If you have been following the struggle over the city budget, you may have noticed that three words keep popping up: radical conservative agenda. Left-leaning critics of Mayor Rob Ford say the budget reveals his radical conservative plan to destroy public services.
"What we have is a radical conservative agenda to shrink our capacity to pay for things and as a result force us into making cuts – and that's a radical agenda," said Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina).
Toronto's budget problem, said Councillor Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), "was created by the radical conservative agenda, on purpose, to cut services."
Councillor Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) threw in an extra word: extremist. "What we are dealing with here is an extremist, radical conservative agenda, not what is real and true in the working world in the city of Toronto."
Do you sense a pattern here? Unless you believe that this three-word zinger popped into the mind of every Toronto leftie through some kind of progressive mind meld, then what we are seeing is an orchestrated campaign to stick a label on Mr. Ford and his cost-cutting exercise. Some time in the last little while, leaders of the left decided that "radical conservative agenda" had just the right, scary sound.
To them, saying that Mr. Ford's cuts are unfair or unnecessary is not enough. They must be part of something sinister. A radical conservative agenda. An attempt not just to trim the cost and the size of city government, but to dismantle it.
"Everything is orchestrated toward financing the destruction of government. That's the radical part of it," says Mr. Vaughan.
Mr. Perks compares Mr. Ford to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. He says the mayor's budget is just plain "mean." Mr. Ford, he argues, is so hostile to government that he is creating a phony budget crisis to justify his radical conservative attack on it.
"I believe the administration we have right now does not believe government should be delivering services to people who need them," says Mr. Perks. "There is a deliberate attack on the services that make Toronto a livable city. That's radical."
It would be if it were true. But the evidence for Mr. Ford's radicalism is weak. After months of meetings and consultations, the budget has been stripped of most of its more controversial cuts. Library-branch closures: off the table. School nutrition programs: saved.
Asked after a budget committee meeting on Monday to identify a radical Ford cut, his critics were hard-pressed to name one. Closing five wading pools hardly qualifies. Selling off three city-owned theatres is not exactly Gotterdammerung, and anyway the city is still only thinking about it.
As Councillor Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) pointed out on Monday, proposing an overall spending reduction of around $50-million in a budget of more than $9-billion doesn't qualify as radical surgery. Even with all the cuts, adds Councillor John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West), the city's spending will still exceed its revenues by $77-million – "hardly what anyone who has an understanding of the dictionary meaning of the term would call either radical or conservative."
Laying off about 1,200 workers in a work force of more than 50,000 does not put Mr. Ford in the Iron Lady's league. Nor does a modest plan to save money by contracting out garbage collection west of Yonge Street. Many Canadian cities already contract it out citywide. If the mayor is really trying to destroy city government by stealth, he is making a poor fist of it.
You can fault Mr. Ford for a lot of things. He misled voters by telling them cutting the gravy would be easy. He made the city's money problems worse with rash tax cuts and freezes. But labelling him as a radical conservative with a dastardly scheme to destroy government is a bit much.