Rob Ford's promise to hold next year's residential tax hike at 1.75 per cent is not realistic, says the man he picked to steer his fiscal plan.
Just days after Toronto council stripped Mr. Ford of most of his staff and power, his budget chair, Councillor Frank Di Giorgio, set the stage for the first real test of how the city's makeshift governance model will function when budget talks begin next week. While Mr. Ford remains mayor, council's vote Monday has handed most of his authority to deputy mayor Norm Kelly, leaving the city's budget chair playing go-between.
Even though the budget hike will likely top 2 per cent, Mr. Di Giorgio said he is doing his best to fulfill Mr. Ford's conservative fiscal plan.
"I think 1.75 [per cent] may be a little too demanding," Mr. Di Giorgio said Wednesday afternoon as he cooled his heels outside the mayor's office, hoping to get a meeting. The higher number, he insisted, is not a reflection of the recent controversy surrounding the mayor. Inflation, provincial funding cuts for social housing and a 0.5-per-cent tax increase to fund a Scarborough subway are all contributing to that hike, he said.
As for who will set the tone in the city's coming budget debate – the weakened mayor or his newly empowered deputy – Mr. Kelly told curious reporters his new role as chair of the city's executive committee puts him in control. Still, he said, he is hoping for a truce with Mr. Ford, who has declared war over council's actions.
"We both carry important responsibilities, and while there may be differences, it would be nice to find some common ground," Mr. Kelly said as he introduced the 10-person team that will help him in his new role – all members of the mayor's staff just one day ago. The deputy mayor's staff includes Mr. Ford's top advisers – his former chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and director of policy.
With the mayor spoiling for a fight, Mr. Di Giorgio said the budget could be the first battleground. The mayor could use the higher tax increase as proof of a return to what he characterizes as the city's former tax-and-spend ways.
Even under less trying circumstances last year, Mr. Ford voted against his own budget chair, prompting the resignation of Councillor Mike Del Grande from that post.
Mr. Ford, who arrived at City Hall around 3 p.m. and spent time in his office with his two lawyers, made some staff changes of his own Wednesday, picking a new chief of staff and cutting ties with a controversial figure in his office.
Dan Jacobs, one of nine employees to remain in Mr. Ford's slimmed-down office, is the new chief of staff.
David Price, Mr. Ford's director of operations and logistics, was informed Tuesday that he did not have a place with either Mayor Ford or with the newly expanded office of the deputy mayor and cleaned out his office, a city hall source confirmed.
Earlier this year, a Globe and Mail investigation revealed that Mr. Price, a long-time friend of the Ford family, dealt hashish with the mayor's brother, Doug Ford, in the 1980s.
The mayor's new chief of staff, Mr. Jacobs, said it was his decision to continue to work for Mr. Ford, who he said remains an "active member of council."
He joined the mayor's office in June, one of several new hires to fill the vacancies created by an exodus of staff after allegations first surfaced that Mr. Ford had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine.
He recently admitted to using the drug, after denying it for months. Before coming to city hall, Mr. Jacobs was a producer of the now-defunct weekly radio show done by Mr. Ford and his brother.
"I didn't come into this job looking for a political role," Mr. Jacobs said in his first interview with reporters.
"I came into an office and came in with a mayor that I thought at a grassroots level was taking the time to respond to hundreds of e-mails and phone calls a day, and really help people out on an individual basis."
On Wednesday, while the deputy mayor and budget chair waited for meetings, Mr. Ford was out talking to people, including an unannounced appearance at Gordon A. Brown middle school in East York, where his cousin works as a teacher, according to Councillor Janet Davis. His cousin wasn't there at the time, so the mayor left, handing out business cards and magnets to students, a school trustee told Ms. Davis, who represents the ward where the school is located.
"I think it's odd behaviour and actually inappropriate in the current circumstances, in the whirl of controversy surrounding him, to just arrive unannounced at an elementary school," she said.