It was a sunny Rob Ford who was on deck this week in a series of year-end broadcast interviews.
Forget that his budget-cutting campaign is in disarray. Disregard that the police chief kicked sand his face or that his own new library board refused to swallow his demand for a 10-per-cent budget cut. Don’t fret that a clash with the city’s unions is looming.
“We’ve had a fantastic year,” he told John Oakley of AM640 radio. “We have changed the culture down at City Hall. I’m convinced of that. It’s like turning around the Queen Mary, but we’re turning, slowly but surely.”
That is not the ship that comes to mind where the Ford administration is concerned. But all criticism seems to roll off Mr. Ford’s back. Nothing can get this mayor down – not even the facts.
Mr. Ford boasted about cutting the number of city employees by offering them “lucrative” buyout packages. Quite a few took the offer, he said. “Not enough, though,” Mr. Oakley said. “A lot more than what we thought, so I think we’re in good shape,” Mr. Ford replied.
In fact, as anyone who has paid even casual attention should know, the number of workers who took the buyout fell far short of what the city hoped. As a result, the city is preparing to lay off hundreds, despite Mr. Ford’s election-campaign assurance that layoffs would not be needed.
On transit issues, the mayor seemed equally off base. Stephen LeDrew of CP24 television asked Mr. Ford about the news that his decision to kill the Transit City light-rail project would cost the city $65-million in cancellation fees. The mayor called the $65-million “completely fictitious numbers” that someone “pulled out of the sky.”
In fact, the figure came from the mouth of Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager Gary Webster, who was being questioned this week by city council’s budget committee.
Here’s another. Mr. Ford promised during the election campaign to build an extended Sheppard subway line and have it “completed and open” before Toronto holds the Pan Am Games in 2015. That was wildly improbable even then, given the long timelines for building subways, and Mr. Ford concedes it is “virtually impossible” now.
But he insists that work will start soon on both the Sheppard line and the Eglinton Crosstown light-rail project and that Toronto should have “a big chunk done” by the time the Games start. Really? asked an incredulous Mr. Oakley. Sure, said the mayor, “Eglinton should be done by then.”
In fact, Metrolinx, the regional transit agency, says the project will not be finished until late 2020, a good five years after the Pan Am athletes have gone home. The TTC’s Mr. Webster thinks it will be more like 2022.
The big question, of course, is where Mr. Ford is going to get the money for his treasured Sheppard line. Premier Dalton McGuinty has stiffed him every time he has gone to Queen’s Park for help with the $4.2-billion project. The province, after all, is paying the whole cost of the $8.4-billion Eglinton line, and the Premier has been clear from the start that Sheppard is Mr. Ford’s baby.
Not to worry, Mr. Ford told Mr. Oakley. “They have to put the money where their mouths are or they aren’t going to get re-elected.” Only one problem: Mr. McGuinty just was re-elected, although with a smaller number of seats. What is more, his re-election came not long after a famous meeting with Mr. Ford in which he offered the mayor no hope whatsoever of getting much Sheppard money from a strapped provincial government. Just this week, Mr. Ford may have noticed, credit-rating experts gave Ontario a sharp warning about its debt.
No matter: “I feel very good about it,” the mayor said of prospects for building Sheppard with provincial help. “I feel very, very confident.” Confidence is one word for it.