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Six-alarm fire at 333 Yonge Street, Jan. 3 2010. (John Hanley)
Six-alarm fire at 333 Yonge Street, Jan. 3 2010. (John Hanley)

Ford ally bucks belt-tightening trend at City Hall Add to ...

As City Hall enters a period expected to produce widespread job cuts and spark mass labour action, two union factions have just gained an unlikely and powerful new ally.

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a staunch backer of Mayor Rob Ford and the chair of the committee overseeing fire and EMS services in the city, is vowing to prevent front-line layoffs at any cost.

“[I]will not be recommending any grassroots layoffs, you can count on that,” Mr. Mammoliti, chair of the Community Development and Recreation Committee and a member in good standing of Mr. Ford’s executive inner circle, told The Globe and Mail. “If there are any cuts, they will not result in job losses for grassroots firefighters or paramedics. I will not let that happen.”

What’s more, the long-time York West councillor and former mayoral candidate vowed to counter the prevailing belt-tightening mentality at City Hall and push for a mass hiring of paramedics.

“We are short of paramedics and as a result they are burning themselves out,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t have enough vehicles to respond to all the calls. We need to hire more.”

The news of Mr. Mammoliti’s hard-line opposition to front-line layoffs came as a pleasant surprise to Damien Walsh, vice-president of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, as he marched in the Labour Day parade on Monday. “We’re certainly glad to hear that,” he said. “We’ve been stating all along any cuts to the fire service are going to have huge impacts on service to the city.”

Mr. Mammoliti’s comments mark an apparent departure from the talking points of other Ford allies and come as both fire and EMS departments are preparing for the worst as Mr. Ford’s budget axe falls in the coming weeks and months.

The mayor’s office has already asked Toronto Fire and other city departments to prepare plans for 10-per-cent budget cuts. Toronto Fire brass argue that such a reduction would eliminate more than 300 firefighters, dozens of trucks and gravely imperil the department’s ability to respond to emergencies.

Paramedics haven’t avoided fiscal scrutiny, either. A recent KPMG review of city services proposed that Toronto could save considerable cash by folding its EMS services into Toronto Fire. Currently, the two departments operate independently, with distinct unions, city managers, dispatch systems, back-office units and, in most cases, real estate.

Mr. Mammoliti said the merger idea remains on the table, a statement more in step with the mayor and his supporters on council, who have been hesitant to shoot down any of the ideas emanating from the KPMG review.

“It’s another example of the mayor losing control of his executive,” said Councillor Janet Davis, referring to Mr. Mammoliti’s vow. “Rob Ford ran on a platform of no cuts to services. He’s now doing exactly that and there are many councillors, including his own team, who are not going along with it.”

Mr. Mammoliti’s comments were not entirely good news for the union overseeing paramedics, Local 416, with whom the councillor has frequently sparred at committee meetings. He also said that he will lobby to have Toronto EMS designated an essential service.

During the 2009 strike, Toronto EMS endured heavy criticism for reducing its service, resulting in a significant increase in response times that allegedly endangered lives on several occasions.

“Paramedics believe they are an essential service, they want this,” said Mr. Mammoliti, who recently tagged along for a shift with a Toronto EMS crew. “The only thing holding them back is their union.”

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