There were a lot of adjectives to describe the first three hours of the Executive Committee hearing at Toronto City Hall
Thursday. Hundreds packed Committee Room 1, Committee Room Overflow and the City Hall Rotunda to listen to the KPMG Core Service Review, city councillors’ concerns and the deputations of seven people from more than 300 speakers.
Mayor Rob Ford adjourned the room for a one-hour recess.
Near the end of the one-hour recess, Mayor Ford and Budget Chief Mike Del Grande held a 1:15 p.m. press conference at the Mayor’s Office where both men addressed the KPMG report, the $774 million budget shortfall, the Executive Committee meeting and the beefed up security.
The mayor was first asked if he believes the general public is helping shape the city’s priorities, in which Ford responded that they are the ones “who put food on my table” and “we have to listen to the taxpayers.”
“I’m willing to sit here, and probably will sit here until 6 or 7 o’clock tomorrow morning,” said Ford in front of a room full of reporters. “And I do want to hear what they have to say. What sort of suggestions maybe we didn’t think of, or maybe KPMG never thought of. Let’s hear what the taxpayers want. What they think is important, what’s a priority to them?”
He added that council has to listen to everybody’s input, which is why he invited everyone to come down to city hall Thursday.
There were suggestions among analysts, experts and attendees that the mayor purposely divided the people up by not having the meeting in the council chamber and holding a marathon meeting, which could lead to less people speaking at the committee hearing.
Ford replied that since Caribana is this weekend and city hall can’t have these deputations go on for days at a time because then it would continue for a week just to oblige the hundreds of speakers.
“I think the right thing to do is to just keep going through, give everybody three minutes – I personally wanted five minutes, but the committee decided to have three minutes – and we’ve worked on it and that’s what’s happening,” said Ford. “I’m being as fair as I can to each person and councillor that has come down to speak.”
During the first hour of the committee meeting, City Councillor Joe Mihevc brought up to the committee that it was “unreasonable” for speakers to deliver their deputations between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., but Ford told reporters that it is a “challenge” and that he “wants to listen and get as many ideas as possible.”
“This is just the beginning, as you know,” explained Ford.
Critics of the mayor, including City Councillor Gord Perks, say the $774 million budget shortfall is inflated
and is being used to scare people, but Ford quickly retorted that Cam Weldon, Joe Pannachetti and the Budget Chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande, are saying the opposite.
“These people know the numbers inside out,” stated the Toronto Mayor. “So whoever these people are, I would like to see it.”
One “nice-to-haves” item from the budget Ford would remove are the grants, which is estimated to be $50 million, and is something Ford has never voted for – usually he is the only member of council to vote against grants.
“I’ve never been a believer in handing out free money,” continued Ford. “I’ve always said that if we don’t have enough money and turn around and increase taxes $50 million, which is what we have been doing year after year after year, and then on the other hand, hand out $50 million in free money. How can you do that?"
Del Grande then confirmed that the debt is $774 million.
In the end, Ford suggests that the city ask itself: should Toronto be in the business of running programs like a zoo or arts theatre.
Security & Death Threats
The security at the Executive Committee meeting was enhanced, which Ford was asked about. It was revealed that the mayor received a threat in the last couple of weeks and that a police report was filed. However, Ford “isn’t taking it that seriously.”
“I don't want to go into details because it's still under police investigation,” said Ford. “I don't take it seriously, but you get people leaving messages."
reported Thursday afternoon that 56-year-old Anthony Vella was arrested and charged for allegedly making death threats against Ford.
To view the live feed of the “marathon meeting,” click here