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Rob Ford's secret motions go nowhere at Toronto council budget debate

So much for that.

After pledging he would bring motions that could save more than $60-million to Toronto city council’s budget debate this week, Mayor Rob Ford failed to deliver.

In the end, the motions he presented were based on shaky facts and only a fraction of them were relevant to the 2014 operating budget and the city’s property tax rates. Most of them were defeated handily, as expected, but even if all his ideas had been implemented, Ford still would have fallen a bit short on his promise of a 1.75 per cent residential property tax revenue increase once all factors were included.

So, Ford not only failed to deliver on his tax promise, but failed to even make a plausible attempt to deliver on his promise.

It’s still a mystery why Ford kept his budget plans a secret. Had he brought them to budget or executive committee the outcomes would have been the same. But instead Ford held them to his chest like they were classified nuclear launch codes. They really weren't that interesting.

  • Motions to cut tree planting, heritage staff, library hours, city-produced magazines, a city-run employee survey, partnership grants and council’s expense and travel budgets, for a theoretical saving of $20,115,100.
  • Motions to eliminate a Pan Am Games splash pad and look for more private sponsorship for the games, for a theoretical savings of $19.5-million.
  • Motions to ask various departments for reports on changes that could theoretically save $22,496,000, but not in 2014.

The word ‘theoretically’ is important in all cases, because some of his ideas were based on things that aren't even true.

For example, Ford moved for a report on cutting management at the Shelter, Support & Housing and Toronto Employment & Social Services departments, citing that those areas had manager-to-employee ratios of 3.74-to-1 and 6.8-to-1, respectively. But a report attached to the budget actually lists the effective ratios at both departments as 6.1-to-1 and 8-to-1.

And some of his motions were just plain dangerous. By cutting the city’s tree-planting budget by $7-million and moving to eliminate a staff-recommended increase of $765,700 for tree canopy maintenance, Ford would be making the city more vulnerable to flooding and storm damage like the city saw in December.

And how about Ford’s motion to look at charging low-income residents who want to register for the Welcome Policy that proves free recreation programs at city-run community centres? That one was just mean. Ford suggested charging people who register for the policy — those receiving social assistance or whose income is below Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut-Off — a “nominal fee” of about $14 per registrant. In effect, the plan would have saved a few bucks annually off the average tax bill while disproportionately transferring the burden to people who already can’t afford recreation programs. Great trade.

At least one of Ford's motions appeared to be based mostly on spite. When asked about his motion to reduce the already-stretched staff salary budget for councillors, Ford pointed out council reduced his budget for staff late last year, so why shouldn’t all councillors get the same treatment? That other members of council never lied about using crack cocaine or got themselves tied up in a massive police investigation didn’t seem at all relevant to him.

Councillors managed to lock in the tax rates for 2014 before Ford could present his motions, so none of them had any chance of actually reducing the 2014 tax bill, but if they had they wouldn't have been able to produce a total residential property tax revenue increase as low as Ford's 1.75% promise. Once the Scarborough subway funding and policy shifts are factored in, his hypothetical cuts would have resulted in an increase around 1.9%. And, again, that's extremely hypothetical and doesn't even get into the fact that Ford's cuts would make services across the city worse.

Ford was successful in passing four of the 20 budget motions he made on the council floor. Two of them — a request to explore more corporate sponsorship for the Pan Am Games and a request to speed up the implementation of an efficiency study — had nothing to do with the 2014 operating budget, and were largely things that were already set to happen anyway.

The other two did result in savings. Councillors gave bipartisan support to a Ford bid to cancel printing of two city magazines and eliminate an employee engagement survey. Total savings? $726,000. Enough to save the average resident maybe a penny or two.

It’s still unclear why Ford never got around to eliminating these things from the budget during his first three years in office. Maybe he was busy.

There were a few slight surprises. Alliances on council have been rapidly shifting and falling apart. So Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, for example, who was once a rather staunch Ford opponent is now a guy who sided with Ford on half of his budget motions. At the other end of the spectrum, Coun. Karen Stintz, Coun. Michael Thompson and Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly — all Ford supporters once upon a time — came out strong against most of these budget motions.

Not that Ford's remaining influence particularly matters. As far as the actual governance of the city is concerned, Ford is irrelevant. He’s demonstrated that he’s not really cut out to do the job of mayor where success is realized through building consensus and not by grandstanding.

But it is worth noting that even if Ford somehow had absolute power and could implement everything he wanted, he still wouldn’t be able to entirely deliver on his promises. He’d still fall short.

Ford’s problem isn’t that council gets in the way of his agenda. It’s that reality gets in the way of his agenda.

This post was originally published at on 2014-01-31T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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