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News (Media Awareness Project) - CN ON: Drug Plan To Spark Debate
Title:CN ON: Drug Plan To Spark Debate
Published On:2005-12-05
Source:Toronto Star (CN ON)
Fetched On:2008-01-14 22:04:24

Controversy Looms At Meeting Starting Today Issue Of Pay Raise For
Councillors May Be Reopened

There's no shortage of potential controversy at this week's city
council meeting, starting today, that will tackle a new strategy on
alcohol and drugs, additional powers for the mayor and, likely, pay
raises for councillors.

Should council support federal legislation to decriminalize
marijuana, provide crack kits to users and study the need for
"consumption" or "safe injection" sites where addicts could inject hard drugs?

"This is one to watch," said Councillor Joe Mihevc, a member of the
city's board of health, which came up with 69 recommendations on
enforcement, prevention, rehabilitation and harm reduction efforts.

Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's) said yesterday that no injection site
would open without approval from federal, provincial and city
governments and police officials, while crack kits would target
marginalized drug users in a bid to support safer use of such substances.

"Somehow there is this illusion out there that we will be providing
them in corner stores or with your TTC tickets. That's not the case.
These kits are given in very restricted cases by health-care
professionals," he said.

"I think this is absolutely ridiculous" said Councillor Rob Ford
(Ward 2, Etobicoke North). "I don't know how the government can come
in and let people get high using taxpayers' money, essentially
because taxpayers are going to be paying for staff. ... Crack kits?
Again, you're just condoning this behaviour and supplying
paraphernalia to kill themselves. You might as well just give them a
rope and chair, put them in a room and say 'Hang yourself.'"

Despite the controversial aspects of the drug package, Councillor
David Soknacki expects it to pass, but not before what could turn
into a lengthy debate.

"I think it will pass by a substantial margin after people get
excited about the safe injection sites, which is really only a
request to study them. And the decriminalization of marijuana is only
to say to the federal government, 'Here's the position of the city of
Toronto,'" said Soknacki, chair of the budget committee.

Soknacki (Ward 43, Scarborough East) also expects lots of debate on a
report that would give the mayor the right to pick councillors to
chair committees. The chairs would form an executive committee that
would set priorities and draw up a budget plan under the mayor's direction.

He fears the subject will attract attention even though the
recommendation is for city manager Shirley Hoy to report by May on
implementation details, after consulting with members of the public.

"We can waste an inordinate amount of time dealing with it now and
then get to deal with it all over again in May," he said. "David
Soknacki the dictator would say, 'Let's debate it in May.'"

Mihevc said the committee appointments aren't that big a deal because
the mayor already has a major say in which councillors get to chair committees.

In the last nine years, "I've seen the mayor lose maybe two times in
who was going to be chair of a council committee," he said. "I don't
see it as that big an issue in and of itself."

Debate may be fired up by the fact former mayor David Crombie warned
last week that the report would give the mayor too much power,
diminish councillors' role and open the door to party politics.

The report was prepared by a three-member volunteer panel struck in
June and chaired by Ann Buller, president of Centennial College.

A key recommendation that would give the mayor power to hire and fire
the city's top bureaucrat drew fire from Crombie, who said it "would
further politicize" the public service.

"On that point, David Crombie has given some thoughtful comments that
council will need to reflect on," Mihevc said.

But like Soknacki, Mihevc said there's no rush to finalize any
changes, which wouldn't take effect until after the municipal
election next November.

Councillors' controversial decision to vote themselves a raise may be
reopened for debate this week, after an attempt to reopen the issue
failed last month.

In September, councillors gave themselves a raise of 12.25 per cent
over four years, scrapping a policy set in 2000 to tie pay hikes to
inflation. Criticism ensued in part because the decision didn't
receive public scrutiny in that it was tacked on to a confidential
item granting raises to the city's non-union staff.

Councillor Cliff Jenkins, who has tabled a motion to scrap the
increase, said an independent body should recommend councillors' pay.

"That's the honest way, not this business of sliding it through, and
no one knows what's happening because it's an amendment to an
unrelated item," said Jenkins (Ward 25, Don Valley West).
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