So was the Core Services Review a giant waste of time? Depends | #TOpoli

That’s the question raised by JM McGrath at OpenFileTO this morning.

The answer: well, it depends. As always, much turns on how the question is framed and what the underlying assumptions are. 

So, first off: what was the process trying to accomplish? If it was really about addressing and tackling the city’s Big! Scary! Crippling! $774-million deficit and “making the tough decisions today,” and “cleaning up the mess left by the Miller administration,” then obviously it hasn’t worked. 

But in order to believe that, you need to accept the assumptions about the figure and the political context that Team Ford’s trying to establish. Both of those are problematic. We’ve already seen that this gang isn’t exactly straightforward, let alone good with numbers.

More fundamentally, though, it’s about my favourite thing: context. In that regard, Rick Salutin’s recent piece about how Team Ford frames the discussion is particularly illuminating. If I read him right, he’s arguing that numbers and logic aside, Team Ford’s managed to define the discursive turf and dictate the terms for discussion. Whatever their mathematical shortcomings, they’ve still managed to make the conversation all about service delivery and saving money. We’re not talking about why a city should aspire to architectural beauty, or functional urban design, or why the citizens of a community have obligations to one another. We’re still talking about cutting, outsourcing, keep this, kill that, private-sector delivery, yada yada yada.  The discourse is still essentially about business models.

Last night’s Executive Committee meeting and the deputations (all those who spoke or tried to speak: you’ve all become my personal heroes), regardless of the formal outcome, were about pushing back against that. If they’ve made even a little bit of headway in the process of winning back the words, then the process hasn’t been a waste of time.

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