In his first public appearance since being stripped of many of his powers, a fired-up Mayor Rob Ford touted his economic record and said he would fight a looming property tax increase.
“In the coming year, I will continue to fight for the taxpayer,” he told a business crowd at Casa Loma. “Taxes are going up 2 1/2 per cent. That is not the way I ran the government and I will not be supportive of 2 1/2 per cent tax increases, when I know we could achieve a 1 3/4 per cent tax increase.”
The appearance allowed him to revert to his old role as City Hall outsider struggling to retain his profligate peers. But the event did not go entirely smoothly.
Wearing his chain of office, which he brings out only rarely, Mr. Ford drew scattered laughs when he took credit for turning the city into an “economic powerhouse” since taking office. And he was lambasted in a speech given just before his by Councillor Michael Thompson.
“The damage to our national and international reputation, caused by reckless and irresponsible behaviour, will heal over time,” said the palpably angry Mr. Thompson, chair of the city’s economic development committee. “I want to assure you that we will not let the personal failings of one or two people reduce our momentum, or drag our city down.”
Mr. Ford took the criticism in stride, grinning and thanking the councillor for his “kind words” before launching into his standard stump speech.
“Toronto has a diversified economy and a business-friendly climate,” he said at one point. “That’s what I said I was going to do ... and I have done what I said I was going to do.”
The speech Thursday night came after a tumultuous few weeks in which Mr. Ford admitted smoking crack, drinking and driving and faced allegations of inappropriate use of city staff. On Monday much of his authority and budget were handed over to the Deputy Mayor.
But Mr. Ford found a receptive audience as he leaned on his fiscal record, a strong part of his brand since entering politics.
Guest Greg Hart said he appreciated what the mayor had done on the fiscal front.
“Unfortunately all the drama going on, it’s a bit of an embarrassment,” he said. “Credibility, as far as that goes, it’s a bit of a toss-up. But, I mean, in terms of what he’s done so far, economically and what he’s done for the economy, I think it’s good. He’s certainly done a lot of good.”
Before Mr. Ford made his pitch to the business crowd, his budget chair Frank Di Giorgio tried to find what he described as “common ground” between the mayor and the deputy mayor on the budget discussions that begin Monday.
“It’s a work in progress. I work on one guy at a time,” he said emerging from Mr. Ford’s office late Thursday. He met with the Deputy Mayor earlier in the day.
“They both have to be aware. They both have to know what is going on,” he said. Ask to describe his role in the city’s new two-headed governance system he said “conciliator,” then corrected it to “adjudicator. ”
Mr. Di Giorgio said the mayor is upset because he made a promise to hold the residential tax hike at 1.75 per cent next year, something the budget chair says is no longer realistic. Instead, he said the number presented next week by staff “will be in excess of two,” not including the 0.5 per cent increase already approved by council to fund the Scarborough subway extension. “If something other than 1.75 is recommended, it doesn’t reflect well on someone who made a promise. I’d be upset, as well,” he said.
“To be brutally honest, I think his feeling is the moment he was pushed aside the gravy train got back in action,” Mr. Di Giorgio said, adding that he does not believe that is the case. “I am still committed to trying to do the best that I can to meet his fiscal agenda.”
Mr. Kelly, who is replacing the mayor as chair of the executive committee and will steer the debate on the budget committee’s recommendations, would not commit to the mayor’s 1.75 per cent cap. “There is nothing wrong with setting an agenda and working towards it,” he said, adding he will consult with staff and councillors before making a decision.
“In the end, it will be council’s budget,” said Mr. Kelly, who has yet to meet with the mayor since Monday’s raucous council meeting where the mayor was stripped of most of his powers and his budget.
“He was angry at everybody a few days ago,” he said. “I think over time his passion will subside and hopefully he will become a bit more reasonable and rational, be in a more co-operative spirit. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
But Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, who sits on the budget committee, said the mayor doesn’t offer solutions to meet his budget goals. “He doesn’t understand the budget and he doesn’t understand the budget process because he never attends the budget meetings,” she said.
“You cannot just take a number out of the sky and say that this is where we’re going to hold to. You have to look at the budget.”
Councillor Ana Bailao said given the 0.5 per cent increase for the subway she believes the chance of holding next year’s tax increase at 1.75 is “close to none.” A more realistic goal is between 2 and 2.5 per cent, she said.
As for Mr. Ford’s pledge to cut the land transfer tax by 10 per cent: “No way,” she says. “It’s not feasible.”
In his new role as arbitrator, Mr. Di Giorgio is not ready to give up either of those goals. “It’s not the end of the road yet,” he said.
With files from Kaleigh Rogers
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