Call it the Atwood effect. At least half-a-dozen more city councillors – including several members of mayor Rob Ford’s inner circle – have added their names to the growing list of prominent Torontonians speaking out against potential library closings.
Those sentiments clash with a recent KPMG review of city services that suggests shuttering libraries as a cost-saving measure, a proposal to which the mayor’s brother, Etobicoke Councillor Doug Ford, lent his hearty support.
The Globe and Mail took a straw poll of councillors whose wards contain the city’s 30 lowest-circulation libraries and found that Mr. Ford would find little agreement on council, even among political allies. Here is a sampling of those views.
Giorgio Mammoliti, Ward 7 (York West)
The mayor’s high-profile “quarterback” has three libraries in his ward, two of which appear on the list of 30 lowest-circulation libraries in the city. He says he would fight to keep them open, arguing any closings should be focused downtown, where libraries lie thicker on the ground.
“I don’t know the logic of why you need three libraries within 10 minutes walking distance, that to me doesn’t make any sense at all and we need to take a look at the logic of that,” Mr. Mammoliti said, noting he favours trimming facilities rather than closing them altogether. “There’s no need to close down any libraries to find efficiencies unless that library is not being used at all. And I don’t think there’s one library in the city that’s not being used at all.”
Cesar Palacio, Ward 17 (Davenport)
Mr. Palacio is a member of the mayor’s executive committee and the library board, and describes the recently renovated Dufferin St. Clair branch as “the jewel in the crown” of his ward, despite its relatively low circulation. “My heart is very close to it.”
“Until we exhaust every venue to find efficiencies, it would be premature to even think of closing down libraries,” he said. “We have to take a solemn look at what is on the table. I don’t think there will be much appetite until all the other efficiencies are looked at.”
Jaye Robinson, Ward 25 (Don Valley West)
Another member of the mayor’s executive committee, Ms. Robinson represents the ward with the lowest-circulation library in the city, situated inside Sunnybrook Hospital. “And I would fight tooth and nail to protect that library,” she said. “I’m not a fan of closing libraries in general, but this one plays a vital role. It mainly services war veterans. Some of them spend their final days there ... Toronto is not flush with [libraries] We have to be in dire financial straits to close libraries. There are other approaches we can take.”
Paul Ainslie, Ward 43 (Scarborough East)
An executive committee and library board member, the councillor says he would support closings in the right circumstances, but argues the libraries in his ward are far apart and need to be preserved. He singles out old downtown branches that require large capital investments as candidates for shutting down. “I’m open to closing branches if it means merging some together or putting one in a community hub. It has to make financial sense for me. I just don’t want to close a branch for the sake of closing a branch.”
Ana Bailao, Ward 18 (Davenport)
A rookie councillor occupying the influential middle ground at city hall, Ms. Bailao has been working to expand the Perth Dupont library, which has the fifth-lowest circulation in the city. That figure is deceptive, she says, because the library is small. “You go there on a Saturday morning and it’s packed, completely packed,” she said. “If we want to attract the best and brightest from around the world and educate the best and brightest, talking of closing down libraries is not the way to go. There isn’t much appetite for it on council. This is not gravy; this is our future.”
Doug Holyday, Ward 3 (Etobicoke Centre)
The deputy mayor is taking a wait-and-see approach. If he reads a staff report that makes a good financial argument for closing libraries, including the underused Elmbrook branch in his ward, “then that is something we need to take seriously,” he said. “We can’t afford bus routes where nobody rides the bus and we can’t run libraries that very few people use – no matter whose ward it’s in.”
Josh Matlow, Ward 22 (St. Paul’s)
Library closings “are off the table for me,” says the rookie councillor, who has an almost evangelical devotion to non-partisanship at City Hall . “And they were never on the table.” His Mt. Pleasant branch places 29th on the list of least-used city libraries.
Gary Crawford, Ward 36 (Scarborough Southwest)
The rookie conservative councillor has sided with Mayor Ford’s agenda on most major votes, but would draw the line at axing library branches. “As a former school board trustee, I am not in favour of closing down any libraries in the city,” he said.
Frances Nunziata, Ward 11 (York South-Weston)
The council speaker won’t back closings, and figures her fellow councillors won’t either.
“I think there are opportunities to find efficiencies in the libraries, rather than close the branches.”
Karen Stintz, Ward 16 (Eglinton-Lawrence)
The TTC chair broke ranks with the mayor’s office last week, announcing branch closings are one cost-cutting measure she would not support. “It is not a place I would start and I don’t want to go there. I would send a strong message to the library board that we are all under pressure to find that 10 per cent cut and I believe we can find it without cutting branches.”