Ford library cuts will hurt my small business

Library funding cuts by Ontario Premier Doug Ford are going to drive up costs for my small business and make some projects uneconomical, if not impossible.

It’s ironic that the premier who loudly proclaims that under his rule Ontario is Open for Business is taking actions without warning or consultation that will make it tougher for me and other business owners.

On Thursday it became public that cuts in the 2019 budget will slash funding for services that provide inter-library loans. These services allow people like me who live in small towns with small libraries to access books from across province.

I am a writer who is currently researching a biography of J.R. Booth, who in the late 1880s and early 1900s was the leading Ottawa Valley lumber baron, builder of the largest privately owned railway in the world, and Canada’s single greatest polluter. For more than 30 years his sawmills on the Ottawa River dumped vast amounts of sawdust into the river as he ignored laws that weren’t enforced and successfully lobbied governments for preferential treatment.

John Rudolphus Booth. National Archives of Canada

How do I know all this? In large part it’s because over the past several months the friendly staff at the Campellford branch of the Trent Hills Public Library have quickly responded when I have given them long lists of books that aren’t located in our small branch that I’d like to read.

At no extra cost to me, they have searched the province and brought me books from Thunder Bay, Guelph, Ottawa, North Bay, and Belleville. The system has been efficient and quick. I have been able to zip through the books, make my notes and drop them off at the branch for return.

On Thursday, the library announced in a Facebook post that the service no longer exists. “It is with great disappointment that the Trent Hills Public Library has to inform our valued patrons that the SOLS inter-library loan delivery service will permanently cease to operate, effective April 26, 2019. This is a direct result of the government announcement to cut funding of the Southern Ontario Library System. This means that we will no longer offer the service of providing our community with books from libraries outside Trent Hills.”

Canadian Press reports that Barbara Franchetto, CEO of the Southern Ontario Library Service, said it will need to cut $1.5 million from its approximately $3 million annual budget this year. She said she wasn’t sure how that will impact service levels or if it will result in layoffs of any of the agency’s 42 staff members. But the answer clearly is that at least some service will end.

In 2011, Ford, who was then a Toronto city councillor, said that he would close a library in his community “in a heartbeat” to help close a multimillion-dollar budget gap.

Luckily for me, the major research for the Booth book is largely done so I don’t have any outstanding requests. But the loss of the service means I won’t be able to track down copies of any other books that I do turn up as I keep researching. And it also means that I can’t realistically plan to do anything similar in the future.

The cuts are particularly aimed at those of us living in small towns. If I move back to Toronto, or perhaps to Ottawa, the larger library system might be able to meet most of my needs.

But the cuts also affect people who read for pleasure and interest, who have also lost access to books that have been purchased with public money.

The first Ford budget has opened the door a bit so we can glimpse what lies ahead — cuts to libraries, less money for public health units, paramedic services and flood management. We are clearly in for a period of turmoil in the education system as Ford has announced funding cuts and already warned teachers not to exercise their legal right to job actions. I have bad memories of the Harris 1990s when my youngest daughter endured interruptions to each year of her high school experience. I wonder that will happen to a paramedic and firefighter hall now under construction around the corner from my house. I also have faint hope that the community’s plans to build a new hospital will move ahead under Ford.

I’ll let the library have the last word: “We value your support of our libraries and while we are devastated by these cuts, we believe there is no better time to #loveyourlibrary.”

Freelance journalist.

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