Monday, 19 September 2011

A Deputation: Doing Things Right and Doing the Right Things

I was thinking of making a deputation - my last one didn't exactly happen- but after talking to a couple people about the ethical implications I'm deciding against it. If I'm going to write about city hall as a 'citizen journalist' then it's probably better not to blur that line any more.

With that said, sharing a deputation is a useful writing exercise, so like last time, here is what I would say. 

Before I begin I'd like to thank everyone present for participating in this process from Executive Committee and Visiting Councillors to city staff to the hundreds of engaged observers and deputants here today. It may have happened in July, but this kind of tangible expression of civic virtues and values doesn't happen often and it should be noted how special it is.  

The core service review tells us a lot about the priorities that citizens hold for Toronto. In a way, it asks the valuable and important question 'what is your Toronto?'. 

Looking at the report, we get an idea of our values. According to KPMG, the lowest ranking policy priority in their consultation with citizens was 'affordable taxes'. Instead, we had 13,000 survey responses and while some may try to dismiss it as 'not statistically valid' it provides a useful roadmap for a city that values its services. We value transparent and accountable government and meeting the needs of vulnerable people. This sounds like Toronto the good. 

Sadly, the process thus far has not reflected this. 

The process explicitly targeted services to be cut without pairing them with potential revenue sources and the value the services provide for citizens. This assumption fundamentally ignores the wants of the citizenry and reduces the names, faces and needs into abstract budget numbers. This isn't good planning. 

It isn't good planning when we cancel the vehicle registration tax without finding an offset for that revenue, just saying 'oh, we'll find that next year'. 

It isn't good planning when the Mayor's Speaker forbade- forbade- councillors from mentioning this year's budget when they were planning last year's budget with the David Miller surplus. 

It isn't good planning to ignore the needs of citizens and those motivated to be involved in civic affairs as 'usual suspects'. We need more people who regularly care about their city and government. 

And we have it here today. The expression of the values and priorities in the seats in front of you, in the overflow rooms and hallways. It's an expression that Toronto is about more than the bare essentials, that we care to be better as a people and city. It's a sentiment expressed by business management guru Peter Drucker, that "management is about doing things right; leadership is about doing the right things". 

It's the leadership we have here today and had in July with hundreds of Torontonians expressing their voices- practically in unison- that they care when daycare spaces vanish, they care when dental care for the poor goes away and nutrition programs for children are considered gravy. 

From what I've seen, people care about a process that listens to them and those values. They know that that means raising property taxes a reasonable amount and thinking creatively about revenue sources. That's the sacrifice- the leadership- that citizens have acknowledged they are willing to make because they feel it's right, that it makes a city they're proud of.

In these passionate deputations they've expressed their opposition to the flawed and narrow-minded process from KPMG and the mayor. Now it's your turn, councillors. It's your turn to answer the question 'what is your Toronto', show leadership and do the right things. 

I hope you will and I thank you for your time.  

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