Line by line, an analysis of Rob Ford's troubled relationship with reality.
We have often pointed out that Rob Ford lies all the time; he lies habitually, ceaselessly, and carelessly. He does not even lie particularly well: his lies are blatant, easily disproved with a little research or basic knowledge.
But how mendacious, exactly, is our mayor? How often does he omit, mislead, prevaricate, or just make stuff up? Luckily, Rob Ford gave what was his first real campaign speech of 2014 (as opposed to the countless unofficial campaign speeches he has been giving for years now) at the Economic Club of Canada, and we have decided to record, for posterity, every single time Rob Ford was less than honest. We have divided these instances into two categories: straight-up This Ain’t Right moments in red, and statements that are distortions, but not quite as clear cut, in orange.
Line by line, here’s how Rob Ford’s speech compares with reality.
Thank you very much, Rihanna1. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be with you here today. I want to thank the Economic Club of Canada for hosting today’s event and for getting me locked in the elevator for 45 minutes. I always enjoy talking to the business community. I know you share my priorities when it comes to running the city as efficient as possible, and during my talk today I want to explain how my administration has helped straighten out this city.
1 The Economic Club of Canada’s President is named Rhiannon Traill, not “Rihanna,” which we mention because that’s kind of an odd mistake to make after being stuck with her in an elevator for 45 minutes.
We’re now working better than ever before. We’re keeping taxes low by reducing the size and cost of government2. Since 2011, we have found over $750 million in efficiency savings3 while improving services we deliver4. Folks, these are permanent savings to our base budget, driven by finding efficiencies and internal restructuring. We’re reinvesting these savings to directly offset hundreds of millions of dollars in future tax increases5. That’s how we’ve reduced the average tax increase by over 57 per cent during my administration.6
2 Toronto’s net budget has grown every year under Rob Ford. (t was $3.58 billion in 2011, $3.69 billion in 2012, and $3.71 billion in 2013.)
3 As Daniel Dale has previously pointed out, Rob Ford’s claim here is completely bogus on a number of levels—even if he’s dropped to $750 million from an even billion. For instance, Ford defines “saving” as not spending money that you hypothetically assume other people might have spent, if they had been elected mayor instead of you. In a budget briefing with reporters, City staff estimated that the total savings during Rob Ford’s term so far—defined (as English speakers generally do) as money that we used to spend that we no longer spend—is in the neighbourhood of $350 million.
4 Rob Ford has repeatedly voted to cut City services and has successfully passed service cuts on a number of occasions.
5 It’s true that council has decided to direct most of its surplus to capital projects. But that isn’t necessarily fiscally prudent, and it wasn’t Ford’s idea—that’s following a policy council passed under David Miller.
6 It’s true that under Ford council has voted to keep property tax revenue increases low. However, they’ve been able to do that because of revenue increases in other areas: compared to when he first took office, Toronto annually takes in $80 million more in the land transfer tax, $50 million more in development charges, and $170 million more in user fees. Combined, this increased revenue amounts to the equivalent of a 12.5 per cent property tax increase.
We have ended the unsustainable budget practices of the last administration and stopped the out-of-control spending at City Hall. Under my predecessor, the City’s annual operating cost ballooned by an average—by an average—of $394 million each year7. That’s a 5 per cent increase in spending compounded each and every year. Folks, we all know that this level of spending is simply unsustainable. My administration has reversed this trend8, and put an end to the out-of-control spending at City Hall9. Since I took office, the annual growth in our operating expenditures has dropped by 98 per cent. Today, our operating budget is growing by a sustainable and responsible $8.4 million a year. And that’s how we’ve kept Toronto property taxes significantly, significantly lower than other GTA municipalities10, on an average of $1,100 less a year.
7 It’s never been clear if Rob Ford is lying about the difference between the City’s gross and net operating budget, or if he is simply too stupid to understand it. As Matt Elliott has done yeoman’s work explaining, increases in the gross operating budget do not reflect an administration’s fiscal record because the gross operating budget includes every dollar Toronto gets, including those from external sources such as the provincial and federal governments. (The net budget is the money Toronto collects and spends by itself, from property taxes specifically.) So the gross budget can go up if, say, the province decides to create and fund a new public health program, and transfers the requisite amount of money to Toronto to administer it.
8 Rob Ford’s administration has only “reversed this trend” inasmuch as it has proven unable to get significant provincial and federal funding as David Miller’s administration did.
9 If we restrict ourselves to Toronto’s net operating budget—the money the City raises and spends on its own—that has increased every year at about the same rate under both David Miller and Rob Ford.
10 None of this has anything to do with the property tax difference—Toronto residents have long paid lower amounts compared to the surrounding area—and again, the City’s net budget (which reflects changes in property taxes) has gone up by about the same amount under Ford as under Miller.
Today, the City of Toronto is doing more with less11, just like most of the corporations are around the world. We have a leaner12 and more driven workforce that is focused on delivering customer service excellence13. Folks, it hasn’t been easy. And there is still much work to be done. But we have come a long, long way in four years. Because of our fiscal discipline, international bond rating agencies like Moody’s and DBRS have kept Toronto’s credit rating strong14. That’s because under my leadership, City Hall is budgeting to address our needs in a sustainable and responsible way15.
11 During this year’s budget debates members of Ford’s own executive committee bemoaned the City’s inability to provide proper service due to staff shortages; under Ford the City has implemented service cuts. Given that, and given that property taxes have increased under Ford (albeit not as much as they should have, given those staff shortages), it is far more accurate to say that the City is doing less with more.
12 The City of Toronto had 42,684 full-time employees in 2010 and has 42,220 full-time employees in 2013—a difference of approximately one per cent, achieved mostly by “gapping,” or not filling vacancies when people leave their jobs. Given the aforementioned service issues, and that those jobs are still on the books (we haven’t restructured operations, there are just things that aren’t getting done) it’s not so much that we’re leaner, but more like we’re stumbling around without lunch.
13 The City’s employees may be focused on serving the public well, but Ford’s policies are not. During the executive committee debate on the 2014 budget Ford suggested slashing the number of 311 helpline staffers from 110 to 80. Earlier, some councillors has proposed improving the service standards for residents who call the City for help understanding their property tax bill, suggesting that only 20 per cent of those callers be forced to hang up for being on the line too long, down from the current 25 per cent. Ford decried this as gravy and took the unusual step of sitting in on the relevant council committee so that he could vote against it.
14 No particular credit to Rob Ford: Moody’s rating of Toronto’s credit has not changed since 2002, when Mel Lastman was mayor. Ford’s “fiscal discipline” has neither helped nor hindered us on this issue—we’re exactly where we were before him.
15 The City faces an acute funding shortfall in 2015—an opening pressure $332 million, after assuming a two-per-cent residential property tax increase and a 10-cent TTC fare hike [PDF, p. 26]—and our cash reserves are depleted, mostly because Rob Ford demanded and got lower property tax increases from city council during his term, and used cash reserves to fund a one-year property tax freeze in 2011. This is the opposite of “sustainable and responsible.”
We’re applying the principle to every aspect of what we do. By bargaining hard, bargaining very hard, my administration won historic—historic!—collective agreements with the City’s major unions16. This has allowed us to achieve unprecedented flexibility to improve service while saving over $100 million17. All of this—all of this, friends—without one day of labour disruption18.
16 CUPE’s opening offer during labour negotiations in 2012 was for a three-year wage freeze. The City eventually gave them a six-per-cent raise over four years in exchange for some concessions, including removal of the “jobs for life” clause for senior employees and some relief on pensions. While undoubtedly one of the few high points of Ford’s tenure as mayor, it’s not really “historic” except in the sense that it is part of history.
17 Fifty-four million dollars in estimated pension savings plus $35 million in estimated efficiencies gained during the contract from the CUPE concessions is $89 million, not “over $100 million.”
18 Except for that time the library workers went on strike.
We have privatized garbage collection west of Yonge Street, saving $80 million19 while proving, improving service delivery. After just one year, one year of private collection, customer satisfaction is up and the complaints are down by 20 per cent. City council has also approved my motion to study private garbage collection east of Yonge Street. This will be an important issue in the upcoming election. Do you want your garbage privatized throughout the City and not have any labour disruption? That’s up to you to think about. One thing is clear: for as long as I am mayor of Toronto, we will never, ever face another costly and disruptive garbage strike.
19 CUPE disputes this number. (Also, to be clear: whatever that figure is, it’s over the life of the contract, not annual savings.)
Folks, we have come a long way. We are turning the corner. And we are on the right path20. Over the next 10 years, we are reducing our City’s planned debt by over $804 million21. This will keep our credit rating strong, avoid our debt ceiling, and save millions of dollars in interest fees. At the same time, we are investing $1.2 billion more in our infrastructure needs22. For years and years, friends, our aging infrastructure was neglected and ignored. Today I’m proud to say this trend has been reversed23; the City of Toronto is investing millions of dollars to maintain and upgrade our hard infrastructure. These are investments that will benefit our city and our residents for decades to come.
20 See note 15.
21 City officials expect to see planned debt increase over the next 10 years, and that’s before you account for the Scarborough subway extension, which will optimistically cost the municipal government nearly one billion dollars.
22 Ford plans to finance this $1.2 billion through the sale of City assets, with some federal and provincial money, and by taking money from the City’s budget surpluses. It’s not at all clear this plan is realizable: for one thing, no other levels of government have promised anything, and for another, we don’t have a list of which assets he wants to sell, much less their estimated value.
23 During 2011 and 2012 the City’s debt increased by $800 million. That’s partially because of the previous capital infrastructure plan which began under David Miller.
Over the next 10 years we will spend $10 billion on Toronto’s vital infrastructure needs. We are putting money into roads, bridges, sidewalks, and expressways, and keeping the Gardiner Expressway24, which will be another election issue. We are invest—we are investing billions of dollars in our water mains, sewers, and water infrastructure.25 Water, as we all know, is very, very important to this city. We are fixing roads, filling potholes: when we’re talking filling potholes, we’re talking filling 200,000 potholes each year. Folks, well-maintained infrastructure is the backbone of our great city. These investments are absolutely crucial to Toronto’s economic competitiveness, not just for today, but for the future.
25 It’s true that the City is investing billions in water—it’s part of the Wet Water Flow Master Plan—but that’s a plan council passed in 2003, under David Miller. (Toronto is also spending much less on that plan than originally budgeted.)
And this brings me to another extremely important issue: transit. It is no, no secret that expanding our underground transit system is another priority of mine. Which brings up another election issue: do you want subways, or do you want streetcars? Or should I say, fancy streetcars: LRTs26. That’s for you to decide. I have been very clear in my position on building new subways since day one. I am committing to moving forward on a vision of fully integrated subway system for our great city. Subways offer the fastest speeds, the highest capacities, and the greatest connectivity27.
26 Light rail transit is not, by any stretch of the imagination, “fancy streetcars.” They are larger rail vehicles with greater capacity, running at higher speeds, in dedicated rights-of-way.
27 Subways, by definition, do not offer “greater connectivity” because they have fewer stops spaced at greater distances. They have genuine benefits, but this isn’t one of them.
After years of costly delay, we have finally made significant progress on the transit file in 201328. The City of Toronto has committed to building the Scarborough subway extension. This historic transit expansion project connects the 650,000 residents of Scarborough to the rest of our city. This should have been done years ago. Some said that subways are too expensive, and prefer cheaper, more disruptive surface rail29. Fancy streetcars. LRTs. And there are some who couldn’t make up their mind. Their flip-flopping on the transit file cost us years in unnecessary delays. And then they finally saw the light. But I have never stopped fighting for the residents who told me, loud and clear, in 2010, that “we want subways.”30
28 The City has made no progress on the transit file. At the beginning of 2013 we had a signed, approved plan to build new transit in Scarborough. At the end of 2013 we had a signed, approved plan to build new transit in Scarborough. The only thing that happened was that we spent another year debating whether to switch plans. At no point was anything in Scarborough built, and the projected timelines for something to be built have lengthened (because the subway requires a lot of preliminary design and assessment work that was already completed for the LRT).
29 The LRT would have run in its own right-of-way, not in mixed traffic.
30 Of course, in 2013, polling showed that when Scarborough residents were asked to choose between the various subway and LRT proposals for that part of the city, the LRT option was the most popular choice.
And now, we are moving ahead with the first major subway expansion in decades31. And they said “you cannot get all three levels of government on board to fund subways.” Well, folks, we have all three levels of government committed to building new subways in this great city. This is absolutely fantastic news for the hardworking people of this city. We are now committed to building transit that will benefit our city for the next hundred years.32 Transit that will seamlessly connect Scarborough to the rest of the city. This is a fantastic first step but we still have decades of catching up to do. To keep up with the growth of our city we must invest to expand our subway system on an ongoing basis; the Scarborough subway expansion is the first of many steps. Moving forward, I’m committing to connecting the Sheppard subway to the Bloor-Danforth line. I’m also committed to the downtown relief line33 and the Finch line as top transit priorities for Toronto. To some of you this might seem ambitious but I know it can be done because they said I could not build a Scarborough subway and I got it done34. I have already proven that we can bring all three levels of government together to build subways in Toronto. All we need now, all we need now is the political will to make this vision a reality.
31 Except for the Spadina subway extension, which is currently under construction, and the Sheppard subway line, which opened in 2002.
32 Steve Munro has written at length about the “100-year-lie”: the short version is that there is virtually no part of a subway that lasts for 100 years—not even most of the tunnels.
33 “To be fair, the downtown people have enough subways already.” —Rob Ford, discussing the downtown relief line in 2013.
34 Actually it was Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) and Glenn De Baeremaker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) who led the strategy that actually got council to change its mind.
At the same time, my administration has moved aggressively to stimulate economic growth and create jobs35. Since December 2010, we have been focused on creating the conditions to boost employment in Toronto36. That focus is paying off. Toronto has experienced three consecutive years of positive job growth37. In 2013, we saw our highest job numbers in over 23 years. Today, 58,000 more residents are employed than when I first took office38, and that growth is not limited to the downtown core; we are experiencing economic growth across the city, in Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke. Folks, let’s face the facts: Toronto is booming like it’s never boomed before39. Today we are a global economic powerhouse: we are consistently rated as one of the top global destinations to live and do business. Each year our economy exports over $70 billion of goods and services to every corner of the world. Everyone knows Toronto is not just open for business, we are ready for business, we are hungry for business, and we want business here.
35 In truth, the mayor and the municipal government more broadly don’t have much power to stimulate economic growth, other than by funding new projects or increasing services (which can create employment). Rob Ford traditionally opposes most such proposals.
36 In addition to launching new projects, the City can also try to generate a business-friendly climate by doing things like reducing the tax load on certain classes of property, which Toronto voted to do—under David Miller.
37 As 2013 came to a close, unemployment here was on the rise: according to Statistics Canada, as reported in the Globe, it was up “by almost 11,000 people, an increase of close to 4 per cent, from a year ago.”
38 Toronto’s population has also grown by approximately 200,000 in that time, according to Statistics Canada. When Rob Ford took office, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment numbers were 9.4 per cent, and Canada’s unemployment numbers were 7.6 per cent. As of December 2013, Toronto’s unemployment rate had gone up to 10.1 per cent while Canada’s has declined to 7.2 per cent.
39 We had higher GDP growth from 1995-2000, both as percentage and in absolute numbers, than we are projected to have from 2010-15. (Also, as Carol Goar has pointed out, Canada’s supposedly encouraging jobs numbers in fact reflected an upswing in low-quality temporary jobs.)
Moving forward, I am committed to phasing out the land transfer tax. The land transfer tax makes Toronto less competitive and makes it more difficult to buy a home in this great city. This tax unfairly targets seniors and growing families. Toronto has the highest land transfer tax in Canada.40 We are the only city in Canada that hits homebuyers with a municipal land transfer tax as well as a provincial one.41 This is absolutely wrong. That’s thousands of dollars, thousands of dollars new homeowners42 would otherwise be putting into our economy and creating jobs: money that would be used for renovations or buying new furniture. As you may know, we made a push two weeks ago to cut the land transfer tax by a modest, modest five per cent. It is very unfortunate that there was little appetite from the councillors43 to even explore this important issue.
40 Nope. Heck, the Ontario land transfer tax is higher.
41 True, but we’re not the only municipality in Canada that has a specialized, higher total land transfer tax rate than the rest of its province. In Nova Scotia, for example, you pay more land transfer tax in Halifax than you do in Amherst; it’s just that it’s collected by the province instead of the city.
42 First-time homebuyers get land transfer tax rebates.
43 This lack of appetite stems at least in part from the City’s top civil servant, Joe Pennachetti, who has consistently opposed the suggestion that we can afford to reduce the land transfer tax, and warns of dire consequences if we do.
The reality is, folks, it hasn’t been long since council undemocratically took many of my powers44 and councillors are already going back to their old ways45. Toronto could easily, easily face a tax increase of 3.2 per cent or much more if councillors have their way. Yesterday at budget, the executive committee, we passed an increase of 2.25 per cent. Folks, that is a shell game.46 They got that from the land transfer tax projecting $360 million from next year’s land transfer tax when we haven’t even got the numbers in for this year’s land transfer tax. That’s not the way you do business. That’s not the way you run your personal finances, that’s not the way you run your own company.
44 Elected representatives voted to carry on City business in accordance with statutory law and the mandates given to them by their constituents, both at the polls on election day and at their offices in terms of the feedback they were getting from calls and emails on this issue in particular.
45 The City Manager has confirmed to reporters on several occasions that the budget did not undergo revision between that council vote and the budget’s formal launch shortly thereafter.
46 Ford’s right, in one way: the executive committee passed a lower property tax increase, making up the ensuing revenue shortfall by assuming the land transfer tax will bring in more than City staff have projected. It’s accounting hocus pocus. What Ford conveniently leaves out, however, is that part of the reason they voted for this is precisely because he was opposed to the original property tax increase, but refused or was unable to identify concrete items to cut from the budget instead.
I’m extremely disappointed that the mentality of City Hall has changed to the old ways, of tax tax tax and spend spend spend. We have already demonstrated that in every division there are major efficiencies to be found47; in four budgets we have found over $750 million in savings48 and that is just scraping the surface. Under my leadership, the City of Toronto is doing more with less49; my administration has shown that we do not need massive tax increases year after year; in fact, we have reduced the average annual tax increase by over 57 per cent since 2011. The people of this city pay enough taxes50. They give us enough money to run the city.
47 Three years ago, when the City commissioned KPMG to assess all departments and services, they were told that the vast majority of those services were ones the municipality was required by law to deliver, and there was very little that even in theory could be cut. In the budget that followed Ford did try to cut some things—cuts that council ended up reversing—but they were cuts (to TTC service levels, to library hours, and more), not efficiencies.
48 See note 3.
49 See note 11. Also, this is what Ford actually wants to do to this year’s budget.
50 As Ford himself noted earlier in the speech, Torontonians pay lower property taxes than any other municipality in the GTA. The argument that we “pay enough taxes” rings hollow when compared to Mississauga or Brampton’s property tax rates. If we had those, we might not be in so horrific a financial hole come 2015.
Next week I’ll be presenting motions at city council that will save well over $50 million with little impact to services51. But it will be up to the councillors, friends, it will be up to the councillors that you elect to make the right decision and support a fiscally responsible approach to our 2014 budget. I urge councillors to remember that that is their job, that we work for you, you elected us to spend your money wisely.
51 Rob Ford has had three budgets, outside consultants, and several rounds of debates about this budget already to produce this magical $50 million. He has been, surely, very motivated to do so—it’s his schtick, after all. No such savings have yet to materialize, and there is absolutely no reason to think that they will.
Ladies and gentlemen, on October 27, you must ask yourself one question: who do you trust with your hard-earned tax dollars? My administration’s record on this front speaks for itself: today the City of Toronto is focused on driving efficiencies52, investing in our capital priorities, and making the most of every tax dollar. You trusted me, you trusted me to put your hard-earned money where it needs to go, and I’m so proud to say that that’s exactly what my administration has done. Another promise made, another promise kept. Ninety per cent of what I said I was going to do, I have done53. We have rebuilt our fiscal foundation54. The City of Toronto has turned a corner, and is on a path to a brighter future. Ask yourself: are we better now than we were three years ago? Absolutely. Thank you very much.
52 [In which writers and editors debate how many times it makes sense to count the same lie, repeated over and over and over again.]
53 Not even close.
54 [In which writers and editors debate how many times it makes sense to count a different lie, repeated over and over and over again.]
And that was Rob Ford’s speech. More than 50 lies, half-truths, and instances of disingenuous spin. Rob Ford’s speech lasted 16 minutes, therefore Rob Ford took liberties with reality, on average, three times per minute. And that was in a speech where nobody asked him about drugs, alcohol, or criminal behaviour.
Additional reporting by David Hains.