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Ford claims 'huge victory' for a tiny bite out of the budget

Since Mayor Ford first embarked last May on his core services review, an epic search for gravy at City Hall, Tuesday’s vote on the floor of council was anticipated to initiate a wave of cutbacks and usher in a new order of small government in Toronto.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Six months, 19 meetings, more than 200 hours of debate. Total savings so far: $27.7-million.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford tried to put a brave face on the final outcome of his marathon review of city services, claiming "a huge victory for the taxpayers of the city" as council voted to explore selling the Toronto Zoo, cancel its free garbage tag program and outsource the Christmas Bureau, which co-ordinates holiday gifts to underprivileged children.

Since Mr. Ford first embarked last May on his core services review, an epic search for gravy at city hall, Tuesday's vote on the floor of council was expected to initiate a wave of cutbacks and usher in a new order of small government in Toronto.

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Instead, councillors passed a hodgepodge of cuts that amount to less than one-third of 1 per cent of the city's $9-billion-plus budget. The mayor played the vote both ways – claiming to have spared beloved services and found $28-million in "service adjustments," as well as another $65-million in possible cuts that were referred to this fall's budget discussions.

"This is a huge victory," the mayor told reporters after the vote. "Childcare saved. Libraries saved. We don't reduce grass cutting in the parks. It's a win-win for everyone. This is an example. There is waste at city hall."

The mayor's opponents were quick to claim victory as well, noting that several services are no longer on the chopping block, removed either during last week's 20-hour executive committee meeting or during two days of council debate.

"This started out as an exercise with a long list of cuts. The people of Toronto spoke up and put pressure on all the councillors and the mayor and said these services are important to us, and today that was reiterated by even further cuts coming off the table," Councillor Janet Davis said.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of the mayor's executive, said Tuesday's vote is only delaying the inevitable.

"All of council needs to understand, the public needs to understand, that if we don't make the decisions now, the challenges are going to come back," he said. "The tough decisions that we don't make today are just being deferred until the 2012 budget cycle."

Last week, the executive committee removed several contentious cost-cutting proposals, including the closing of library branches and the elimination of 2,000 subsidized daycare spaces funded by the city alone.

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An additional $600,000 in cuts were removed Tuesday. Services that were saved include:

– community environment days

– city staff support for the Toronto Youth Cabinet and the Seniors Forum

– the Public Realm's Neighbourhood Improvement Program

As well, a recommendation to sell the Toronto Parking Authority was removed.

Also Tuesday, council gave staff the go-head for a review of its user-fee policy and considered the results of a buyout program for city staff.

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National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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