Just one month ago, Toronto Councillor Doug Ford was demanding Police Chief Bill Blair’s resignation after a police investigation that targeted his brother Mayor Rob Ford. But on Wednesday, during two hours of budget negotiations, there was little, if any, noticeable tension between Councillor Ford and the police chief.
The City Council budget committee meeting considered a proposal Wednesday that would see a 3.1 per cent increase to the police force’s 2014 budget – including hiring 300 new officers. And, despite accusations from the Fords as recently as this week – when the mayor alleged in a televised interview that the drug investigation targeting him is politically-motivated payback over budget cuts – the meeting’s focus remained on the budget.
“I had no issue with the chief last time I checked,” Councillor Ford said after the meeting. He declined to comment when asked if he still wants the chief to resign.
Like Councillor Ford, Chief Blair said he was pleased with Wednesday’s meeting. “I thought all of the questions from all of the councillors were entirely appropriate,” he said.
“I don’t think that they will vote against a 3.1 per cent increase based on the bias against the chief,” Budget Chair Councillor Frank Di Giorgio said. “I mean, we are talking about the police service. We’re not just talking about the person that heads up the police service.”
The Toronto Police Services Board is asking the city for a 2014 operating budget of $957-million – an increase of $29-million over 2013.
Chief Blair, accompanied by Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee, said the proposal to hire 60 recruits in December, 2013, and another 300 in 2014 – for a total cost of $10.9-million – still wouldn’t be enough to make up for the average of 165 officers the force has been losing each year since it stopped hiring in 2011. Salary increases alone have added $27.3-million to Toronto Police’s budget next year.
“Any new hiring is simply to replace officers we’ve lost,” Chief Blair said.
Negotiations over the police budget have, in past years, been contentious, but Chief Blair wasn’t questioned too harshly Wednesday over his proposed budget increase. Mayor Ford and city hall sources suggested this was likely because they are saving their proposed changes for council next month
Mayor Ford said Wednesday that he still plans on voting against a proposed 2.5 tax increase. “I’m not budging from that. We can find efficiencies,” he said. “I have a number of motions. I can save us money. Bring them down on the floor of council and take it from there.”
Councillor Josh Matlow also weighed into the budget debate Wednesday, writing a letter urging the budget committee to eliminate a 0.5 per cent tax increase for the Scarborough subway.
Councillor Ford only directly addressed Chief Blair Wednesday during question period, about his proposal to reduce staffing costs through technology like photo radar and red-light cameras. The ongoing Toronto Police drug investigation targeting the mayor was never mentioned, though Chief Blair was asked for his thoughts on decriminalizing certain drugs, like marijuana.
In his response, Chief Blair said that the illegal drug trade and its impact on Toronto’s communities remains a “very significant” issue. “There needs to be a greater investment in helping people who are suffering from addiction,” he said.
Chief Blair, who said that it’s “absolutely not” true that the investigation into the mayor is politically-motivated, brushed off questions on whether tensions will affect ongoing budget talks.
“I tend to leave politics to politicians,” he said. “We do our jobs. Our job is to conduct criminal investigations and gather evidence and to place that evidence appropriately before the courts. That’s exactly what we’ve done in this case, and we’ll do it without fear or favour.”