Mayor Rob Ford marked the passing of his budget flanked by supporters, but noticeably absent was Mike Del Grande, a loyal lieutenant in the mayor’s cost-cutting battle. Just moments earlier as Mr. Ford left the council chamber, Mr. Del Grande handed him his resignation letter, stepping down as budget chair.
“I just thought that it was time,” explained the Scarborough councillor, who said he had his letter with him in the council chamber. “Just in case.”
The final straw, he said, was not the new spending approved by council but another motion that took aim at the way the budget was prepared. Mr. Del Grande said the motion that passed 25-20 was a vote of no confidence against him.
In a process he had worked long hours to shepherd, “I thought, you know what, that’s that. I saw it as a definite message. I don’t think it’s fair to be vilified.” Mr. Del Grande said he stands by his accomplishments as the head of the budget committee for the past two years. “I don’t think we would have got here if I had not done the things I did.”
Last month, Mr. Del Grande threatened to resign if councillors tried to add millions in additional spending to the budget. "If at the end of the day council wants to blow 5, 10, 20, 50-million dollars that’s them,” he told reporters at the time. “I tell you guaranteed – guaranteed – they won’t have me as budget chair. I have no interest under that scenario."
In a statement late Wednesday night Mr. Ford said: "On behalf of every Toronto taxpayer, I'd like to thank Councillor Mike Del Grande for two years' service, and three city budgets, as budget chief. He has been a key leader on my team, helping Toronto turn the corner and achieve the sustainable budget we passed Wednesday. I look forward to the contribution he will make as a member of the Toronto Police Services Board." Mr. Del Grande was appointed by council to the board late last year.
Earlier Wednesday, Councillor Doug Ford boasted that a Little Italy lunch event after the budget passed, which included councillors of all stripes, was proof of his brother’s ability to get along with everyone.
The city’s $9.4-billion fiscal plan received council approval Wednesday after $12-million in new spending was added, including an extra $3.1-million for the city’s fire service – a compromise that received the mayor’s endorsement after some heated discussions.
The mayor’s summation of the final budget: “It could have been a lot worse,” he told reporters.
Also missing from the lunch, along with Mr. Del Grande, was Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who criticized the mayor for breaking ranks Tuesday to support a faint-hope effort to freeze property taxes. Some of the mayor’s usual supporters also voted against the compromise on fire services, including deputy mayor Doug Holyday and Mr. Del Grande.
As Mr. Ford waits for the verdict in his appeal hearing that will determine whether he remains in office, the 2013 budget debate has shown divisions within his own team, even as his supporters use it as an example of how the mayor has learned to compromise.
“We fended them off. They are like piranha,” said Mr. Ford, recounting councillors’ efforts to push through about $50-million in new funding during the two days of debate. “You know what, we got away unscathed.”
Not quite. Mr. Del Grande ended up being a casualty.
Mr. Del Grande, still smarting from the mayor’s decision to back a tax-freeze motion in contradiction of his own budget, said, “I just didn’t have my heart in it,” when asked why he skipped the mayor’s media event.
“It’s kind of hard and I don’t think the mayor gets it when he votes for zero per cent,” he said. “I thought it was a mistake. I don’t think he understands that. I don’t think he has the capacity to understand that. I don’t think he understands when you say you support the budget and tell everybody to support the budget, you don’t do something like that.”
Far from a show of unity, Councillor Joe Mihevc – who was also at the lunch – said the budget has revealed the divisions in the mayor’s camp. “They’ve shown themselves to lack solidarity, lack vision, lack leadership,” said Mr. Mihevc, who spearheaded the addition of $1.16-million in new funding for student nutrition programs. “I think they are ready to throw him under the bus.”
The mayor said this year’s budget is a document on which he would “most definitely” campaign if he is kicked out of office and council opts to call a by-election. “I am going to put my name forward regardless of what happens and I welcome all oncomers,” he said. “I will look forward to the debates and I will look forward to going to the voters and asking them for their vote in the next election and I feel very, very confident that I will be successful.”