Recent weeks saw record numbers of Torontonians taking active interest and participation in the city’s budget process, after initial announcements indicated a number of social and recreational programs were slated to lose funding. Some lobbied city hall in person while others protested, both in Nathan Phillips Square and in council chambers.
By the time the proposed budget had made its way through both the budget and executive committees, a number of the most controversial cuts had been taken off the table, including the closure of several community centres (including Fairmount Park on Gerrard between Woodbine and Coxwell), cuts to arts grants and funding for student nutrition programs. For councillors in the ‘mushy middle’ (or “mighty middle,” as Ward 32 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon calls it), it wasn’t enough.
What unfolded on the only day of a planned three-day budget marathon took many by surprise, as a slight majority of councillors voted to pass an omnibus motion reversing many key service cuts. McMahon said the motion was weeks in the making, as councillors ferried proposals, ideas and counter-proposals back and forth on the second floor of city hall.
“We’re thrilled with the results,” she said. “The budget got improved immensely at budget committee and at executive committee, but we felt that it needed a little more tweaking. We heard loud and clear from our residents about things that they wanted to save.”
Although a number of councillors were involved in negotiations, they nominated Josh Colle from Ward 15 to introduce the huge motion. McMahon said his cool and calm manner made him the ideal councillor.
“He would be able to stand up in the line of fire,” she said.
Among the changes adopted were a clawback of $5 million in cuts to the TTC, which was written into the motion to be used to reduce service cuts. Whether the TTC Committee follows that direction is another matter, but most surface routes in the Beach were set to be affected, including the 501 Queen streetcar.
Also saved were Community Partnership Investment Program (CPIP) grants. Local recipients of those grants include the Kew Beach Lawn Bowling Club, Neighbourhood Link, Community Centre 55 and Applegrove Community Centre. McMahon also points out that the Toronto International Film Festival got its start 30 years ago with a $3,000 CPIP grant.
In a separate motion, McMahon proposed saving three positions at the Toronto Environmental Office. The office has funding in place to combat climate change, and the money needs to be spent by the end of 2012, so no outside funding source was necessary, making it an easy sell for the rest of council.