Torontonians put Rob Ford in the Mayor’s chair because they realized their city’s budget needed a good scouring. Instead of the frank but reasoned conversation we need about the services Torontonians want from their city, and who should deliver them, the mayor and his team have served up needless distractions. Voters were ready for change; the distractions have squandered the goodwill that was available to make difficult change happen.
Mr. Ford’s confidante, city councillor Doug Ford, offered up two distractions. His attack on the city’s high quality public libraries was unnecessary (especially since the library service is only $170-million in a $9-billion) and galvanized political opposition to any efficiencies at all.
And while a monorail, ferris wheel and megamall might add up to a fun night out, his new vision for Toronto’s Portlands would mean overturning the existing plan for Toronto’s eastern waterfront, which is just starting to bear fruit. To attempt to do so on the eve of a major conversation about the city’s finances – a completely different topic – is an unnecessary diversion.
Remember that Rob Ford originally promised to find “the gravy” without making cuts. When that was quickly shown to be unrealistic, he went missing, deploying a civil servant – City Manager Joe Pennachetti – to defend proposed cuts. Instead of bringing people together around constructive proposals, the Fords’ distractions, and Rob Ford insistence on repeating old cant about gravy without any details, are driving people, including centrist councillors, apart.
So let’s have a thoughtful conversation about what we value. Let’s preserve programs of demonstrable excellence or essentially connected to our productivity, to the protection of the most vulnerable, or to the smooth functioning of the city. And let’s start naming the surplus – whether it’s surplus city property like theatres and zoos, or surplus labour contracts – as candidates for reduction.
If Rob Ford does manage to end some wasteful spending, and reduce the city’s dependency on public sector workers, then we will owe him our gratitude. But at this point, he is not showing the leadership required to get the job done.