Government expert grades Smitherman, Ford
A Ryerson University professor sees both merit and red flags in the city cost-cutting proposals of leading Toronto mayoral candidates George Smitherman and Coun. Rob Ford.
"The Smitherman plan: I like trying to improve the procurement techniques because that's one place you can always find savings," David Amborski, who teaches municipal finance and has worked for all three levels of government, told CTV News on Tuesday.
"The Ford plan: One of the interesting things looking at cost containment by having the staff find savings."
Ford's plan also calls for better procurement procedures.
Amborski said one problem with Smitherman's plan is it relies on the province to provide $100 million annually to fund TTC operations.
"How can you guarantee that type of transfer, particularly when there might be a change in government?" he asked.
Ford has set out targets of a 2.5 per cent cut in the operating budget in the first year of his administration, 2 per cent in the second and 1.5 per cent in the third.
Toronto's operating budget in 2010 is $9.2 billion. A 2.5 per cent cut in 2011 would mean reducing expenditures by $230 million in 2010 dollars.
Ambroski said it's not possible to cut that much money without cutting services.
"If you're going to reduce that much in the budget, you have to cut maybe not the range of services, but the quality," he said.
Ford plans to contract out garbage collection and eliminate the city's fair wage policy, which means contractors have to pay their workers as much as city workers would get for the same work.
Ambroski gave Smitherman a B+ and Ford a B.
Smitherman, a former provincial cabinet minister, released his full budget for the city on Monday. He said he could balance Toronto's 2011 operating budget, in part with $265 million in restraint.
Ford, a 10-year city council veteran, released a YouTube video late Monday explaining how he would cut the cost of government.
He tried to portray himself as the only candidate who can cut costs and boost service at City Hall, in a speech that followed a YouTube presentation of his accountability plan.
"All these issues boil down to one: There's no respect for the taxpayer," the 10-year council veteran (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) told the Empire Club of Canada on Tuesday.
"As your mayor, I'll respect the taxpayer. … Who do you trust to protect your hard-earned dollars at City Hall?"
Ford's speech came after former candidate Sarah Thomson announced she was dropping out of the race and throwing her support to former provincial cabinet minister George Smitherman.
It also comes after a new poll suggests that the gap between Ford and Smitherman, considered to be the second-place candidate, is narrowing.
On Monday night, the six-minute video outlined Ford's plan to reduce the cost of governing Toronto, including a repeat of his earlier promise to cut the 44-member city council down to 22 members.
"Toronto's government has grown bloated and wasteful," Ford says at the beginning of the video, which features him sitting behind a desk with Canadian and City of Toronto flags on each side.
He said he would reduce the number of employees at city hall by replacing only half of those who retire.
Smitherman has said he'll eliminate one-third of vacant positions through attrition.
Ford said the city and its related agencies have more than 50,000 employees, adding the number continues to increase despite a number of attempts at hiring freezes.
"Hiring freezes don't make sense. Anyone who has managed a business understands that key people must be replaced when they leave," he said.
Smitherman has promised a one-year hiring freeze.
Ford said his plan for attrition will save the city $1 billion over the next four years.
"As my father taught me, if you look after the pennies, the dollars will look after themselves," he said.
Board of Trade reacts
In a news release issued Tuesday, the Toronto Board of Trade said, "From what we have seen so far, the board believes Mr. Ford correctly recognizes the need to get the structural deficit under control by reducing expenditures, which the Board supports."
It said Ford's figures on attrition savings are comparable to what the board thinks is possible in the short term.
However, it wants more detail on how Ford would achieve his cost-of-government savings.
The board said Ford seems to have accepted its recommendations on better purchasing practices at the city and to have a program to catch the little things.
It called on all candidates to release comprehensive budget plans before voting day.
In its assessment of Smitherman's plan, it praised some aspects but raised questions about the additional provincial funding and whether asset sales could be conducted in time. "Those assumptions are crucial to his plan," the board said.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Naomi Parness