3 min

Fighting the budget blues

Council, keep your hands off our money

City council, keep your hands off the programs serving our community. We were last in the door, we sure as hell aren’t going to accept being cut for a very long time.

Ottawa’s councillors are considering some whacko things in their drive to balance the budget. Some of them right out of the ideological bible of the US Republican Party. Like transferring the responsibility for social services away from city hall staff and to the United Way.

Oh, wouldn’t that be delicious? Sure, it would save taxpayers a lot of money in staff salaries and transfer that to much lower-paid charity staff. But what charities? You can just picture it now: church groups and missions having responsibility for looking after people’s needs. Just like in the 11th century. Wouldn’t that be a stunning trip back in time — to an era before our horribly inconvenient Charter Of Rights And Freedoms required government departments not to discriminate against whole groups of people? Of course, religious groups are exempted from having to follow the letter of equality rights where it clashes with their beliefs.

In the last issue of Capital Xtra, we ran a story about The Ottawa Mission and how it refused a pregnant woman a meal because she didn’t pray first. The Mission already gets $3 million in provincial and city funding; it should have that funding cancelled. But under the latest proposal, we’ll see more and more money flowing, via the United Way, to bigoted religious groups to deliver services.

Angry yet? Angry enough to yell holy murder?

There’s more. Budgets are about the choices we make, the city we want to build.

We could choose, for example, to spend money on building up our festivals to make this a better place to live and to draw in tourism revenues. To do that, the city’s festival policy needs an overhaul. Longtime festivals have a lip-lock on the process. Those who have always received grants get priority for continuing to get them. So, some groups get $100,000 or more. Pride, a regional celebration with a national profile and serving a community of some 60,000 local queers, got $1,000 last year. How kind. Now, council has agreed to a new policy that would increase the funding and change some of the rules. Still, there’s no guarantee that Pride will get more.

And city council may decide to freeze the festival funding, after all, during their current fetishistic round of slashing. But we could make other choices. How about creating a whole new process that sees longstanding recipients experience a gradual claw-back of their funding with the savings going to new and smaller festivals? If they’re so big, if they’ve been around so long, shouldn’t they have built a donations base that allows them to see a five percent yearly decline in city funding?

And city hall should also stop charging festivals for services like police, ambulance, road closure and garbage cleanup — these need to be included in the annual city budget because we all benefit from being a city of festivals. They enhance the lives of us all, every one. All taxpayers, not just the festivals, should pay for those services as we pay for other policing and garbage costs.

If we choose to save money, how about doing it by taking a closer look at the police budget? How about closing down the vice squad? We don’t need police regulating our private choices at $80,000 a uniformed head. We don’t need officers confiscating crack pipes from people just handed one by health officials a block away. Or tracking down people who enjoy smoking an occasional joint. Now that is a colossal waste of taxpayer’s money.

We could limit each officer’s allowable yearly overtime. Make them pay to dry-clean their own uniforms. We could move officers out of expensive cars and onto the sidewalks. We could transfer traffic policing to bylaw enforcement people paid $20 an hour to give out tickets — a big savings.

Speaking of bylaw officers, we could stop them from harassing gay men walking in parks while holding hands. Or putting up posters on poles. Do we really need all those bylaw officers? I don’t think so.

Fact is, our private behaviours are over-regulated in Ottawa by people paid a lot of money. That’s the best place I can think of to look for budget savings.