWrench team.