Even as they tried to tone down overheated rhetoric, the budget impasse between Police Chief Bill Blair and Mayor Rob Ford remained after the two men emerged from a rare hour-long meeting with sharply diverging messages.
A serene Mr. Ford told reporters Monday he has complete confidence that Mr. Blair and the Police Services Board can trim 10 per cent from the force’s budget without service reductions. This came just minutes after the grim-faced chief delivered the opposite message.
“We have implemented every efficiency we can find,” Chief Blair said. “We quite frankly have stretched the organization’s ability to deliver adequate and effective policing services, but we’ve done that in response to the city’s request.”
The meeting was held three days after Chief Blair delivered a report to the Toronto Police Services Board asking for a budget increase of 1.5 per cent – a demand that defies the mayor’s request for 10-per-cent cuts from every department.
Michael Thompson, vice-chair of the board, hammered Chief Blair’s credibility when he learned of the budget demand, suggesting the board could find a replacement if Chief Blair can’t deliver on the mayor’s request.
Chief Blair went on the offensive Monday morning, taking to the airwaves and meeting with Mr. Ford to explain that his budget request actually amounts to a 3-per-cent reduction when the force’s new collective agreement is factored in to the equation.
With more than 85 per cent of his budget tied up in labour costs, Chief Blair faces a difficult task in carving out 10 per cent without issuing pink slips, something the mayor has asked him to avoid. To meet the target, the chief has estimated he would have to shed 1,000 positions by January, 2012, a massive service reduction that would require the approval of board and council and the consent of the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, a quasi-judicial provincial agency responsible for approving force sizes.
Despite this argument, Mr. Ford stuck by his request. “The chief understands the challenges we face as a city,” he said. “I have confidence that the chief and our board will find the efficiencies I’ve asked for.”
While their rhetoric suggested a political logjam, there were signs of rapprochement behind the scenes. Briefed on the mayor’s chat with Chief Blair, Mr. Thompson reiterated that he was disappointed with the chief’s request but said something more agreeable was in the offing. “As I understand it, as we move forward, we will more than likely see something completely different,” he said.
All parties involved seemed to distance themselves from Mr. Thompson’s comments regarding Mr. Blair’s job security.
When asked, the police chief dismissed the remarks as “political rhetoric.”
“I would remind councillor Thompson that my job is to police this city and manage the police service, not to fulfill some political agenda,” he told reporters after his meeting with the mayor.