Toronto City Councillors
Councillors' "free lunch" -- it's no big deal
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
It's a well known fact that there is no such thing as a free lunch. This is why Toronto City Council has voted to give themselves free dinners instead; they're not really as stupid as they look. Dinners from the cafeteria will be provided to councillors and bureaucrats on days that the entire council meets and the yearly estimates for council's very own private food bank is estimated to be $20,000 or $1,000 a pop.
The boys and girls on council were looking for a way to cut down on the number of days that council meetings are held. It was previously agreed that meetings would go from 9:30 am until 10:00 pm with a 90 minute dinner break. With the extended hours it was hoped that many council sessions could be limited to only two days instead of the normal three. But some councillors complained that the meetings ran too late and sitting until 10 pm made some of the members, in the words of Councillor Kyle Rae, "irritable". So this week, they voted 37-5 to cut their dinner hour down to 30 minutes and end the meetings an hour earlier at 9 pm. Realizing that 30 minutes was not enough time to go out and eat, council voted to have their meals provided to them by the cafeteria at City Hall and naturally, have the taxpayers pick up the tab.
To the extent that Torontonians pay any attention to what their municipal representatives do, these free meals seemed to have many people sit up and take notice. The vote earned a headline in the Toronto Sun (City Hall's Wild Hogs) as well as almost an entire page, made up largely of a cartoon featuring a group of pigs sitting around a box of money, with one little piggy asking "what's for dessert". But the reality is it's no big deal.
We all know that if council budgets $20,000 for meals and the actual cost comes to $20,000 that will pretty well be a first. It will only be a matter of time before the city mothers tire of cafeteria fare and start ordering out. By the end of the present term there is no doubt that these dinners will be catered by some of the city's finest eateries. But still, in the general scheme of things, we're not talking about a lot of bucks here.
For those who are inclined to worry about the spending habits of Toronto City Council there are bigger fish to fry. For example, we should all be worried about how much the good taxpayers such as the seniors who are on fixed incomes but see their property taxes increase every year are spending on the salaries of councillors and bureaucrats to sit around and hold a meeting about how long and from when to when they should sit around and hold meetings. That is a more worrisome waste of money than the cost of a cafeteria sandwich or salad.
What is really scary is the fact that Kyle Rae might be right; by changing the hours, the councillors may indeed become more efficient. The main function of Toronto City Council, as far as anyone can tell, is to spend other people's money. The real cost of this exercise will be not the tuna salad on brown but the increased amount of money that a better rested council will be able to spend.
It's one thing to get excited when a federal or provincial government comes in and goes on a wild spending spree. There is at least an alternative. But although some councillors come and some councillors go, Toronto City Council essentially stays the same. If an election were held today, enough of the same councillors would be re-elected to uphold the vote for free meals. There's simply nothing that we can do about it.
Providing free meals should be looked at as a wise investment for Toronto taxpayers. It saves us from the embarrassment of having the mayor and some of his cronies trudge to Queen's Park and Parliament Hill holding up "Will work for food" signs.