Mayor Rob Ford, facing fresh allegations about his personal life, went on the offensive during council’s second day of budget debates, which also included a rehash of the Scarborough subway battle.
Council passed the budget 35-9 after a raucous 12-hour session Thursday with the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, and budget chair Frank Di Giorgio among those who opposed it.
“It’s a budget that demonstrates how members of council can work together,” said Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, who voted in favour. He was given most of the mayor’s authority by council after Mr. Ford admitted he smoked crack cocaine.
The mayor saw it differently, calling it a “phantom budget” because of its reliance on higher revenue from the land-transfer tax. “That’s not a real budget,” he said, calling his cuts that got approval “a good start.”
“You know what, let’s just get on the campaign trail. I can hold my head high because I know I went to bat for the taxpayers of this city and I just can’t wait to deliver the message,” he said.
The final vote came one day after councillors passed a 2.23-per-cent residential tax increase, including a 0.5-per-cent levy for an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. While council debated the tax rate Wednesday, news also broke that Mr. Ford is being sued for his alleged connection to a jailhouse assault involving his sister’s former common-law husband.
Mr. Ford refused to answer questions on the suit Thursday, but did make public the passel of money-saving proposals he has been promising for weeks.
The mayor’s motions – 18 in all – included cutting $7-million for 97,000 new trees, collecting unpaid library fines on tax bills and charging lower-income families $14 so they have “some skin in the game” when they register for free city recreation programs.
Mr. Ford suggested taking security guards out of public libraries, noting, “I don’t think we’re going to have two six-year-olds battling it out over a dinosaur book.”
Council agreed to two of the mayor’s cuts – ending printing of two city publications and cancelling an employee engagement survey for a total savings of $726,000.
Council also passed two of the mayor’s other motions that did not lead to immediate savings – one to try to replace $19-million in city funding for the Pan Am Games with corporate sponsorships and another to speed up the sharing of services among city departments, which could save between $10-million and $15-million.
Council also agreed to more than $3-million in additional spending, with most of it, $3-million, for transit. Council rejected a push by firefighters for more funding, a move that will eliminate four trucks. Executive committee had previously added $2-million to save one truck.
Three last-ditch efforts to divert the $12-million the subway levy will raise this year were ruled out of order, but not before a lengthy and heated debate – the latest in a series of transit fights during this term of council.
Councillor Josh Matlow wanted to hold the funds in reserve until more information is available and made no bones about his desire to eventually kill what he called a “boondoggle.”
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam wanted to use the subway money to fund social housing and Scarborough Councillor Paul Ainslie wanted it directed to a range of items including unfunded TTC projects.
The motions prompted a new round of outrage from councillors favouring the subway project, including Glenn De Baeremaeker who characterized them as a slight of Scarborough residents from those who sneer at the area from their “perch downtown.”
“These motions are a declaration of war on the people of Scarborough. There will be consequences,” he said.
Prior to the transit battle, the debate on Mr. Ford’s proposed cuts also got testy. Under questioning about his cuts to tree planting, Mr. Ford quickly got personal with Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, accusing her of being “missing in action” during the ice storm.
“I just can’t comprehend how you think sometimes, Councillor McMahon,” the mayor said.
“Right back at you,” she replied.
Ms. McMahon said later that she was helping residents in her ward during the ice storm.
Tensions increased after another councillor pointed out that Mr. Ford had used his speaking time before introducing all of his proposals. When a debate ensued about whether the ones he did not get to could be considered by council, Speaker Frances Nunziata cut off the commotion and called an early lunch. After the break she varied procedure to allow all the motions on the floor.
Mr. Ford tried to turn the procedural foul-up to his advantage, laying the blame with the clerk’s staff and saying councillors were just trying to keep his money-saving ideas off the floor. “They are doing everything in their power for me not to present them,” the mayor told reporters. “They are finding every excuse not to vote on them.”
His brother played backup, telling reporters only he and his brother were fighting for taxpayers. “Unlike these characters down here. They’d take the gold fillings out of your teeth if they had the opportunity,” he said.