During his troubled term as mayor, Rob Ford and left-wing councillor Gord Perks rarely saw eye-to-eye. But now that John Tory is mayor, the pair are agreeing on one thing – their opposition to the new leader's plan for balancing the books.
Two days after unveiling a proposed budget for 2015 and calling it "the right thing to do," Mr. Tory was under attack from the right and the left of council for the budget's reliance on a line of credit from the province to achieve balance.
The tentative plan, which is still under negotiation with Queen's Park, would see the province floating a loan to the city to plug an $86-million funding gap created by a previously announced withdrawal of provincial funding.
Mr. Tory defended the plan Thursday, saying it will allow the city to spread the pain of the funding cut over several years. The move is the best the city could do, he said, in response to the province's refusal to acknowledge that "Toronto is different." As for his detractors, the new mayor told reporters the public knows better. "I think they understand that I wouldn't do anything that was less than completely responsible financially," he said.
Using a line of credit is "entirely reasonable," he argued. "It allows us to have a balanced budget and it allows us to get ahead with these investments that I think are urgent."
Opponents of the plan, such as Mr. Ford and Mr. Perks, say it's wrong to call a budget balanced if it is relying on borrowed money to break even.
"Absolutely it's not balanced," said Mr. Ford, now an Etobicoke councillor, who came to City Hall Thursday after his fourth day of radiation treatment for a rare form of cancer. "I've never heard of this happening before. I've never heard of a line of credit to balance a budget."
Mr. Perks called the line-of-credit option "very, very risky" because it uses one-time funding for ongoing costs, a practice the city has worked to wean itself off of in recent years.
"This is not a balanced budget. This is not like any budget the City of Toronto has debated in eight years at least," he said.
Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong – traditionally a fiscal conservative – said the critics just demonstrate the moderate tack being taken by the mayor. "Gord Perks is from the extreme far left, Rob Ford is from the extreme far right, Mayor Tory is trying to govern from the middle," he said, describing the meeting of the minds by the two traditional foes as "an unholy alliance" he has never seen before, adding: "You never say never in this place."
Toronto's most senior bureaucrat, city manager Joe Pennachetti, said that until the final deal is inked with the province, he cannot say for certain if the operating budget will hinge on one-time funding. "Depending on how the outstanding amount that's built into the budget is funded, it may be correct that it is one-time," he said.
Council will not approve any budget until March.
With a report from Oliver Moore