Monthly Archives: October 2010

Mayor *cringe* Rob Ford’s Campaign, and Why Toronto Voters Elected a False Bill Of Goods

Monday night, I quickly dug out the vodka coolers (perhaps in ironic salute of our DUI-holding new mayor) and got drunk, as I realized that I lived in a city where 50% of those who cared to vote were apparently beyond naive.  There is truly no other word to describe people who will endorse, as a representative of one of Canada’s most prominent cities, a man who hits his wife, spews racial insults, blusters his way through without actual research or concrete financial evidence, and is a blatant homophobe and seeming sexist.

Man, I feel comfortable in my city now, as a bisexual woman marrying a man of another race!

Disgust for the personal moraes of one Rob Ford aside, and a night full of jokes of assassination by KFC Double Downs flooding my Twitter stream later, I sit down earnestly to really address this man’s political promises to his supporters, as vague as they are in places, with the ambition of dissecting them.  The purpose is two-fold:  1) to demonstrate to myself that much of what this slogan-spewing buffoon has proposed is nigh impossible, and 2) to blatantly point out what his supporters should have seen for themselves before buying his party line:  that all of you have been sold a tremendous bill of goods.

Promise One:  Rob Ford Vows To Kill The Controversial Land Transfer Tax & $60 Vehicle Registration Fee

From the few souls who actually espouse this man’s platform on Twitter, coupled with the incessant babbling on The Star’s comments section that contains mostly rhetoric and little evidential support, this is one of the main reasons Ford supporters gathered behind him.  I can’t deny that the two fees are somewhat burdensome and borderline ridiculous.  I do, however, understand that the provincial and federal governments have endlessly downloaded onto this city’s budget items that should be provided by higher tiers, even as our province slipped from its perpetual ‘have’ state to its ‘have-not’ designation in terms of government equalization payments.  The only solution offered to the City of Toronto was power to create new revenue streams via fees and taxes.

Imagine yourself in David Miller’s shoes, if you please.  People endlessly bitch about the TTC, about roads, about decaying infrastructure like sewer pipes… The list goes on.  You need money.  You ask for money.  You’re told the only choice you have is to create new fees and taxes.  What do you do?  Do you allow things to get worse on your watch, or do you attempt to find a way to tax people in areas that hopefully won’t decimate the more impoverished members of the city too badly?  It wasn’t a nice situation to be in, and the provincial government screwed us all.  In turn, the provincial government is consistently screwed by Harper at the federal level.  We rage against our municipal representatives, but forget that everything starts at the feds.  Punishing Dalton McGuinty isn’t going to help you at all next election.  Punishing Harper will.  But, I digress.

These two fees that Ford proposes to kill will remove an estimated $250 Million of revenue from the City yearly.  This is in addition to any projected deficits for future years (the current estimate is $500 Million for 2011).  Now, Rob’s promising us that he will keep spending balanced.  When he’s asked how he will compensate for the lost revenue, he vaguely says there is ‘excess spending’ and ‘he will end the gravy train’ and he’s ‘sure he will find things to cut’.  If a politician cannot tell you even an estimated number or concrete strategy to fix something, he is talking out of his ass.  This has been true since the dawn of democracy.

I believe the vehicle registration fee will be axed; I’m certain most of council knows it’s very unpopular.  The land transfer tax, however, remains in doubt; I’m wagering it will be a very split vote, due to the fact it pulls a significant amount of coin from the wealthy and businesses, and isn’t as burdensome to ‘every man’ types.

Now, let’s take a look at one of the ways good ol’ Rob expects to make up for this lost revenue…

Promise Two:  Rob Ford Will Drastically Cut Councillor Petty Cash Budgets and Wants To Kill Perks Like Free TTC/Museum/Golf Passes.

First, let’s look at the free perks, like golf, TTC Metropasses and free admission to city attractions.  In this video, Rob Ford himself describes the perks and privileges that he is offered as a councillor, and how much money could be saved by the City and/or new revenues for the City.  The first striking thing is he spews out estimated numbers.  He doesn’t even know his actual numbers for admission to the zoo.  How hard would this have been to estimate?

There is a huge misrepresentation by Rob in his phrasing.  “The taxpayers are paying for this,” he says, pointing out free trips to the zoo.  In many of these cases, the taxpayers are not paying anything; complimentary passes are not purchased by the City! It may be lost revenue stream to city attractions, but it’s not like the councillors are billing the City’s bank account.  I’ve received coupons for free admission to special exhibits at the ROM from the museum itself, and intentionally gone during periods of free general admission.  I am getting in for free.  The ROM did not give me $5.  The City did not give me free admission from their wallets.  The ROM, for promotion, has decided to forego fees to encourage me to come in, enjoy what they have, and hope that I will return on my dime later.  Do not be fooled by Rob Ford claiming someone has ‘purchased’ all of these perks!

But, for argument’s sake, let’s look at potential lost revenue.  Keep in mind, however, that we don’t know how many councillors actually use all or some of these perks, or how often.  I wouldn’t ever pay to go to Casa Loma, but I might go once a year if it were free.  Rob Ford is also pretty presumptuous in stating that at each attraction, a councillor would park for free.  Maybe he/she wouldn’t drive?  That said, let’s go for broke and see if we can find this “easy” $20-30 Million savings for the perks (even though money isn’t spent and thus, it’s not savings at all, but lost revenue).

Toronto Zoo:  Let’s say that Rob and his family of four opted to visit three times/year.  That’s fairly generous for the average family.  Now, Rob, being a frugal man, would buy a Family Pass (admits two adults and two kids) for the year for $145.  Parking costs $10/go, so $30 total is not spent.  Even if the Ford family went nuts on extras like Stingray Bay, camel rides, etc., the total lost revenue is $467/year.  Let’s now multiply by 45 people on staff:  lost revenue for the zoo is $21,000 roughly.  It’s a lot, but again, it’s assuming people go often and go nuts. Note that Rob almost doubles the actual cost of parking in that video.  Nice.

TTC Passes:  Rob Ford claims that ‘we’ pay $1300/year per councillor for a TTC Metropass for each of them.  Let’s debunk that.  First of all, the ‘at the booth’ price would never apply to any city employees; they would get a reduced group rate or, for those who use the passes regularly, they would order it by mail.  Second of all, aside from Adam Giambrone and David Miller, how many of these people actually take the TTC at all, especially given their free Toronto Parking Authority passes?  Let’s assume, of 45 people, that 30 of them would actually, if forced to do so, buy Metropasses at all.  At $111/month, that’s $39, 960 lost revenue.  Again, the taxpayers do not pay for these passes; they’re given for free.  Your taxes are not directly funding these.  The TTC is losing the money.  Make the distinction.

Casa Loma: Let’s assume, since Casa Loma is kind of dull, that each of these 45 people takes a family of four yearly.  With parking and admission, it’s roughly $80/visit, meaning $3600 lost revenue to the facility.

CNE: Rob Ford also derides the free admission and parking for the annual Exhibition for councillors.  Assuming that each family of four goes three times, and disregarding any group discounts normal employers of this stature would arrange,the free admission and parking works out to $198/family, or $8910.

Toronto Parking: Assuming each councillor clocked the daily maximum 365 days per year, the lost revenue is $7300 by 45, totalling $328, 500.  Of course, this figure is far too high, assuming several would opt to use transit exclusively, and of course, what politician works 365 days per year at the office?

Conservation/Camping Passes:  Assuming each family camps twice per year at $40/pop, that’s $3600.

Free Golf:  The estimate on free Golf for the year for the entire council is $15,000.  Hell, let’s round up to $20,000 for fun.

Total Lost Revenue (NOT expenditures from taxpayer cash):  $425, 570That is nowhere NEAR the ‘easy $20-30 Million’ from Rob Ford’s mouth, on video.

Councillor Budgets: Here’s where we talk actual spent taxpayer dollars.  Now, taking just their spending budgets (not budgeted funds for hiring staff, e.g.), councillors have a total budget of $2.2 Million.  Their hiring budgets for staff total $9.1 Million.  The mayor’s office has a distinct budget for spending and hiring of $2.56 Million. From Rob’s own plans, he aims to slash $2,845,408 from these combined budgets of $13.8 Million.

Given the $250 Million we’re going to lose from Promise One, I don’t quite see Rob Ford balancing the budget and ‘putting Toronto back on track’; I see him derailing the balanced budget train of the last few years.  We also need to consider increased social services costs due to lost jobs as a result of slashed hiring budgets in this mix.

Promise Three:  Rob Ford Will ‘End The War On Cars’ And Trash Transit City In Favour Of Subways And Less Bike Lanes.

This is where I really get my back up with Ford and his suburban-centric view of the city.  I don’t drive – I have no licence to do so.  I am not alone in this state, and therefore, transit is pretty damn crucial to me.  Am I happy with the TTC?  Hell no!  But I am also realistic.

The environment is a mess, and we will, inevitably, run out of oil to fuel our cars.  Trashing bike lane programs and expenditures and funelling that money back into car-happy initiatives is foolish.  Somehow, Rob believes this will ease the war between drivers and cyclists.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It will only get nastier over time, as will gridlock.

Speaking of gridlock, if you think driving with streetcars is bad, how about when we shut down huge stretches of major arteries to build subways where they are least needed?  Transit City, for which we have already paid $120 Million, was designed after extensive research and consideration of the financial and physical feasibility of all possible improvements, including replacing the Scarborough LRT with a subway.  The ‘best solution for all’ that was most affordable for taxpayers (isn’t that what Ford trumpets?) is Transit City.  Eglinton alone is extremely congested with buses and begging for more capacity.  To turn away from plans to develop LRT there – some of which would be underground to aid ground traffic mess – is foolish!  To remove streetcars on Queen – with their far greater capacities – in favour of more buses, while subsequently wasting $125 Million of taxpayer money on defaulting our contract with Bombardier – will only make things worse!  Three buses per streetcar at rush hour, drivers:  imagine that.   Sounds far worse to me.

While a nice idea for the future, the development along Sheppard of an extension connecting the LRT in Scarborough to the existing line makes little sense for the money it will cost.  At most points of day, the Sheppard subway doesn’t have enough ridership to justify its existence, proof that if you build it, they do not always come.  The city desperately needs ideas like a Downtown Relief Line to improve service and encourage more ridership, not a focus on subways for suburbans who are already screaming as if we’re ripping their cars from their hands.   We need the 75 miles of LRT planned, not the scant fraction of miles proposed of subway – miles that will multiply the costs of the project and yield far less gains.  Is this truly giving taxpayers bang for their buck?  Hardly.

What Ford is also neglecting to point out are the 2 new $100 Million bus terminals we’d need to house these extra buses, never mind the fact that Transit City isn’t scrapped as easily as he’d like to think.  Much of the money is provincial, and tied to the fact that Transit City works well with other community plans, as part of a whole that Ontario has agreed to finance.  There’s a reason it’s taken years to begin.  The planning for a new subway alone, if even approved by the Liberals, will outlast Mayor’s term, meaning no gains seen in four years.  Transit City, on the other hand, is already under construction.  Benefits will be seen in Ford’s first term, along Sheppard Avenue, his main target.

Ford is also severely fudging numbers when he proposes that new subway costs $200 Million/km.  Paul Bedford of Metrolinx indicates that the costs are more like $300 Million/km, and that doesn’t take into account needs to expropriate land to widen right of ways for the Scarborough RT conversion, nor does it account for any unexpected/difficult moves of city pipes and infrastracture to dig the tunnels.

As Ford reneges on his vow to ditch streetcars within days of election, it becomes apparent how little he’s thought this through.  In addition to the default fees, Paul Bedford notes that the ridership of the routes is enormous:  “If you add up the number of people who use the King, Queen, Spadina and probably College streetcars – just four routes – that equals more than the number of people who ride the entire GTA GO system every day. Just on four streetcar routes. They’re out of their minds to get rid of that.”

Castrating the TTC will reduce ridership further, resulting in lost revenue.  I already ditched my pass in protest of the massive jump in price recently, opting for tokens, which are less guaranteed/predictable income for the system.  If Queen street went to buses, I can guarantee I’d walk even more often due to crowding (I am both partially disabled and claustrophobic).

Rob Ford’s promises in this regard will drive transit users into cars, cost taxpayers unnecessary money in penalties, and yield less bang for our buck.  It’s all bad news.

Promise Four:  To Increase Reliability, Prevent Strikes and Decrease Costs, Rob Ford Will Contract Garbage Collection To Private Companies and Make TTC an Essential Service.

I can’t deny that being held hostage by TTC strikes blows, and that declaring it an essential service would put an end to the nonsense we’ve suffered since I moved to Toronto in 2004.  That said, one of the key points raised by opponents of declaring it essential is that it forces all contract negotiations to mediators whose deals generally result in MORE money spent overall.  Consider it ‘compensation for losing the right to strike’.  Yikes.  MORE money for the TTC?  Not my cup of tea.  The union is hard enough to fight as it is; wouldn’t Ford be better served hardlining negotiations as they currently go down?  And hey, why does he care if they strike, anyway?  He wants to castrate the lines and stop the war on his precious cars, after all.

As for garbage collection, I believe that Ford means well, but is ultimately underestimating the demands our city’s collection would place on any company.  Toronto is not Etobicoke; it is more suburban, less densely populated and has less businesses to attend to.  The suggested collector, Turtle Island, is… special.  I’ve worked with them as security in a corporate tower employing their services and they were not exactly reliable in their pick-ups.  Metro Waste was equally challenged handling another tower.  The scale of demand of the city’s collection would require so much expansion and time from any company, I doubt that their tendered offers would truly result in millions of savings.  In the past, when these companies have been employed to assist the city, they have fallen behind, according to city employees.  It works for Etobicoke, but Ford, you’re not in Kansas anymore. The only possible way to do this would be to contract out Toronto in chunks – Downtown, East York, North York, etc., and even then, this all feels like a bargaining chip that will see the city union bidding successfully to keep right on going, for slightly less money.

Ford also forgets that unionized workers within a private company can strike… meaning we’re far from safe from strike action from our private collectors.  We’re better keeping them as city employees, where we can approach the courts and force them back to work.

Again, there’s also the trickle-down effects financially of effectively unemploying an entire group of workers.  Many will resist leaving the city’s employ, due to the benefits.  If Ford slashes hiring for basic office staff, wants to castrate council to 22 seats and also hire at half the rate of attrition, where do these people go?  If the new private contractor pays too little, the current collectors may refuse to staff the new company, resulting in serious growing pains.  Unemployed people collect EI and welfare, employ use of the Ontario Second Careers program to attend school for cheap costs as retraining… In short, they cost significant taxpayer money.  Consider the $20 Million in projected savings vastly slashed by these increased costs elsewhere.

Promise Five:  As Another Means of Savings, Ford Plans To Scrap The Fair-Wage Policy.

Total pipe dream claim here.  Notwithstanding the massive litigation and protest, never mind obtaining the necessary permission to ditch this long-standing legislation, the effects will be minimal, when considering how few workers fall under its protection.  Ford insists that the policy causes us to pay inflated wages for construction projects, because non-unionized workers are paid inflated rates.  But when 73% of those hired already are unionized, it seems pretty silly to attack 27% of possible workers, given that the vast majority of construction companies who would be tendering offers are already unionized.

Ford’s full of hot air when he claims he can save $1 Billion this way; he’s probably referring to the $1 Billion in legal fees it’ll cost to kill it.

Promise Six:  City Council Will Be Cut From 44 To 22 Councillors, Higher Customer Service Will Be Offered, And Only Half Of Positions Vacated By Retirement Will Be Re-Filled, Saving Money.

It’s necessary to take these all together as a package, since they’re pretty interconnected.  Will cutting council save money?  Sure; it’s less bodies to pay, fewer budgets to allot.  Will allowing positions to go vacant save money in wages, too?  Absolutely.  Are either of these truly feasible, all while providing great customer service in the city?  Absolutely not.

Rob Ford prides himself on the fact he answers every call he receives and returns all voicemails.  That’s from his time as a councillor in Etobicoke.  Now, double his constituent base, and you begin to see that this becomes a lot more difficult to manage.  Twice as many calls… Twice as many community events demanding your time and attention…  Twice as many people to consider, twice the land as well, when decisions are brought before council.  If your customers doubled, but staff decreased due to slashed hiring budgets and thereby slahed personnel, how well would you fare in your job?  If the people feel ignored in certain ridings now, it will get a hell of a lot worse.

Now, add in the increase proposed in policing – positions that are part of those of which Rob will only half fill after retirement.  Add in the positions lost through outsourcing garbage collection.  Again, we will create disgruntled people as less employees serve more customers on an increasing scale.  Imagine if your local bank branch slashed employees in half on pay day.  See the picture?

Good service does cost money.  The current war on bedbugs in the city is making it apparent that we need more help in public health, to ensure we rid ourselves of this pest.  In Ford’s plan, we would lose 5700 employees through attrition alone, employees in policing, ambulance services, policing and public health.  We would lose librarians to help children and adults find resources for school and work.  Taxes suck, but people in their short-sightedness forget that we have taxes to pay for all of the perks we enjoy and even demand as citizens of this city.  In a recession, where people struggle to find employment, is any measure that chops potential job markets further a wise idea?

I could go on with his other minor talking points, but I think I’ve made my position clear.  So, what can you really expect, Ford supporters, under your elected mayor?

  1. Less accessibility to municipal services due to decreased staffing
  2. The $60 vehicle registration fee will die.
  3. The land transfer tax will possibly die, but will likely survive.
  4. The odds of new subway being approved and even started during Ford’s term is next to nil.
  5. As Ford as already admitted, don’t go kissing the streetcars goodbye just yet.
  6. Slashed councillor budgets will happen, although the financial relevance is minimal compared to overall operations.
  7. Slashing councillor perks will save nothing, and do very little to fund city attractions and the TTC, making it nothing more than a PR stunt.
  8. If the province aided Ford in slashing city council to 22, it would result in less community involvement and concern from council, let alone accessibility, due to dramatic increase of constituent loads.
  9. The Fair Wage Policy will easily survive.
  10. The garbage collection for the city will either worsen in quality or be sold for nearly the same costs as the current deal, meaning no astronomical $20 Million in savings per year, only marginal savings.
  11. Expect an increase in EI/Welfare recipients impacting your taxes far more than a $60 fee ever did.
  12. Expect the recession to worsen in Toronto.
  13. Expect increased animosity among different groups within the city, and a decrease in morale due to slashed events that instill city pride.  Expect further backlash due to the loss of charity events if Ford’s anti-marathon stance builds any steam.

Thanks, Toronto.  Thanks for making us a laughing stock by electing the lovechild of George W Bush and Sarah Palin.  He has told you exactly what you wanted to hear, the majority of which is unattainable or beyond his jurisdiction (i.e., he can’t stop refugees from coming here!).  Moving to Calgary suddenly sounds fantastic…

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