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Toronto City Hall. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto City Hall. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Municipal services

Audit calls for cuts to old-age homes, child care Add to ...

The Pandora's Box of Toronto labour relations creaked open another fraction on Wednesday, unleashing prophesies of lockouts, more privatization, departmental mergers and a looming winter of union discontent.

The catalyst was the third and latest release of a KPMG city service audit slated to be released in eight parts. Focusing on the Community Development and Recreation Committee, consultants proposed a series of penny-pinching options that would have far-reaching effects on the two main unions overseeing city workers: privatizing day-cares, liquidating old-age homes, dropping 2,000 day-care spaces and merging fire services with EMS.

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That last proposal pushed Mark Ferguson, head of CUPE Local 416, to the conclusion that the city will lock out his union come January.

"I do expect that with this administration a lock-out will take place," he said.

Following two days of dispute over the city's new buy-out plan available to 17,000 employees and politicians musing openly about mass lay-offs at City Hall, Mr. Ferguson's comments set the stage for mass labour unrest over the next six months.

The city's contract with CUPE Local 416 and Local 79 will expire on Dec. 31. Mr. Ferguson said he expects negotiations to start Oct. 1.

The mayor's office said it has no intention of locking out employees. "It's certainly news to us," said Adrienne Batra, the mayor's press secretary.

Ann Dembinski, president of Local 79, the largest union at City Hall with up to 18,000 members, also weighed into the unraveling labour situation.

While she said the city has given her no indication that workers will be locked out, Ms. Dembinski excoriated the core service review suggestions of privatizing daycares and old-age homes, moves that would endanger thousands of municipal jobs.

"What they're proposing is dangerous and silly," she said. "There are already 19,000 people on the waiting list for City of Toronto child-care spaces. This is wrong. The mayor should never entertain anything such as this."

Committee Chair Giorgio Mammoliti, the sole Ford ally on the committee, said all KPMG proposals are on the table, except those that would lay off emergency workers or reduce daycare spaces in the city.

For the most part, Mr. Mammoliti used the report to attack the province, who he says has shirked its duty to fund city child-care for years. He said that the city may have to start charging Queen's Park a management fee for running daycares or hand the entire responsibility over to the province.

"The part of this that is contentious is: Should it be the city that runs those daycare spaces?" said Mr. Mammoliti, who launched a mayoral task force to look at new funding options for child-care on Tuesday.

Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky rejected Mr. Mammoliti's characterization, saying that provincial support for Toronto child care has grown from $174.5-million in 2003 to $262-million in 2011, creating 8,500 new spaces.

She also said that the city can't simply divest itself of daycare centres. "Municipalities have a legislative responsibility to deliver child care to their residents and for anyone to suggest otherwise is misleading and irresponsible," she said. "We understand that in a growing city like Toronto, there is growing need for child-care spaces."

Significant barriers would also prevent the city from selling all its long-term care homes to corporations, but the audit suggests such a sale could be completed within three years.

"We're in the same position with long-term facilities as we are with daycare: we don't have to be in that business," said Mr. Mammoliti. "There are some reputable companies out there that might want to look at buying up our long-term care facilities."

As with previous phases of the core services review, KPMG consultants seem to have had difficulty finding extraneous "gravy" within the committee. They found that 87 per cent of $2.3-billion worth of services delivered through the Community Development committee are either provincially legislated or central to the city's mandate.

"All these options are unpalatable and it certainly shows there is no gravy in these divisions," said committee-member Coun. Janet Davis. "These are not efficiencies, these are major cuts to services that would have huge impact to thousands of families in this city. I don't believe that the people of Toronto want to see this kind of decimation of very important services that support families."



With files from Elizabeth Church and Josh O'Kane

Follow on Twitter: @Nut_Graf

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