Building a city, not tearing it down

I just spoke to City Counil's (Toronto's) Executive Committee. My deputation is below.

My father passed away last year. My mother – not very mobile and now alone for the first time in almost 50 years – was profoundly sad.

While our small family was there for her, my mother was at real risk of social isolation.

But her community – in the form of the Toronto Public Library – was there for her.

Through her local branch and its supportive staff my mother rediscovered her joy of reading. She explored new ideas, had new things to talk about and new ways to pass the time.

When my mother lost her sight a few months later, the Library was there for her again. Through talking books and the Toronto Bookmobile, my Mother’s spirits did not wane.

Fortunately, our public libraries are there for all of us.

Yet Toronto’s library system is just one of the many public investments that have had its value recently called into question.

More than a review of existing services to find efficiencies, this current process has all the feeling of a going out of business sale.

It would be prudent to take a fresh look at this review through eyes that see city programs and services as more than expenditures, community grants as more than free money, but rather as investments that should be managed.

Libraries, parks, theatres and arts festivals all help attract new residents, businesses and tourists to Toronto. They are part of the foundation seen by many as critical to building the new type of creative economy that cities such as ours will rely on for growth.

And if we are to truly respect taxpayers, than we have to recognize that in many cases, cutting one investment will create a new, more expensive cost.

- Council can reduce cultural and recreational opportunities for youth, and face higher justice and social service costs.
- It can shut down water conservation and tree preservation efforts, and deal with higher energy and infrastructure costs.
- It can eliminate disease prevention and nutrition programs, and face increased public health costs.

Many city investments are carried out by innovative, lean, non-profit agencies and individual Torontonians with an immense commitment to city building.

It is this civic spirit that we cannot abandon when we speak of fiscal responsibility. We must also consider our responsibilities as members of a community.

- We all have a responsibility to ensure our shared public space is secure: our air is clean to breathe, our water is fit to drink and our parks our safe to play in.
- We all have a responsibility to watch over our neighbours: by caring for the ill, helping the weak and protecting the vulnerable.
- And we all have a responsibility to contribute to the functioning of our city by paying our fair share of taxes.

In closing, I urge that consideration of all the advice you receive today be thoughtful; and the debate surrounding it, be civil.

Our city is too great and our legacy too proud to now choose ideology over reason and fear over hope.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

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