It all comes down to this.
The spat with Margaret Atwood, the 24-hour public meeting, the protests over cuts to pools, transit and arts grants – it all culminates this week in a three-day city council meeting devoted entirely to the 2012 budget.
But after six months of lead-up and consensus-building for the mayor’s cost-cutting initiatives, the outcome has never been so uncertain.
“When you have 44 people in a room, each wanting to save their own pet project, you won’t always get a consensus,” said Councillor Doug Ford.
Publicly, nonchalant, in private Councillor Ford and the rest of Mayor Rob Ford’s team have been scrambling to enlist support from council’s influential middle faction.
Mainly, the mayor wants to avoid the events of the past two months. As the budget lurched through Ford-friendly budget and executive committees, political allies whittled away a number of proposed trims – blunting cuts to libraries by $3-million, agreeing to keep student nutrition programs alive, staving off $1.9-million in cuts to arts grants, reinstating $1-million for sidewalk snow-clearing and saving some community centres and pools from being closed.
While the core of the Ford budget remains intact – $350-million in cuts and efficiencies, a 2.5-per-cent tax, increase, nearly 1,200 layoffs – members of City Hall’s centre and left factions have been plotting for weeks about whether they’ll support the budget and, if not, how they’ll unravel it.
Many have been using Google Docs online to analyze and share strategies for portions of Mr. Ford’s budget that remain in play: TTC route cuts, reductions to community grants, terminated swimming-pool funding, three homeless shelter closings, a trim to priority centres and a cancelled leaf-collection program in Etobicoke.
One plan from middle councillors would stave off most of those cuts $20-million cost. Left-leaning councillors want to go even further with a plan to undo about $40-million worth of the mayor’s budget, according to several councillors speaking on background.
What’s clear is that council will not simply rubber-stamp the mayor’s fiscal blueprint. “My inclination is to support motions that reverse some of the cuts,” said Councillor James Pasternak, usually a reliable Ford vote.
Councillors in favour of saving some programs have at least three options for coming up with the cash. They can boost the 2.5-per-cent tax hike (another 1 per cent would yield about $23-million), increase future revenue predictions or simply dip into the surplus over Mr. Ford’s objections. “If you get a bonus at Christmastime, you don’t go spend it on toys like drunken sailors, you use it to pay down your debt,” argued Councillor Ford.
The council debate is scheduled to last from Tuesday through Thursday. While Councillor Ford is already predicting a “huge victory” for the Ford agenda, Councillor Gord Perks is more sly. “I don’t like to predict the future,” he said. “I will say there are more than 30 members of Toronto city council who have grave doubts about some aspects of Mayor Ford’s agenda. The question is can we find common ground to express Torontonians’ desire for a livable and great city.”