Rob Ford, October 2010: “I will assure you that services will not be cut”

Over at Torontoist, André Bovee-Begun does a hell of a job tearing through the online survey the city is pushing as part of their ballyhooed core service review:

One of the most striking features of the survey: respondents are asked, for any given service, whether “maintaining the quality is more important” or “lowering the cost to the City is more important.” Think the service should be improved? There’s no check-box for that. It provides another misleading set of choices when it asks respondents how they would choose to pay for any cost increases—via increased property taxes, higher user fees, or a combination thereof. Conspicuously absent: the array of other revenue-generating tools the City has at is disposal, such as the now-cancelled Vehicle Registration Tax or the Land Transfer Tax Ford has promised (but cannot afford) to cut. The survey simply chooses from among the full range of options the City could consider, and presents only some of these to the public for deliberation.

via Toronto’s Budget Survey Deeply Flawed – Torontoist.

He’s right, of course. The survey takes a subjective scenario — the city is totally broke and we must cut costs now or face doom! — and presents it as objective. If you believe, as many do, that the city has a revenue problem instead of a spending problem, there’s little opportunity in this survey to express that view. Worse, the survey seems to suggest that the city is clearly trying to do too much, something those who believe in city building definitely disagree with.

I think most people would probably fall somewhere in the middle, believing that there are surely places where the city can find savings but also that more of the money we send to the provincial and federal governments should return to us in the form of services. But even that view is difficult to express given the constraints of the survey.

If you don’t believe services must be cut, you’re crazy. Or so the story goes.

Hilariously, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande has taken to carrying around a plastic piggy bank to remind people that “we have a financial problem that we have to fix.” He speaks as if the city is on the verge of bankruptcy, even though the majority of this year’s budget hole comes from an ill-advised property tax freeze, the elimination of the vehicle registration fee, and mismanagement of the surplus dollars this administration inherited.  (Yes, the city has a structural deficit it needs to tackle but we could have at least made it through 2012 without too much wrangling.)

This week’s National Post Political Panel also looks at the survey and the public consultation sessions that came with it. Even staunch right-wing 905er Matt Gurney wonders about the wisdom of the mayor’s promise “to find hundreds of million of dollars’ worth of gravy while also promising no service cuts.”

Which brings up another point that I feel must be made continuously through this whole process: Rob Ford has no mandate for service cuts. None. As he probably told a reporter who was standing within earshot of the Toronto Star’s David Rider and Paul Moloney last October:

Although his rivals insist Ford’s savings can’t happen without reducing services Torontonians value — and he would need to somehow convince a majority of councillors to agree with his cuts — he insisted there is enough waste to make his fiscal surgery bloodless.

“I will assure you that services will not be cut . . . guaranteed.”

via Ford fiscal plan big on numbers, short on details – (Emphasis added.)

He broke that guarantee less than two months after he took office. And now he’s getting in gear to break it some more.

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