Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Fact-checking Ford's campaign-style Cambridge Club speech

By: Metro Published on Thu Aug 29 2013

With no byelections in sight, Mayor Rob Ford won't officially be on any kind of campaign trail this fall.

But he didn't let that stop him from delivering a campaign-style speech at the Cambridge Club of Canada yesterday. (The Cambridge Club is apparently some kind of fancy fitness club. I was not aware.)

As Ford speeches go, it was delivered pretty well. The mayor and his team appear to have a solid messaging strategy prepared for the 2014 campaign. He made his speech about fiscal prowess, telling a tale of how he has fixed the city budget and reined in the unions. He pointed to trust — highlighting the idea, hey, for better or for worse, even through scandals and litigation, the mayor is taking good care of your tax dollars. And what could be more important than that?

It's a good strategy. Maybe a great strategy. But a lot of the points the mayor brings up to bolster his record still have a pretty tenuous relationship with reality.

I've taken on a lot of his standard budget talking points in the past, but there was some new stuff in this speech. Take this statement: “I have said from day one that this city has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. I have proved my statement to be correct.”

It's true that he has often said that. But it's never been proven correct. Ford himself has tacitly acknowledged the city's longstanding revenue problem at least twice in the last few months: once when he tried to hold the premier's feet to the fire over the removal of a provincial revenue source and once when he was forced to turn to the federal government and a hasty property tax and debt plan to finance a subway extension.

I wouldn't describe a city that can't afford to finance badly-needed transportation infrastructure without extra tax increases and gifted federal money as a city without a revenue problem. But maybe that's just me.

Ford also used the speech to point to his administration's record on job creation, saying, “Since I've taken office, we've created 40,000 good-paying jobs.” I've had some trouble sourcing the number. According to the city's latest economic dashboard, 38,400 jobs were created in Toronto in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but that would include a lot of jobs that came into existence before Ford even took office.

But wherever the number comes from, the natural follow-up question to Ford's claim is obvious: what policies did your administration put in place to create jobs?

No one asked the mayor that question, instead, the mayor was asked an irrelevant question about pot. But it's important. I'm not sure there's one substantive thing the mayor could point to in his legislative record that would have been designed to increase the number of jobs in this city. The city's long-term plan to reduce commercial property taxes was a Mayor David Miller policy. And the condo and construction boom that has partially driven employment growth existed long before Ford even registered to run for mayor.

Either way, there's not a lot of data that supports a surge of job creation coinciding with Ford's tenure. Instead, the city's employment survey data shows a mostly steady increase in the number of jobs starting about 10 years ago and continuing through to now, marred only by a downturn caused by that Wall Street nuttiness in 2008.

Ford cited the city's declining unemployment rate, declaring that it is now lower than it has been in years. However, the early 2008 rate was lower than the current one. What we're seeing now is just a slow — and still incomplete — recovery from the worldwide economic meltdown.

This is what the city's job data looks like for the last decade. If you can't immediately spot a sudden surge in new jobs that coincides with Ford's tenure, you're not alone.

But, hey, I know. Who am I to let facts and data stand in the way of a good campaign strategy?

This post was originally published at on 2013-08-29T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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