Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Want to criticize Toronto spending? Try to at least be consistent

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Aug 06 2014

New rule for Toronto politics: if you want to be the kind of elected official who builds your brand ranting about the cost of city government, you need to at least try to be consistent.

The problem I have with guys like Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong and Mayor Rob Ford is that they generally aren’t. They’re happy to dial up the outrage meter over some things, but remain conspicuously silent on some others.

Let’s start with Minnan-Wong. He’s spent his summer pummelling Waterfront Toronto over the cost of park features, but it was just a couple of years ago he was fine with the $300,000 cost of removing bikes lanes on Jarvis Street and adding back the reversible fifth lane — a move that wasn’t in line with staff recommendations. If you’re going to object to Waterfront Toronto spending $337,500 on sand, shouldn’t you also have a problem with the city spending almost the same amount to repaint a road and hang up some street signs?

Similarly, it’s also a bit of a challenge to square Minnan-Wong’s concern about the $600,000 Waterfront Toronto spent on public washrooms at Cherry Beach — which came complete with new water and sewer hook-ups — with the deal he made with Astral Media last year to swap planned public washrooms for money for Toronto's bike share system. There, Minnan-Wong seemed willing to accept that the planned self-cleaning washrooms provided by Astral Media were worth $450,000 a piece, despite them being much smaller than the Cherry Beach facilities.

Lately, Ford has been raging about the cost of a planned professional BMX track at Centennial Park, but his incredulity over the spending on that facility is hard to take seriously when his office once sought provincial money for a proposed renovation to the football field at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, which would have cost up to $2.8-million. That was on top of the $75,000 in Section 37 funds Ford secured for new change rooms in 2010.

Why is the government spending millions on a football field okay, but the government spending millions on a BMX track bad? I’d like to know.

Of course, it goes a lot further further than that with Ford. He also supported spending the $300,000 to reconfigure Jarvis Street. Like Minnan-Wong, he was later cool with dropping an estimated $560,000 in severance costs to get former TTC head Gary Webster out the door a year or two before his planned retirement, without justifiable cause. And let’s not forget that he gave family friend David Price a job in his office with a vague title and an estimated $130,000 salary — and then never explained what it is Price was hired to do.

I could keep going. Who could forget the $50,000 in sole-sourced architectural contracts handed out through the Toronto Port Lands Company for a Ford-supported reworking of the plan for Toronto’s port lands, complete with monorail and giant Ferris Wheel? And, hey, let’s not even get into the at least $85 million Ford supported wasting in sunk costs and cancellation fees related to the Scarborough LRT — a decision at least partly motivated by Ford’s incorrect belief that the Scarborough LRT would run along city streets and disrupt traffic.

None of this is to say that public spending shouldn’t be scrutinized and criticized — it’s an important function of government — but I’m tired of the loudest voices only showing up when it seems politically convenient. If elected officials want to take a stand against waste and mismanagement, it needs to be a consistent stand — and that’s simply not what we're getting.

This post was originally published at on 2014-08-06T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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