Fact-checking the mayor's interview about Enwave, the Jarvis bike lanes, and his goals for council.
This morning at 8:10 a.m., Mayor Rob Ford made a rare appearance on the FM side of the radio dial, speaking with Metro Morning‘s Matt Galloway about what has happened so far at council this week, and about Ford’s Summer of Scandal more broadly. In their discussion, Ford made a number of factual claims to bolster his arguments about which way the city is going. Let’s take a look at the things he said, shall we?
On what to do with the proceeds from selling Enwave…
Claim: “We have to finish buying the streetcars. They cost about $700 million to finish the purchase, and we’ve got approximately $200 million to go.” (0:40)
The words “have to” are doing a lot of work in this sentence. Of course the City will have to pay for the new streetcars. But like most capital contracts, the obligation in this case is spread out over a number of years. Some payments have been made; more will be made each year running at least through 2018, as the City takes possession of the cars in stages. There is no immediate bill due on the streetcars that council cannot meet.
Given that the mayor acknowledges that about 70 per cent of the money has already been found, the argument at council yesterday (which will now continue at Budget Committee) was over whether to spend some of the Enwave proceeds on more immediate concerns, like the maintenance backlog at Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) or water repairs in Scarborough.
Ford acknowledges in the interview that the money may well be spent on TCHC, despite his wishes.
On the Jarvis bike lanes…
Claim: “Obviously, the congestion in this city, as you know, Board of Trade came out and said this costs $6 billion a year. We have to get traffic flowing. All we did now was move the bike lanes from Jarvis over to Sherbourne.” (2:15)
This is true, the Toronto Board of Trade does say this: congestion cost the GTA $6 billion in 2006, and the figure is headed toward $15 billion in 2031 if nothing is done. But the mayor is referring here to a justification for removing the Jarvis bike lanes, while the Board of Trade has usually taken the economic threat of congestion to mean that we need more transit spending and even congestion charges. (More on that later.) It’s not obvious that confirming the decision to remove the Jarvis bike lanes yesterday will substantially ease congestion on the 401.
Claim: “I don’t know where you’re getting that information from; we were told seven to 10 minutes.” (2:45)
Here, Ford is referring to the delay for car drivers on Jarvis as a result of installing the Jarvis bike lanes. Those of us who were at council yesterday heard City staff (in the person of the acting general manager of Transportation Services, John Mendes) tell councillors that while the initial delays incurred by the bike lanes were substantial, they were reduced to two minutes with some changes to signalled intersections. A 2011 City report clearly stated that the morning-rush-hour commute had increased by two minutes, with a three to five minutes increase in the evening [PDF].
On the City budget…
Claim: “By the end of my term I can say that gap I inherited, $750 million, is down to next to nothing; we’re going to have a zero deficit in two years.” (3:55)
Municipalities in Ontario are forbidden from running a deficit. No council in the amalgamated city’s history has run a “deficit” the way it’s understood at the provincial and federal levels of government, or by ordinary speakers of the English language. It’s not clear, but Ford seems to be referring to “opening pressure” once again to explain his policies. Other writers have explained at some length why this isn’t a particularly productive or accurate way to describe the city’s fiscal situation, but the short version is that conservative projections in January don’t always materialize in disaster in December.
On transit, and how to pay for it..
Claim: “I don’t support any of them right now. I’m not a tax-and-spend type of politician.” (4:30)
This is true. Rob Ford does not support taxes. Zero Pinocchios. It does, however, raise the question of what Rob Ford thinks is the appropriate way to deal with that $6 billion congestion cost he mentioned whole minutes ago. If he thinks Toronto can ease congestion simply by tearing up bike lanes, the bad news for everyone is there aren’t enough of them to matter. So what does he think we should do?
Claim: “I think all levels of government have to sit at the table and find a solution. But to say just the City of Toronto pay for it or the province or the feds, that’s not how three levels of government works…until we get all our revenue tools on the table, which I think there’s a report coming next month or the month after, then we can explore it.” (4:36)
The report to which the mayor is referring seems to be this one, heading to the mayor’s own Executive Committee next week. It’s the very first item of business. It suggests a range of taxes, from road tolls, income taxes, and a sales tax to the more pedestrian kinds of municipal revenue like development charges and a land-transfer tax—the exact measures Ford rejected seconds earlier in the interview.
In fairness to the mayor, he’s not the only one hoping Queen’s Park and Ottawa can actually be coaxed in to providing sustainable, dedicated transit revenues.
Claim: “Say you’re going to put back the car tax? No, I’m not going to support the car tax. Tolls? I’m not going to support tolls.” (5:27)
Clarity, at last! For the record, that’s about $1.8 billion a year of revenue that the mayor has ruled out. City staff estimate that the GTA region needs about $2 billion on top of existing spending. So we have to look elsewhere, it seems.
Claim: “People understand a lot of those issues were political that I was dealing with. Let’s call a spade a spade here: the NDP at council want to continue spending and the Liberals and Conservatives don’t.” (7:00)
This is Ford’s defence of the serial controversies that he’s faced over the summer, ranging from having to testify in court over potential violations of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, to using City resources to help with the football teams he coaches, to the most recent report from the ombudsman’s office that the mayor’s office broke the public-appointment process at City Hall.
Neither Ford nor I are mind-readers, but it’s fair enough to say that his critics at council have different political objectives than he does (which is why they keep voting against him, albeit not often enough to save the Jarvis bike lanes). But the idea that the ombudsman, the integrity commissioner (from whom his conflict of interest troubles originally sprang), the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and Clayton Ruby all have a plot to get the mayor is the kind of thing that you could only believe if you subsisted entirely on a diet of Toronto Sun online comments.
Claim: “According to a lot of people, I’m doing a good job.” (8:25)
The latest Forum Research Poll shows Ford’s approval at 42 per cent [PDF], where it’s been (with little change) for a year now. His disapproval is 58 per cent, and is similarly stable. In a city of 2.5 million, 42 per cent is legitimately “a lot of people,” but it’s perhaps not a number on which the mayor would like us to dwell.
On where the city is heading…
Claim: “You have to tell people the City of Toronto is open for business…. No one’s gonna come if you have a filthy city; no one’s gonna come if it’s not a safe city.” (9:55)
This will shock the NDP’s pro-filth, pro-danger caucus at council if they can be distracted from eating babies on sandwiches of taxpayer-kneaded bread.