Wednesday, December 22, 2010 – Globe and Mail
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY
Coming off successive victories at his first substantive council meeting, Mayor Rob Ford has reason to be pleased with himself: He has slain a personal vehicle tax and trimmed councillors’ budgets, has declared light-rail transit dead in its tracks and lacks only the province’s approval to remove transit workers’ right to strike.
And he made it clear in an interview with The Globe and Mail Tuesday that he has no intention of toning it down as he heads into a new year. In 2011, he’ll have to conjure budget efficiencies his opponents say are impossible, construct brand-new transit plans to replace projects years in the making and confront the city’s strongest unions.
Mr. Ford said an auditor’s report due in January will vindicate what he’s been saying for years about waste at city hall – waste he still can’t specify but which he has told city staff to find, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, over the next several weeks.
“There’s something coming from the auditor’s office that’s going to be pretty earthshaking. I can’t tell you what that is right now, but there’s a lot of waste,” he said. “I’m not happy with what he found but he did his job and I’ll have to deal with it.”
Neither Mr. Ford nor the city’s auditor-general, Jeff Griffiths, would give details on the report, although Mr. Griffiths referenced last year’s audit into the city’s downtown Peter Street shelter, which ended up costing twice as much as the city budgeted to purchase the former nightclub site.
“We’re still in the middle of finalizing the report. It’s a little premature at the moment,” he said. “The only discussion I’ve had with the mayor is that there are a number of reports coming out that are going to be maybe problematic. … If you take a look at reports we’ve done over the past couple of years, Peter Street, from our perspective, was extremely problematic, if you want to use that term.”
In the meantime, Mr. Ford insisted he can cut the hundreds of millions he’ll need to shave off the 2011 budget.
He added to the budget’s $221-million shortfall last week by ending the city’s vehicle registration tax, which brought in about $64-million annually.
“There’s no sacred cows,” he said.
“I want everything to be reviewed – including the police,” the $900-million service that is the largest line item in the city’s operating budget.
The force’s salary costs would increase further if Mr. Ford is able to put another 100 officers on Toronto’s streets as he said he’d like to do.
In his pursuit of “efficiencies,” Mr. Ford isn’t shying away from a battle with organized labour: He has vowed to pursue privatization for not only garbage but other city services, as well – park maintenance, for example.
“There’s a lot of grass to be cut,” he said, adding that he’s willing to brave further strikes to do so.
“I expect people to come to work. And if they don’t come to work, I have to do what I have to do. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Same goes for the Toronto Transit Commission. City council voted by a margin of 28 to 17 to ask the province to designate transit an essential service – even though many people, including the TTC’s chief general manager, Gary Webster, and one of Mr. Ford’s own mentors, Doug Holyday, have said that would be a bad idea.
And Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 president Bob Kinnear has said that denying transit workers the right to strike will guarantee more “work to rule” situations, in which transit vehicles might run only during rush-hour, for example.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Mr. Ford said.
And as for Transit City, Mr. Ford said he’s prepared to put three of the four transit lines on hold if it means coming through on his promise of a subway along Sheppard Avenue.
“Sheppard’s the first one I want to do. I’ve talked to the Premier about it, talked to Metrolinx about it.
“They know where I stand and they’ve said it can be done. … [Premier Dalton] McGuinty said he doesn’t mind giving us the money if that’s what we want to do with it. And we can build subways.”
“Eventually,” the mayor said, “I’m sure we can build the subways” in the rest of the city.
“It’s more expensive, but that’s what the people want.”
Even if that means cancelling or postponing indefinitely rapid transit in his own former ward of Etobicoke North?
“They have transit,” he laughed. “It sounds like we’re – we have transit. People get to the slots, they get to Woodbine racetrack, people get to Humber College. There are buses that run up there.
“Eventually, I’d like to have subways running through the whole city. But what we can afford realistically, right now, is just Sheppard, right?”
Mr. Ford also dismissed the suggestion that monorails or a similar above-grade technology could replace light rail.
Similar projects have been tried in Vancouver on the Canada Line, which opened this year.
“There’s no more above ground,” he said. “No, everything’s going underground. I want to do subways.
“Every poll you see, over 80 per cent of people in the city want subways compared to LRT or streetcars. So I’m going to do what I campaigned on.”
ROB FORD ON …
… being mayor
“I’ve been a councillor for 10 years, so I know how city hall works. The only difference between a mayor and a councillor is just the number of calls, the number of e-mails, the number of invitations. I’d like to go everywhere, it’s just I can’t.. You get 34 invitations – I didn’t know there were that many events in a city every night.”
… returning phone calls
“I still have my one-on-ones. I still return my phone calls. … I can’t return all of them: I’m probably getting 200 or 300 calls coming into my office a day. [I return] 50 to 70 a day.”
… representing the downtown
“Downtown’s no different from anyone else: You just serve them. And if they need something, you go to the front door to take care of ’em.”
… his first council meeting
“It went very well. We got our big-ticket items, as I would say, through. And it was good. Council supported, as you saw, getting rid of the car registration tax, which is huge – people do not like that tax at all. … Councillors supported reducing their expenses from $50,000 to $30,000, making the TTC an essential service, which is what people wanted. We delivered on that. So we’re doing very well, I think.”
Anna Mehler Paperny