What began as a debate over shutting wading pools to save money ended with a tirade from Councillor Doug Ford on the injustices faced by suburban taxpayers who watch their dollars "fly downtown," to pay for services.
The downtown-suburban rift led to heated comments from both sides, with the city's budget chief threatening to clear his committee room unless things simmered down. The debate was part of deliberations on next year's city budget, which aims to reduce total spending with 10-per-cent cuts in most departments and major layoffs. It also proposes raising residential taxes by 2.5 per cent.
Outside the budget meeting, where a plan to close five wading pools was debated, Mr. Ford used the pools as an example of a bigger problem that he and his brother the mayor were elected to correct.
"I don't have one wading pool in my area, but there is 8 to 10 wading pools in the downtown core in each ward," he said. "That's unacceptable. We're talking about fair distribution right across the city."
"In my mind the disconnect was the last seven years – seven years of overspending in the downtown area," he said, referring to the term of the former mayor. "In the suburbs, a lot of wards do not have wading pools and that is what the mayor ran on – fair and equal distribution of money, and it has been proven over and over again for the last year that there isn't an equal distribution of money. The vast majority of money has been sent downtown."
The comments play off a favorite theme of the mayor and his allies, who frequently dismiss critics as residents of the former City of Toronto.
Councillor Gordon Perks, an opponent of the mayor who represents Parkdale, countered that the former council took actions to correct the imbalance, such as establishing priority neighbourhoods.
"It was all about taking resources and investing them in suburban neighbourhoods that were underserved because before amalgamation they did not invest in their own communities," he said. Only since amalgamation we've started investing in Councillor Ford's ward and others to bring it up to the standards that we have enjoyed downtown."
The final decision on wading pools and other money-saving measures will be made next month when the budget goes to council.