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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford directs questions during a committee meeting on the city's waterfront plans Sep. 6, 2011 at City Hall. The mayor and his brother councillor Doug Ford are proposing dramatic changes to the already approved development of the waterfront lands. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford directs questions during a committee meeting on the city's waterfront plans Sep. 6, 2011 at City Hall. The mayor and his brother councillor Doug Ford are proposing dramatic changes to the already approved development of the waterfront lands. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Toronto Mayor Ford to retreat from controversial cuts Add to ...

Library closings will not be part of Rob Ford’s money-saving plans and no child will lose a daycare subsidy, says a member of his inner circle, the first sign that Toronto’s mayor is stepping back from the most controversial cost-cutting proposals as he begins to steer his austerity agenda through city council.

The city’s powerful executive committee, chaired by the mayor and filled with his supporters, will begin meeting Monday morning for what is expected to be an around-the-clock session, with about 300 members of the public signed up to talk. It will consider a long list of penny-pinching measures – everything from ending a small fund that co-ordinates Christmas gifts for needy children, to closing museums and reducing snow clearing and grass cutting.

One proposal that will get the mayor’s full backing is the sale of three city-owned theatres – Toronto Centre for the Arts, the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts and the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts – said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, an ally of the mayor.

Monday’s meeting will provide the first glimpse of how the mayor plans to rally support for his agenda after a series of setbacks including falling public approval ratings and a flamboyant plan for a Ferris wheel and mega-mall in the Port Lands that quickly met with opposition from the public and city councillors.

In the weeks since the suggested cuts became public as part of the city’s core service review, it has become clear that some would never get the needed support at council, with members of the mayor’s camp breaking ranks on specific issues, especially reducing library branches.

“I don’t think anyone is keen on closing libraries,” said Mr. Minnan-Wong. “Libraries are an important community asset. We won’t be closing any.”

Talk of closing branches and cutting services and hours has been met with widespread public opposition, most notably from author Margaret Atwood who got into a verbal sparing match with the mayor’s brother, also a city councillor, after he said he would shut a branch in his ward “in a heartbeat.”

About 2,000 subsidized daycare spaces that do not receive provincial funding also will be preserved for as long as the current users are in them, Mr. Minnan-Wong said. “Anybody who has a spot will maintain that spot,” he said, adding that the city will continue to press the province for additional funding and will look for greater involvement from the private sector.

As for arts funding, the public has rallied against proposed cuts, and at least one member of the executive committee, Jaye Robinson, has indicated she will not back cuts to art programs.

Ms. Robinson also questions why the executive committee is considering service cuts before seeing the results of an efficiency study and a review of user fees. “In any businesslike approach, you would have all the information before you before you start making cuts,” she said.

Ms. Robinson expects many of the items up for consideration by the committee will be deferred for further study. “I don’t think every issue will be dealt with,” she predicted. “All these service cuts affect our wards in different ways.”

This latest marathon session follows a 22-hour meeting in late July of the same committee, where the mayor and councillors tossed back Red Bull to stay awake and listened to 169 residents, the majority opposing service cuts.

The list of cuts, recommended by the city manager last week, will save the city an estimated $100-million next year. The savings are part of an effort to close a funding gap for next year’s budget that has been put as high as $774-million. The mayor, who came to office with a vow to find the “gravy” at city hall, described the measures as “efficiencies” rather than cuts and said they were “just scraping the surface.” Late last week, he suggested in a radio interview that the real gravy at city hall is municipal workers. After this week’s committee meeting, the proposed program reductions will be considered by city council at a special session at the end of the month.

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