Tomorrow the Mayor of the City of Toronto will unveil the City’s 2012 capital operating budget. The city’s councilors will vote on the budget in the New Year.
Even before its release, there has been much speculation respecting the contents of the budget primarily because of Mayor Ford’s track record when it comes to support for social services. Mayor Ford who was elected on the promise to rid city hall of wasteful financial spending and excess taxes, has been dogged every step of the way by opponents to his perceived anti-social social services stance.
On Saturday for instance a group of people gathered at Moss Park in the City of Toronto to protest cuts to housing and social services that are expected in the forthcoming 2012 budget.
On the chopping block are expected to be social services like community libraries, childhood programs, shelters, employment programs run by community centers and community housing programs. There are concerns also that even if funding to these programs are not eliminated, they will be so reduced that they will be ineffective.
Although Toronto is seen as a prosperous city within Canada, there is a well documented problem of poverty and income inequality within many of the poor neighborhoods, especially within immigrant populations; giving rise to a racialization of poverty. It is documented that one in three children lives below the LICO, or Low Income Cut-off. The reality is that it is these immigrant poor and the children of these immigrant poor who are the beneficiaries of the social services that are expected to be cut in the 2012 budget.
Are the expected budget cuts unavoidable? The argument that the proponents of budget cuts always advance in support of cost cutting measures that hit the poor the hardest, is that these cuts to social services and programs are needed and are unavoidable. But is this necessarily true?
Those who consistently protest cuts to social services allege that the solution to the city’s financial woes is not cutting services that benefit the most vulnerable members of the city, but eliminating financial waste that is rampant in the city, including lavish retirement parties, inflated expense budgets and taxpayer-purchased perks for councilors; the financial waste that Mayor Ford promised to purge when elected.
The reality may be nothing more than differences in perception between the poor and their supporters, on the one hand, and Mayor Ford and the Ford nation acolytes, on the other hand. Essentially, supporters of Mayor Ford’s proposed cuts to social services share a perception that there is no obligation to assist the 47% of the city’s population who live in poverty and that these persons, most of whom are immigrants, are responsible for their own predicament.
Supporters of social services, on their other hand, see spending on services such as community libraries, community grants, child-care subsidies, snow-plowing, and shelters, as neither superfluous nor wasteful. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that the social programs that are expected to be cut in tomorrow’s budget can yield long-term returns for individuals, society, and the economy.
Why then would Mayor Ford and his supporters be so gang-ho on cutting “spending” on programs that will ultimately yield benefits? Could it be, as Naomi Klein has argued in her much acclaimed book The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism, that Mayor Ford’s cost cutting approach is nothing more than a political strategy? A strategy adopted by neo-conservative governments, the object of which is to is take advantage of financial and other crises to press forward with an agenda of deep cuts to social spending, government deregulation and privatization.
The jury is still out on that issue. We’ll wait to see what the city’s forthcoming 2012 capital operating budget will do for the city’s poor.