Is Rob Ford's Budget Speech a Preview of His Re-Election Campaign?
Torontoist has been acquired by Daily Hive Toronto - Your City. Now. Click here to learn more.




Is Rob Ford’s Budget Speech a Preview of His Re-Election Campaign?

The mayor's speech to his executive committee provides a glimpse at what he might say to voters during a byelection.

Rob Ford on the campaign trail in 2010. Photo by {a href=""}Dan Cronin^{/a}, from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The 2013 City budget process is entering its final stretch, and Mayor Rob Ford, who campaigned on his supposed fiscal smarts, is naturally going to be doing everything he can in coming days to take credit for any cost reductions. This is especially true now that there’s a chance he’ll be forced into a byelection—assuming there’s a possibility he’ll lose his conflict-of-interest appeal.

This morning on Facebook, Ford released the text of a speech he delivered, also this morning, to his executive committee, which met today to discuss the budget. It reads like a stump speech, so let’s analyze it like one. How truthful is Ford being when he says things like this?

After two years of hard work and heavy lifting, we’ve turned the tide.  Our 2013 operating budget is balanced for the first time ever—without using any prior year surplus. Once again, we have held the line on spending.

This sounds great, except it’s not exactly right. Toronto is forbidden, under provincial law, from ever running a deficit, so the City’s budget is actually balanced every single year. And although the recommended 2013 budget doesn’t use prior-year surplus, it does contain a hefty one-time draw from the City’s reserves, which is exactly the type of unsustainable spending Ford has railed against.

Our 2013 gross operating budget is basically the same size as last year.

This is true, but it’s not as impressive as Ford seems to think. The gross operating budget is the total amount of money the City plans to spend on its operations in a given year. It includes revenue and transfers from higher levels of government.

The net operating budget is the part that’s actually funded by property taxes, and it continues to rise under Ford. Metro columnist Matt Elliott pointed this out back in September. “Cutting the gross budget is as simple as scaling back some programs funded by user fees or insisting that no prior year surplus money go into program delivery,” Elliott wrote. In other words, it’s more an accounting trick than a genuine achievement.

Last year, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, Executive Director Bruce Anderson and Chief Negotiator Bob Reynolds worked with union leadership to achieve phenomenal savings of over $150 million in our new four-year collective agreements. We avoided a labour disruption and gave city managers the flexibility they need to improve customer service while managing costs. Our employees deserve thanks for doing their part too.

Even Ford’s worst enemies will concede that his administration deserves credit for wrangling affordable contracts with the City’s unions, but the $150-million figure cited here is misleading. It’s the total amount of savings expected over the lifetime of the contracts. Not all of that spending reduction will be realized in 2013.

We also privatized garbage collection west of Yonge St. saving $88 million and improving customer service in the process.

Again, this would be over the lifetime of the contract. The $88 million mentioned by Ford will take seven years to accrue, assuming it’s even an accurate figure.

The City Manager will tell you how 84 per cent of our growth in net expenditures in the last decade is due to Police, Fire, EMS and TTC. This year, our police service came in with a zero-increase budget. Perhaps, the first in its history. Well done. Fire and EMS have also been asked to largely hold the line.

Sure, if you call a budget full of postponed spending and unallocated cuts “flatlined.” All the Toronto Police Service has done is buy itself some time, possibly in the hopes that a new mayor will be along soon.

Transportation is also a major concern in Toronto. I campaigned on making the investments necessary to improve our network of roads, trails and transit. For almost a decade, City Council neglected to maintain the Gardiner Expressway, which now needs a major investment just to keep it safe and functional.

Blaming your predecessors really only works, in politics, if you weren’t one of them. Ford has been on council since 2000. He bears no more blame for the state of the Gardiner than anyone else, but he sure didn’t campaign on fixing it. The expressway was crumbling away for months while the mayor led the City through a doomed attempt to reorient its transit expansion plans towards subways.

If this is the type of rhetoric Ford plans on taking to voters in a few months, he’ll be giving his opponents plenty to work with.

You can read the rest of Ford’s speech here.