Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Does Rob Ford have a secret plan to find budget savings? Don't bet on it

By: Metro Published on Fri Jan 10 2014

Everybody chill out about the city budget. Mayor Rob Ford has got this.

He says he does, anyway. For the last couple of months, councillors and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly have mostly ignored Ford’s demand that the property tax increase for the 2014 city budget come in at 1.75 per cent. After all, there’s no real basis for Ford’s target. Nobody ever said it could come in that low, but Ford maintains he can deliver. On Wednesday, during a city budget committee meeting, he told reporters he has ideas for how the city can save $50 million — which theoretically would allow the city to achieve the lower tax number.

I have a lot of questions about this. First and foremost, if Ford really has a secret plan to find $50 million in budget savings why hasn’t he told us about his plan until now? This guy has been mayor for three years, right? Why was he holding these cards so close to his chest?

And let’s go further. If the city can just shake out $50 million in savings, why was Ford so mad when the provincial government announced they were phasing out grant funding worth about $50 million a year? And why is council set to request today that the province chip in to fund the ice storm clean-up when, in fact, the city is so flush that it can apparently find huge budget savings, deliver a property tax increase below inflation and cut the land transfer tax?

I’m actually being charitable with these questions because they assume Ford has a realistic plan to save money. He doesn’t. At best, he’ll dominate a huge part of council’s budget debate at the end of the month with a long list of savings that are either totally unworkable or completely inconsequential. It’ll be just like old times.

To illustrate, here are some of the amendments Ford tried to make to the 2009 and 2010 operating budgets when he was still a city councillor under Mayor David Miller.

In 2009, Ford tried to eliminate 21 positions from the city’s 311 call centre. He waged a war on virtually every newsletter or printed report distributed by the city, even though most of them were very minor budget items. He suggested eliminating 156 temporary positions and 10 permanent position from Toronto Employment and Social Services. He wanted to reduce the city’s Community Partnership & Investment Program — a closely-monitored program that gives grants to non-profits and charities to deliver social and community services — for savings of $6.5 million. And he tried to eliminate plant watering at city hall.

Oh, and he wanted to deny the Toronto Public Library a four per cent budget increase and instead ask them to eliminate positions. And cut the TTC’s annual operating budget by $23,872,000, thereby eliminating 267 base service positions. In other words, he wanted to fire some bus drivers.

Ford was a little more restrained during the 2010 budget cycle, maybe because he was planning his mayoral run and realized he needed to tone it down a bit. Still, he managed to move a series of budget amendments requesting a variety of cuts.

He asked that Parks, Forestry & Recreation not go forward with plans to hire three people to work on tree planting and maintenance. Something we recently learned is kind of important. He also tried to save $36,000 by eliminating city-run harm reduction programs, which he derisively referred to as the “free three bottles of wine a day” program. He again went after the Community Partnership & Investment Program. He railed against city efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change. Weirdly, though, he did advocate against a proposal to raise the cost of parking at Toronto Zoo.

None of his motions passed, of course. Mostly because they were bad or impossible ideas. And while Ford did succeed in slaying some of his bugbears after he became mayor — primarily those having to do with expense accounts — he ended up forgetting about most of the other ones. In any case, Ford never proposed anything close to $50 million in workable budget cuts, either as councillor or as mayor. It's a safe bet this year won’t be any different.

This post was originally published at on 2014-01-10T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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