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Ford's committee criticized for vote to cancel citizen panels

The bike lane on Jarvis Street in Toronto photographed on Oct 6, 2010.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee has voted to dismantle 21 citizen groups that advise city hall on everything from crosswalks to powwows.

Opponents portray the move as an attempt to blockade one of the few avenues unelected Torontonians have to influence municipal policy while the mayor's allies see it as making good on election promises to streamline government.

"It's a simple way of reducing bureaucracy," said deputy mayor Doug Holyday. "There are many, many other ways for people to be heard at city hall without these committees."

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Executive members based their decision on a city staff report that suggested 11 of the advisory panels - including the Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee, Task Force to Bring Back the Don and Aboriginal Affairs Committee - are superfluous, easily replaced with town halls, social-media strategies and other civic-engagement programs.

The report was lean on details of how much money the city would save. Committee members receive no money, but paid city staff do provide support services to the citizen panels.

Ten other committees were deemed redundant or dormant in the report, though many who spoke before the vote disputed that. More than 40 people signed up to oppose the motion, including several members of committees facing the chopping block.

"There is a genuine sadness and disappointment that perhaps we have to once again fight to be heard, to have the right to sit at the table, to be treated as an equal," said Frances Sanderson, a member of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, who, like most speakers, waited all morning and afternoon before the public was invited to speak at 5 p.m. The executive committee finally voted on the matter at 9:20 p.m.

City manager Joe Pennachetti said some of the statements persuaded him to revisit some of the recommendations in the report, which will now go before council next month.

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