Marathon Toronto budget debate ends after hearing from more than 100 residents

TORONTO – Bleary-eyed councillors emerged from Toronto City Hall on Friday morning after a marathon budget debate that stretched overnight and saw scores of people step forward to defend city services.

More than 300 people had signed up to weigh in on a series of potential and controversial cuts, but as the night went on, roughly half headed home before they could say their piece.

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Those who stayed – many of them fuelled by caffeine and giddy with fatigue – made their case in unusual ways, at times bursting into song and even staging a puppet show.

The meeting, believed to be the longest of its kind in the city’s history, wrapped up shortly before 9 a.m. Friday, more than 23 hours after it began.

A consultant’s report has suggested budget-cutting measures that include closing libraries, eliminating overnight buses, shrinking the number of police on city streets and selling the Toronto Zoo.

The report is part of the city’s plan to slash its spending to make up for a $775-million gap in next year’s budget.

Mayor Rob Ford, a controversial figure who rode to power last fall on a promise to “end the gravy train” in Canada’s most populous city, told the weary crowd he was proud of everyone who spoke up.

“Regardless if you agree or disagree with what we’re doing or saying, you’re here and you truly believe in why you’re here,” the mayor said as the spectacle wound down.

“We are going to get this city straightened out. I am very, very proud of each and every one of you.”

But some councillors said they were disappointed by a few of the presentations.

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti singled out the puppet show, saying “it demeans the process” of public consultations.

Others complained speakers focused on saving services but couldn’t provide any alternatives to cost cutting.