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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Ford's 'respect for taxpayers' mandate is about to get real Add to ...

For the City of Toronto's 58,800 employees, this month will mark the moment when Mayor Rob Ford's "respect for taxpayers" campaign slogan begins to morph from election rhetoric into fiscal reality.

With council having voted to push ahead with outsourcing garbage collection and the police force mulling over layoffs, city bureaucrats and a KPMG team this week will wrap up public consultations on Mr. Ford's bid to reduce, eliminate or outsource a wide range of services to erase almost $800-million in spending for 2012. Council begins hammering out the details later this summer.

Despite a looming audit of his campaign spending, Mr. Ford remains a popular mayor among the thousands of Torontonians who believe, as he does, that City Hall is rife with "gravy." Adrienne Batra, his spokesperson, said in an e-mail that the mayor's office has even heard from some civil servants who are pleased to see the city taking such steps.

Anticipating layoffs, many other city employees are likely feeling far less enthusiastic, Ryerson University political scientist Myer Siemiatycki remarked. "I would say the mood inside City Hall among staff has to be demoralizing and more despondent than it's been in a long time. You have a mayor that's defining Toronto's problem as bloated spending and bloated bureaucracy."

In a recent interview, former deputy city manager Sue Corke added that the civil service went through major spending restraint exercises in each of the six years she worked for the municipality. "I think there's probably not a lot left if you're still going to provide services for people," she said, noting that many of the city's service levels are dictated by provincial legislation. "There's very little discretion."

Ms. Corke, who spearheaded the city's daycare policies, is one of a handful of senior officials who have been shown the door in recent months. "There probably isn't a match in values between what I was trying to accomplish and the new order."

It is not unusual for a new regime to put its stamp on the civil service. Early in his term, former mayor David Miller removed some of Mel Lastman's trusted officials. Armed with enhanced powers, Mr. Miller also pressed his bureaucrats to push priorities such as transit expansion and environmental initiatives.

The storyline with Mr. Ford is different because he's intent on reducing the city's reach, Prof. Siemiatycki noted.

In numerous interviews with labour leaders and bureaucrats in various divisions, the picture that emerges is one of a workforce coping with uncertainty, fearful of reprisals and affronted because in a speech earlier this spring to business leaders Mr. Ford said he had enough garbage to deal with at City Hall - a much-discussed remark in the municipality's office towers.

"People were stunned that he had not only no sense of the value of city staff, but equated them with garbage," said a veteran official who, like several other managers interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing their jobs or exposing their departments politically. "I have never seen anything like it."

Ms. Batra stressed that Mr. Ford "was not referring to city staff."

The 17,000 members of CUPE Local 79, however, "are demoralized," said president Anne Dembinski, who noted that her attempts to meet with Mr. Ford have been rebuffed.

"One has not been scheduled and I cannot say if one will be," said Ms. Batra.

Mark Ferguson, who heads Local 416, which represents outside workers including garbage collectors, said there's "a general sense of fear among our members." But, he added, the union is gearing up for a fight. "We're in for a heck of a ride next year and we're well prepared for it."

Prof. Siemiatycki noted that all-out attacks on the civil service, and the associated labour disruptions, have the potential to backfire politically, as happened with Mike Harris' Tories. "The friction of those relationships were part of what in the end defeated those governments," he said. "The public has only so much appetite for excessive conflict between government leaders and the public service because inevitably those conflicts hurts the public."

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