Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says everyone can come to city hall next week to tell him what they think about proposed spending cuts.
The invitation, made Friday on a lunch-hour television talk show, comes as the city is in the midst of a massive service review, a money-saving exercise designed to find the gravy Mr. Ford pledged he'd stop flowing during the election campaign. Estimates for next year's budget show the city short by about $774-million and Mr. Ford has said he will not raise taxes by more than three per cent.
The city has just wrapped up its first week of meetings to review a laundry list of proposed spending cuts generated by consultants - everything from reducing snow removal to privatizing long-term care homes and eliminating subsidies for 2,000 daycare spaces. Those meetings have stretched into marathon sessions as citizens wait hours for their few minutes at the microphone. Thursday, more than 100 residents spoke before the city's parks and environment committee, which sat for more than 12 hours to hear pleas from citizens to protect programs. One Cabbagetown resident brought a petition with 7,413 signatures opposing the proposed closing of Riverdale Farm.
Next Thursday, the city's executive committee, chaired by the mayor and filled with his supporters on council, will meet to consider cuts proposed by the consultants for agencies, boards and commissions. They included measures such as privatizing the Toronto Zoo, closing Library branches, axing the TTC's night buses and making it tougher to qualify for Wheel Trans service.
The mayor, who is fond of saying he is doing what taxpayers want, said the meeting will be a chance for the whole city to have their say.
"I encourage people to come to the executive committee next Thursday," he said during an interview on CP24. "Everyone has five minutes to talk to me personally at our executive committee. I invite the whole city. I don't care if we have to sit there for three days. I don't want to have people ... they have five minutes to tell me what business do you think we should be in. And it's next Thursday at 9:30 at city hall. Come and let me know what you think - the average taxpayer out there - what are we doing right, what are we doing wrong. I want to hear from the people and I encourage them to come. "
During the same interview the mayor said taxpayers have three priorities: They want to feel safe, they want roads that are clean and without potholes and they want their garbage picked up.
These, he said, "are the three high-level issues that people really want us to deal with."
As a city councillor and now as mayor, Mr. Ford has made a point of stressing his accessibility to the public, although media interviews are rare. He ended the interview Friday by saying he still returns calls to his office and makes a point of getting out and meeting people. "I have no problem meeting people," he said, adding, "I love being mayor."