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Index for my Toronto Budget 2004 project
Possibly Irrational Optimism
22/01/2004

Today's Now Magazine had an article about the Listening to Toronto budget consultations that are now nearly completed.

The hearings have been a hit, to say the least. Not only has the media praised the idea, and not only have there been kudos from the participating citizens, but even some of David Miller's natural opponents on council have been won over.

David Soknacki has never been portrayed as an enemy of Miller's, but I believe I recall hearing that he voted for Tory, and he did also vote against cancelling the bridge to the island airport. Nevertheless, in Now he is quoted as repeating what I heard him say at the budget session I attended -- namely, he has been surprised and impressed by the sessions:

"At first blush I said, 'We've just been through a massive consultation process called the election. Why do we need another one?'" But now the budget chief is so sold on a process borrowed from a city in Brazil that he's started calling the nearly $7 billion that will have to be spent on municipal operations this year "the people's budget of 04."

"This has been a real eye-opener for me," says the Ward 43 (Scarborough East) councillor, who has started off every session explaining the city's budget challenges to the registered participants.

"I think Toronto residents are getting an appreciation of some of the constraints we have on us to deal with the day-to-day issues of running the city," Soknacki says. "It's not an attempt to lower the public's expectations. It's to say, 'Here are the realities of the situation. How would you deal with the priorities?'"

Much more surprising than this is what Rob Ford had to say. Rob Ford is a councillor from northwest Etobicoke known as a hard-nosed small-governmentist. Even he is enthusiastic:

"This is a great thing," enthuses Rob Ford, the Ward 2 (Etobicoke North) councillor with a curmudgeonly reputation for being extremely tight-fisted when it comes to spending tax dollars on almost anything.

Ford confesses he was highly skeptical about the entire Listening To Toronto exercise when Miller first proposed the $100,000 idea. But after stopping at a few tables to listen to what the folks who elected him and Ward 1 council mate Suzan Hall have to say, he offers that the consultation sessions are "money well spent."

"This [is] what we should have been doing six years ago when we were first faced with amalgamation," Ford suggests. "It might have saved us from a lot of the problems we're facing now if someone had simply bothered to listen to the public. I think it's a constructive win-win proposition for the city and the taxpayers, and it will help council make some tough decisions."

Now, as a David Miller campaign veteran, I'm happy to see that things are going well for him. But this is more important than that. There seems to be more than just a good attitude at City Hall now, but actually an enthusiasm for working together and getting things done right.

No doubt the city faces challenges and the solutions are still far off on the horizon, but I can't help but be hopeful when I see this sort of determination and positivity.


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