Wasted Money: Putting Rob Ford’s Transit City cancellation costs into context

Wasted Money: Putting Rob Ford's Transit City cancellation costs into context

Most people understand now that Rob Ford’s unilateral — maybe illegal — decision to cancel Transit City comes at a cost. There’s the widely cited figure of $65 million — a bill the city will have to pay to make good on contracts signed to deliver Transit City. But his decision also cost us $48.5 million in mostly unrecoverable sunk costs related to work done on now-scrapped light trail transit lines on Finch West and Sheppard East. (At the time of cancellation, a further $80 million had been spent on the Eglinton and Scarborough RT Transit City lines, but most of that work would still apply to the rejigged Metrolinx Crosstown project. See this TTC briefing for a breakdown of costs.)

All told, slashing Transit City will cost the taxpayer approximately $113.5 million. Let’s give that figure some context, using examples of “wasteful spending” identified by the mayor during his campaign.

For the cost of cancelling Transit City:

  • We could pay for the entire $106 million St. Clair streetcar ROW project, including overages. This project was famously plagued with delays and budget overruns — and it’s still pointed to by Ford and others as the reason we have to cancel Transit City — , but economic indicators point to a revitalized St. Clair Ave. (Budget figures are taken from the “Getting it Right” report on the project.)
  • We could build 11 Peter Street Homeless Shelters. Ford cited cost overruns and delays on this $11.5 million project as an example of gravy during the election.
  • The TCHC could scandalously squander ten times more money on Christmas parties and sole-sourced contracts. The TCHC mess that marked Ford’s first six months in office was undoubtedly a case where money was being misspent. But the $10.2 million identified by the Auditor General as ‘wasted’ amounts to just 10% of the cost of cancelling Transit City.
  • Councillors could enjoy free snacks at meetings for more than two millennia. Ford made political hay over the food provided to councillors during meetings. One of his first acts as mayor was eliminating the perk, for a savings of $48,000 per year. The Transit City cancellation costs add up to about 2,364 years of lame sandwiches and mysterious buffet pasta.
  • Kyle Rae could retire more than 9,000 times. Kyle Rae’s $12,000 retirement party — charged to his office expenses — became a symbol of wasteful spending during the election. For the cost of cancelling Transit City, he could hold 9,000 just like it. Or one much, much bigger party.
  • Councillors could rent more than 176,105 animal costumes for children’s events.├é┬áDuring the David Miller years, animal costumes rented for children’s events — a bunny, a chipmunk, a Dalmatian and a bear, for the record — were cited as examples of things councillors were squandering their office budgets on. Ford cut councillor office budgets by more than $20,000 after he took office. Councillors could rent enough animal costumes to outfit an army with the money wasted cancelling Transit City.

I make these comparisons not to excuse the behaviour of past governments — much of it is completely inexcusable — but to point out that, when it comes to wasting taxpayer money, Ford’s Transit City decision ranks near the top of the list.

Nothing Ford identified as ‘gravy’ during his campaign even approaches the amount of money he squandered on his first day in office when he recklessly halted Toronto’s transit plans.

Council will soon have the opportunity to vote on transit and potentially recoup some of these costs by restoring some or all of the original Transit City plan. There’s still time.

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