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Toronto in Review: September

The City Ducks Cuts; Unions Run for Cover and TIFF Recovers from 9/11

by Toronto Media Co-op

Toronto in Review: September

Debate over the Toronto District School Board’s decision allowing Muslim students to hold Friday prayer services continued Saturday, as pro and anti-prayer groups held simultaneous rallies at the TDSB central offices. The fourth to take place in less then two months, this latest event was originally intended by supporters of the TDSB policy as a show of appreciation for the school board’s stance. In response, a coalition of protesters, including members of the Jewish Defense League, Canadian Hindu Advocacy and Christian Heritage Party, staged a counter-rally, which some have labelled Islamophobic intolerance.

Thousands of people used chaulk in memory of deceased NDP leader and former City councilor Jack Layton, chalking tributes all through the public square at City Hall and extending onto Queen Street West. Many of the tributes expressed grassroots, leftist, and pro-union sentiments. Quotations from his deathbed letter to Canadians were also frequent. One prominent message read "Layton Nation" in specific reference to the so-called 'Ford Nation' and many drew chalk outlines of bicycles. Rob Ford has tried to crack down on graffiti, postering and cyclists in recent months.

The Mayor's new Port Lands plan was abandoned after a number of his executive committee members revolted.  The latest plan which included a ferris wheel, mega-mall and monorail, was the latest in a series of plans for the Waterfront.  A number of others also suggested the mayor may have had a specific company in mind to do the building.

With little gravy in sight, City Hall is poised to carve some $100 million from Toronto public services. In a report released last week, City Manager Joe Pennachetti puts core services, including transit, public housing, libraries, zoos, snow clearing, and museums, on the cutting board. The Ford administration claims the cuts are needed to close Toronto’s budget short-fall of $774 million, a figure critics claim is closer to $350 million. More than 325 people signed up to address the reports proposed service cuts at the September Executive Committee meeting. If approved, the report will head to City Council at the end of the month.

Faced with a $29 million short-fall in its 2012 budget, the Toronto Transit Commission has decided to delay its 10 cent fare increase at least until December, when the fare hike will again be up for discussion. To address its money woes in the meantime, TTC is cutting jobs and reducing service on key bus routes. The job cuts begin this week as 250 non-union employees are shown the door. Reductions in service are expected to force another 232 front-line workers off the job through attrition. Though not expected to take place for another year, an additional 500-600 jobs will be cut as work currently preformed by unionized TTC workers, such station cleaning, is contracted out.

The City's Affordable Housing office may be shut as part of the budget cutting process.   The office, which is responsible for home renovation programs, community initiatives and building housing stock, may be eliminated with all dollars going to rent-subsidies for tenants.  The current social housing wait list in Toronto has over 75,000 people on it while the vacancy rate is under 2%.

Around 900 people gathered in Dufferin Grove Park for a mass meeting against proposed City cuts.  The City had unsuccessfully tried to halt the meeting by closing the park, in what the Stop the Cuts Network called "an attempt to drive a wedge between Toronto Stop the Cuts and community members who rely on park services." Through a participatory process, the meeting created a document called "The Toronto Declaration".

Friends of Dufferin Grove Park have responded by writing a series of zines demonstrating the history or community and worker resistance to City Attacks on the park.

Support workers at Ontario colleges started off the school year with a strike, fighting against an increase in part-time positions at the expense of full-time ones.  8000 staff took strike action, including support staff, librarians, cleaners, and technical support. OPSEU suspended the strike Sept 18th after a tentative agreement was reached but before members could vote on the contract. With back-to work legislation increasingly being used as a tool against workers, OPSEU leadership are claiming that simply reaching a negotiated settlement was a victory. In a press release, OPSEU representative Warrent Thomas said, “I applaud the tentative deal reached tonight by the negotiating teams. We said all along that a fair and just agreement was only possible when the two sides could sit across the bargaining table from each other and I’m pleased to report that was the case.”

Dan Kellar, a independent journalist and frequent contributer to the Toronto Media Coop, was arrested August 25th for a blog post on .

The preliminary inquiry against 17 G8/20 activists started on Sept 12th.  The crown is trying to hold the activists (dubbed the "G20 Main Conspiracy Group") responsible for damage caused in the anti-G20 demonstrations that weekend, despite the fact that many were arrested prior to the confrontational protests.   Some face the possibility of up to 6 years in jail.

The Toronto International Film Festival’s closed Sunday after an 11-day marathon of film-viewing and celebrity-ogling. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method were well-received by audiences while Where Do We Go Now from Lebanese-Canadian director Nadine Labaki won the Cadillac People’s Choice Award.  To mark the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, each TIFF screening on September 11th opened with a short film featuring teary eyed TIFF executives sharing their personal stories of when the attacks pushed back film screenings, cancelled swanky parties, grounded all flights, and left celebrities in limbo, uncertain when they would get home.

Cupe 3903 resumes bargaining with York University for a new contract soon.  The local was the subject of a nasty and difficult strike in 2009 which resulted in employees being legislated back to work in the midst of allegations that the University was refusing to negotiate.

Toronto's condominium market continues boom.  Massive investment has been flowing in from China where families can only purchase one investment property.  The speed of development has lead to some concerns over the quality of what is being produced.

Around 900 longboarders dressed in shirts and ties rode through downtown Toronto for 'Boardmeeting"  which takes place the second saturday in September. Staff Sergeant Norrie told the Toronto Star: "At this point, we’re not in a position to arrest hundreds of people,” . The skaters yelled "board meeting" as they made their way from Young and St. Clair to City Hall and Kensington Market. In an interview with the Toronto Media Co-op, a longboarder stated "People were like, what are you protesting, and I'm like "its not a protest its a boardmeeting!".

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