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Ford’s library promise rings hollow: union

The head of Toronto Public Library Workers Union says the mayor’s comments about not closing libraries — one of the many cost-saving measures being proposed at city hall to balance the 2012 operating budget — should be taken with a lot of skepticism.

“Mayor Ford’s statement yesterday concerning our public library needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt because he is also calling for a 10% cut to the TPL [Toronto Public Library] budget, a reduction that will all but guarantee the closure of branches in the future in spite of the Mayor’s promise yesterday,” Maureen O’Reilly, union president in a release Tuesday.

At Monday’s executive committee meeting, Ford backed off the controversial proposal to close library branches. Instead, in his opening remarks, he said he wasn’t interested in closing branches but reducing operating hours should be considered as a money-saving option.

O’Reilly said that option will rob residents of a valuable service.

“Mayor Ford’s promise to cut library hours and programs will limit access for those who pay for it with their tax dollars and those who need it off peak hours,” she said. “Even banks have recognized that their branches need to be open when their clients need to access them.”

The mayor said he is fighting against a $774-million shortfall in the 2012 operating budget, but that figure is being disputed. City manager Joe Pennachetti suggested Monday the shortfall is likely between $500 million and $600 million.

The campaign to save Toronto’s libraries has garnered a large public support, and even sparked a battle of words between the mayor’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, and Canadian literary icon Margaret Atwood.

In July, Ford publicly blasted Atwood over her campaign to save the libraries.

“I say good luck to Margaret Atwood. I don’t even know if she’s a resident of Toronto. If she is, she has her input,” he said.

Atwood took to her Twitter page in response.

“Noo, not running for Mayor … too old. Used to think Too Ignorant, but that hasn’t stopped some,” she tweeted. “Appreciate the kind thoughts however!”  

The executive committee’s recommendations on cost-saving measures will be debated at a special session of city council next Monday.