"Toronto has a spending problem, not a revenue problem," said now-Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, during the 2010 election campaign — a popular premise that he rode straight to office.
Under his Respect for Taxpayers banner, Ford insisted that major sources of income could be eliminated and services remain untouched. A month after taking the city's top job, he qualified that statement, saying, instead, that there would be no "major" service cuts.
But now that the fiscal realities facing the city have become clear, and the Ford administration is staring at a massive $774-million shortfall in the next year — a shortfall, arguably, of their own creation — it seems important to seek clarity: what, exactly, qualifies as a "major" service?
If Torontonians listen to the mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, libraries are apparently not on the list. "I've got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons," he complained on a radio show almost two weeks ago.
According to the Globe and Mail, when asked if he would close one of the branches in his ward, Doug said,
Absolutely I would. In a heartbeat... and my constituents, it wouldn't bother them because they have another library two miles one way and two miles the other way.
It's the kind of rhetoric Doug Ford and Mayor Rob Ford have become accustomed to using: sweeping generalizations that speak on behalf of large swathes of people. And for the most part, the rhetoric is justifiable, as Ford and his council enjoys 70 per cent of popular support, according to one of the most recent polls.
But it remains prudent to err on the side of caution, because simple approval numbers are highly malleable, and don't reflect consensus on every issue. This is especially true when it comes to Doug Ford's constituents and their libraries, as the Toronto Star has discovered.
As it turns out, Toronto's public library system — one of the largest on the continent — is quite important, and not just in the eyes of the Toronto Library Union.
In a survey commissioned by that union, roughly three quarters of the 1,000 respondents said they disagreed with the closure of libraries.
Over 30,000 people have signed an online petition promoted by celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
Even Councillor Karen Stintz, a member of Ford's inner circle and the chairperson of the Toronto Transit Commission, opposes the proposal to cut or privatize Toronto's Public Libraries. "I value the Toronto Public Library," she writes, "these are not the type of cuts that I will support."
And it's no wonder why: Toronto's libraries are world-class, important hubs for millions of citizens. In 2010, the Toronto Public Library system was visited almost 20 million times and loaned over 32 million items to its clientele, many of whom are seniors, students and the disadvantaged.
Toronto Public Libraries provide vital access to literature, information, and the Internet to people who otherwise wouldn't have that access. Privatizing libraries will limit that access, and closing them will eliminate it — along with all of the benefits it provides to students and others.
If the freedom to access a wealth of knowledge and information at minimal expense doesn't qualify as a major service, Torontonians must ask Mayor Ford and his brother, what does?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com