Skip to main content

Author Margaret Atwood says Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother on city council are "swiftly approaching the 'let them eat cake stage' " in their bid to cut costs at city hall.

The world-renowned author has been keeping an eye on the budget-cutting debate now raging in Toronto, passing on to her Twitter followers a link to a petition against the possible closing of library branches – part of a sweeping set of options presented by consultants on the hunt for savings.

As part of that review of core services, the mayor last week said he wants taxpayers to tell him what services to cut and what to spare, offering every citizen five minutes to speak at a special meeting of his executive that will begin this Thursday and is shaping up to be a multi-day marathon.

In an e-mail exchange with The Globe and Mail Monday, Ms. Atwood said she is out of town and will not be taking the mayor up on his invitation. The debate needs to focus on the future of the city, rather than her comments on Twitter, she said.

Ms. Atwood's mention of an online petition to save Toronto libraries generated so much interest that it crashed the host website temporarily last week. By Monday afternoon, the petition at had collected close to 23,000 signatures.

Ms. Atwood also has taken issue with comments by the mayor's brother, Doug Ford, councillor for Ward 2 Etobicoke North, that there are more library branches than Tim Hortons outlets in his ward, a fact subsequently shown not to be the case. Over the weekend, Ms. Atwood suggested on Twitter that she might visit a book club that supported public libraries and floated the idea of Tim Hortons getting behind the movement to save branches.

Referring to the mayor and his brother – who is widely known for speaking for the mayor – she wrote to The Globe and Mail: "The Twin Fordmayor doesn't care what I think. T(he)y care(s) what the voters think. If the voters want libraries and nursing homes and daycare centres closed, they will be closed.

"If people want to keep libraries open, they will fight for that."

She went on to say, "This isn't about me. This is about what sort of city the people of Toronto want to live in."

In a later e-mail, she added: "The Fordmayor(s) are swiftly approaching the 'let them eat cake stage.' They don't seem to know what things cost. Especially what they cost for people on limited incomes."

While Ms. Atwood won't be at city hall later this week, many others will be. By Monday afternoon, more than 130 speakers were on the list to address the executive committee, chaired by the mayor and filled with his loyalists on council.

The Thursday meeting will consider the portion of the KPMG report that looks at money-saving measures at the city's agencies, boards and commissions, which includes the Toronto Public Library, the TTC and Police Services, among others.

Maureen O'Reilly, president of the Library Workers Union, which started the online petition, said she plans to speak and expects other library supporters will, as well.

Councillor Shelley Carroll, a former budget chief, said many small groups benefit from city funding under the Community Partnership and Investment Program, which also will be considered at the committee meeting. "People hear the word 'grant' and they think it is bad," she said, not realizing that their seniors' group or lawn bowling or rowing club may be getting money from the city.

She and other councillors have been working since last week, she said, to get the word out to groups that could be affected by the elimination of these programs. Earlier this month, the mayor made a point of voting against all community-development grants programs, and was in one case the only dissenting vote.

According to city procedure, the members of the executive committee can sit for as long as they choose on Thursday, and can pick another day to resume the meeting. If the meeting continues on Friday it must end by 7:30 because of the Jewish Sabbath.

Last week, the parks and environment committee listened to members of the public for 12 hours, sitting past 11 p.m.

The mayor's office would not say what plans are in the works for the meeting schedule.



Writer's tweets move fans to spread news about petition against cuts and privatization

Canadian author and avid tweeter Margaret Atwood made waves online this weekend when she urged her Twitter followers (as of Monday afternoon, 226,680) to protect Toronto's Public Library system from municipal budget cuts by signing a petition. The library union site hosting the petition crashed Friday night as a result, but by Monday it had gathered almost 23,000 signatures. Here are some samples of her tweets and some responses:

Thanks to all who signed #TO #librairies #cdnpoli @torontolibrary to stop closure & etc.: seems you crashed the site! MargaretAtwood July 22, 2011 at 10:46

Reply retweet – Here is direct link to the @torontolibrary petition to stop closure & privatization. Thanks to all, pass it around.. MargaretAtwood July 22, 2011 at 10:56

Reply retweet – Twin Fordmayor seems to think those who eat Timbits (like me) don't read, can't count, & are stupid eh? @torontolibrary MargaretAtwood July 22, 2011 at 15:06

Reply retweet – Twin Fordmayors thinks libraries + nursing homes are a waste. Out of touch? MargaretAtwood July 24, 2011 at 20:32

Reply retweet – Tims+library club? 1)pick book & read 2 )meet at Tims 3)enter club in draw 4) winners get visit by writer &/or Timbit @torontolibrary Eh? MargaretAtwood July 22, 2011 at 21:22

Reply retweet – @MargaretAtwood Would be awesome if someone could get Timmy's behind a Save Libraries campaign. Johannabee July 22, 2011 at 21:52

Reply retweet – T-pals, you sure made waves! @torontolibrary All Toronto library users & those who do research there like me :) say THNKS MargaretAtwood July 22, 2011 at 14:50

Reply retweet – Book loving #1book140 Torontonians & Ontarians help fight library closure. Online petition @MargaretAtwood CharltteWolters July 25, 2011 at 9:19

Reply retweet – Thanks for all Tweets in support of libraries-too many to RT! Very heartening. To read all, go to @MargaretAtwood and scroll down... MargaretAtwood July 25, 2011 at 16:14

Compiled by Shannon Busta