If Toronto’s mayor won’t change his mind about accepting a driver, the decision will be taken out of his hands by city council, says his brother Doug Ford, who is promising to end the debate once and for all.
“He is always debating about a driver. As far as I am concerned, that debate is over,” said the Etobicoke councillor, who has been pushing for some time for his brother to get out from behind the wheel.
Spending money on a staff member to chauffeur him around is a politically unpalatable option for Mayor Rob Ford, who came to office on a pledge to cut costs. He has drastically reduced spending in the mayor’s office, so there likely is little room in that budget to cover a driver, Doug Ford said. “The office budget is tight already,” he added.
Another option, Mr. Ford said, is to have city council independently approve the cost of a driver for the mayor during office hours. It’s a move the councillor believes will get strong support even from the mayor’s political foes and one already endorsed by the city’s cost-conscious budget chair.
“Council could decide on its own to spend the money,” Mr. Ford said. “Even people that don’t agree with Rob agree he needs a driver.”
Pressure to hire a driver is mounting after Mayor Ford was captured on camera earlier this week reading notes while driving on the Gardiner Expressway.
Winnie Li, the city’s director of council and support services, said there is no way of knowing at this point in the year how much of the mayor’s annual budget has been committed and if there is money available for a driver. The mayor’s 2012 constituency services and office budget, which includes staffing, is $1.9-million, down from just more than $2-million in 2011.
Councillor Adam Vaughan said the mayor should either start driving more safely or pay for a driver out of his own budget. “I’m not interested in cutting other programs to find [money],” he said.
The mayor’s aides could drive him around, on top of their regular duties, so that no one new has to be hired, Mr. Vaughan said. Former mayor David Miller employed that type of arrangement. Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of the mayor’s executive and an ally on council, said the decision should be up to the mayor, not council. He noted that previous mayors have had drivers and paid for them out of their office budgets, which are larger than the budgets set aside for other councillors.
“The mayor has to be congratulated for his frugality,” Mr. Minnan-Wong said. “But that needs to be balanced against his safety and that of pedestrians and other motorists.”