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Mayor Rob Ford, councillor clash in absurd budget debate

01/30/2014 01:09 EST | Updated 04/01/2014 05:59 EDT
The debate at Toronto city council reached new levels of absurdity Thursday in an exchange over the city's budget that began when Mayor Rob Ford introduced a handful of motions aimed at saving money.

One of the many motions called on the city to abandon plans to spend $7 million to plant 97,000 new trees.

Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon asked the mayor if he was "aware of the benefits of a tree," to which the mayor responded by accusing her of being absent during December's ice storm, which caused widespread damage to city trees.

"Do you know that we’re spending $50 million already on those trees in the ice storm?" said Ford, who later said that if the councillor wanted to "go and plant trees, knock yourself out, but don’t use taxpayers' money."

Then McMahon asked the mayor about his push to remove security guards from city libraries.

Pointing to a homicide that occurred at the Main Street Library in 2010, McMahon asked the mayor if he was aware at the incident.

"I’m aware that there was people killed at the Eaton Centre, on a streetcar, on sidewalks, so we need security guards on every corner, is that what you’re saying?" Ford responded.

"It’s called the police — if somebody commits a murder, it could happen anywhere."

Ford went on to say that he believes security guards at city libraries are not being put to good use.

Library guards do 'absolutely nothing' Ford says

"They stand there and do absolutely nothing, I see it with my own eyes and we’re spending $1 million and more dollars a year," Ford said.

"I don't think we're going to have two six-year-olds battling it out over a dinosaur book," he said.

While the mayor said that a security guard could not have prevented the homicide at the Main Street Library, McMahon suggested that their presence could potentially "mitigate a disaster or a problem."

But the mayor didn’t agree.

"I just can’t comprehend how you think sometimes, Coun. McMahon, sorry," Ford said.

"Right back at you, ditto," McMahon said.

Ford also said the city should stop writing off up to $3 million each year in unpaid library fines, saying that he regularly pays fines that stem from his kids' library use.

Other motions introduced by Ford Thursday include:

- Cutting the number of city managers at the city's shelter and housing offices.

- Finding sponsors to offset costs of the Pan-Am Games.

- Eliminating a splash pad at Exhibition Place.

Before each motion could be discussed, council became entangled in a procedural debate about whether or not the motions could be introduced. Ford was accused of not getting the motions properly processed by the clerk's office in time for Thursday's meeting, a claim the mayor denied.

Coun. Josh Matlow accused the mayor of intentionally introducing the motions at the last minute.

With debate swirling over procedures surrounding the motions, a frustrated speaker Coun. Frances Nunziata called a lunch break about 15 minutes early. The meeting is set to resume at 2 p.m.

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