Ford 'confident' in controversial 2012 budget
Published Tuesday, December 27, 2011 10:42PM EST
Looking ahead to what's expected to be a showdown in Toronto's council chambers, Mayor Rob Ford said he's confident in the city's proposed 2012 operating budget.
"Everyone's thinking the budget's over. The budget's not over," he said recently in a year-end interview with CTV Toronto's Natalie Johnson.
Come mid-January, councillors will vote on the Ford administration's financial plan, which calls for city-wide staff reductions, service cuts and increased transit fares among other cost-cutting efforts.
When Ford lifted the lid on his budget on Nov. 28, he declared that 2012 would be the year that Toronto spends less than it did the year before.
But, it appears the so-called gravy train won't be stopped quietly.
The draft budget has drawn the ire of several critics, including left-leaning councillors Adam Vaughan and Gord Perks. City fixtures such as Toronto Fire and the library board have also pushed back against Ford's mandated 10 per cent cut across all departments.
Still, Ford said he isn't daunted by the criticism.
"I'm sure people are going to fall in line," he said. "Departments are going to fall in line and find the efficiencies that we've asked for."
When asked whether he'll be able to court enough votes to pass the budget on the council floor, Ford didn't speculate if left or centrist councillors could block the plan.
"I feel confident that we're going to do just fine," he said.
Councillor Joe Mihevc isn't as sure. He foresees January as the month that Toronto's great fiscal tug-of-war – tense with the pressure of marathon meetings and clashing opinions – will come to a head.
"The very nature of local government is one of multi-stakeholder consensus building," he said. "You have to give a little to get a little. That's not really (Ford's) style."
He points to the possibility of an impending dust-up between the city and its 28,000 unionized workers. Union heads have warned that there could be a lockout if city hall and the employees don't reach a new contract agreement by the start of 2012.
On the issue of a latent labour dispute, Ford offered a measured answer and confirmed the city is negotiating with the union.
"I want a fair deal for the union and the taxpayers," he said. "We've been at the table, we're bargaining in good faith and hopefully we can strike a deal."
In the meantime, city workers are preparing as Toronto heads for an anticipated round of job cuts in 2012.
While Ford has been criticized for reneging on his campaign promise to balance Toronto's books without laying off workers, there is one pledge he refuses to shelf for savings: his push to phase out the land transfer tax.
"We're the only municipality to have that tax," he said. "We're going to tackle it in 2013 and fulfill my promise."
Fixing his gaze on the more immediate future, Ford said he's certain that he's living up to his vow to "respect the taxpayers" with the 2012 draft budget.
The plan -- which includes the closure of three shelters, endorses a TTC fare hike, trims the workforce by more than 2,000 jobs and calls for $4.6-million cut from community grants – is said to feature about $355 million in savings.
The mayor has been met with vocal opposition to his quest for "efficiencies."
Grassroots groups have formed to call for an end to proposed service reductions, deputants have filed into city hall for round-the-clock meetings. Even literary icon Margaret Atwood has weighed in on the question of library closures.
Like those stakesholders, Sabina Lorkowski's frustration with Ford is personal. The seniors advocate holds power of attorney over a resident at the Birchmount Shelter, a residence for vulnerable men that is on Ford's chopping block.
"Why is he picking on the vulnerable ones? There must be other ways to do this," she said in a phone interview.
For his part, Ford said he's secure with his drive toward privatization and prudent management style – qualities that have led him to brand 2011 as a successful year at city hall.
"We've done what people wanted us to do – reducing the size and cost of the government was the most important thing."
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Joe Mihevc as Joe Pennachetti.