Core services reviews will be about making cuts and losing services - unless residents get involved, a nearly full College of New Caledonia lecture hall heard Tuesday night.
More than 100 people came out to a presentation organized by Canadian Union of Public Employees locals 1048 and 399, where community organizer Sean Meagher presented the Toronto experience with a KPMG-led core services review.
"[Toronto residents] made the debate not about what to cut... but about what kind of city they wanted to live in," said Meagher.
The process that took place in Toronto last summer, "turned from a review to an excuse for doing things the public didn't want," said Meagher who is president of Public Interest, a social justice-focused strategic firm aimed at helping to engage people in public policy decisions.
But Toronto residents pushed messages back to their city council about what it was they really cared about, which facilitated a change of thinking for some municipal politicians.
They demonstrated, held their own meetings and spoke directly to their councillors about what was going on in their neighbourhoods, libraries, city pools, etc., and how they would be affected.
"One of the important things about that process was the voices were very diverse," Meagher recalled. "Those diverse voices all added up to one message, which was the core services review wasn't working."
Since there were people from all walks of life speaking out, there were councillors who became emboldened and began challenging the process and the information provided by KPMG.
From his experience last summer, the Meagher said core services reviews are ineffective practices which "don't figure out how to restore sustainable, equitable revenues."
The final product didn't achieve something that would have made a dent in the city's stated $774 million deficit and boosted user fees for city services by nearly 30 per cent.
"It made a lot of real losers out of working families and real winners out of single taxpayers with no kids," Meagher said.
Prince George's Peter Ewart from the Stand Up for the North committee joined Meagher as a speaker during the presentation.
He outlined 10 issues he saw as critical to the local core services review process, ranging from KPMG's research methodology, a lack of examination in how council makes spending decisions and the format of both the online questionnaire and the public input workshops.
Ewart echoed Meagher's explanation that involved citizens and city workers were what would make a difference in the outcome of the core services review, regardless of what opportunities KPMG lays out in their final report - expected to be released Nov. 2.
CUPE 399 president emphasized that the ability to get involved was not relegated to city union members, but that the I Heart P.G. campaign was for all residents of Prince George.
"This is our city, this is what the campaign is all about," Campbell said.
The unions will be hosting a public townhall meeting in early November once the final core services review report is released.