Rob Ford: Toronto Mayor Ends Budget Deficit Talk With Citizens
TORONTO - A marathon meeting that spanned nearly 23 hours and saw Toronto residents break out sock puppets and songs to protest service cuts didn't sway officials intent on trimming the city's bulging budget.
The city's budget chief, still bleary-eyed a few hours after the all-night debate came to a close, said the city has no choice but to slash its spending.
Every program remains "on the table" but it's not yet clear where the axe will fall, Mike Del Grande told reporters Friday afternoon.
"It's a process and we've not completed the process," he said.
A consultant's report has suggested budget-cutting measures that include closing libraries, eliminating overnight buses, shrinking the number of police on city streets and selling the Toronto Zoo.
The report is part of the city's plan to make up for a $775-million gap in next year's budget. Up next are two studies that will look at ways to save money within each department or raise it through user fees.
More than 300 people had signed up to weigh in at City Hall during Thursday's committee meeting, a crowd considered so extraordinary officials were forced to set up an overflow room to accommodate them.
But as the night went on, roughly half headed home before they could say their piece.
Those who stayed -- many of them fuelled by caffeine and giddy with fatigue -- made their case in unusual ways, at times bursting into song and even staging a puppet show.
Councillors chugged Red Bull energy drinks and sipped tea from insulated flasks, munching on sandwiches and snacks brought from home. Once in a while, some slipped out to the bathroom or for a break.
"I survived," the deputy mayor, Doug Holyday, said Friday after a quick nap. "It was a long night."
The meeting, believed to be the longest of its kind in the city's history, wrapped up shortly before 9 a.m. Friday, more than 22 hours after it began.
Mayor Rob Ford, who rode to power last fall on a promise to "end the gravy train" in Canada's most populous city, told the weary crowd he was proud of everyone who spoke up.
"Regardless if you agree or disagree with what we're doing or saying, you're here and you truly believe in why you're here," the mayor said as the spectacle wound down.
"We are going to get this city straightened out. I am very, very proud of each and every one of you."
But some politicians compared the debate to a circus, accusing speakers and even some of their colleagues of trivializing the city's financial woes.
"I'm a little disgusted," said Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, singling out the puppet show as "demeaning the process" of public consultations.
He blamed the city's politicians, some of whom heckled the others, for stretching out the debate.
"My colleagues were probably behaving worse than some of the deputants," he said.
Others complained speakers focused on saving services but couldn't provide any alternatives to cost cutting.
What's more, the group that flooded City Hall to protest the cuts are out of touch with the city's other 2.5 million people, Holyday suggested.
"I talk to a lot of people and I just know ... the people want us to take control of this financial mess and straighten it out."
Cuts are expected to be announced with the new budget in January.