Nov 11

Calling 911 three times because there was a sketch comic in your driveway

I generally try to stay away from the sideshow parts of this mayoralty and focus on policy and council dynamics, but, hell, no blog that purports to cover the day-to-day at Rob Ford’s City Hall would be complete without a mention of this. So here goes.

Rob Ford called 911 three times because there was a sketch comedian and camera crew in his driveway. This was widely regarded as a bad idea.

I thought Ed Keenan at The Grid and Ivor Tossell at The Toronto Standard had great takes on the calls, the fall-out, and all the twists and turns, including the bit where CBC reported that the mayor, over the course of his calls, said something along the lines of “You bitches, don’t you know who I am? I’m Rob Fucking Ford. The mayor of this city.” And then the part where Police Chief Bill Blair came to the mayor’s public defence, assuring us that he had hard the call, and that there was no use of the word “bitches.”

Looking back, the goal posts sure moved a lot over those five days. The mayor started the week thinking he’d get to celebrate a council victory with the contracting out of garbage collection west of Yonge. He ended it by finding vindication in the police chief’s confirmation that he did not, in fact, call a woman a bitch. (Though, admittedly, he did use a bit of profanity with her.)

There was some sputtering from would-be defenders of the mayor. They said this whole incident was because employees at the Toronto Police Service are biased against Rob Ford. They expressed great moral outrage that someone would approach a politician on their driveway in an attempt to get an interview. They suddenly had grave concerns about the length of time 911 takes to respond to calls. They did that thing where they referred to CBC and “my tax dollars” and flew into a rage.

And in all that, there were good points (a public figure’s right to privacy; 911 response times) and bad ones (any notion that bias against Ford played a role in this) but I just can’t get beyond this: if the mayor had just spent two minutes talking to the woman with the camera crew, giving her a few token comments, none of this would have happened. If he had, instead, retreated to his house, waited for the crew to leave, and then gone about his day, none of this would have happened.

In all the alternate-universe takes on this chain of events, the only one that comes out worse for the mayor is the one where he backs over Marg Delahunty with his mini-van.

Why this never mattered

The narrative of Rob Ford’s dwindling public support goes like this: a lot of people bought into the notion that there was a ton of waste at City Hall and Rob Ford was the guy to fight it. Once that story got bulldozed under the plodding reality of consultants and slow-burn service cuts, they started jumping ship. Hence, he’s the second most unpopular mayor of a major city in Canada.

An incident like this is never really going to move the needle. Either you’re a voter who has shown themselves willing to look beyond the mayor’s quirks of character — if it’s fair to call getting drunk at a hockey game and telling a woman she should get raped and shot ‘quirky’ — and support Rob Ford, or you’re not. The CBC’s original account of the situation — the one with the “bitches” — spread so far and so fast not just because it was salacious (and funny) but because it was believable. It fit the established Rob Ford we know.

The CBC’s screw-up

Much has been made of the CBC running with this story despite apparently having not heard the 911 tapes. Today at Torontoist, Mark Bourrie argues that the whole incident reflects so badly on the public broadcaster that it could contribute to a future push to reduce or eliminate funding. I think that might be overstating things.

But the CBC definitely made a mistake here, and I think it comes down to running unconfirmed quotes from the supposed 911 calls. I’m not sure who made that call, but it was the wrong one. Had CBC led off with a news story that reported only that the mayor had made repeated 911 calls, used profanity, and been rude toward the operators, that likely would have held up to scrutiny and still driven the page views.

Oct 11

Police Budget 2012: How Bill Blair beat Rob Ford

2012 Police Budget: Requested vs. Delivered

Are you ready for some totally ridiculous math?

Check this out: The mayor has rather famously asked all departments to cut 10% from their operating budgets for 2012. This is a neat trick that, I guess, is supposed to let him deflect some of the blame for the inevitable service cuts that come from such a huge target. The request has made a lot of people unhappy.

For the police services — with a budget approaching a billion dollars per year — this request worked out to about $90 million in cost reductions. We know this is the case, because a report, the 2011 Environmental Scan, presented at this week’s police board meeting — the very same meeting at which the budget was passed — included this unambiguous sentence: “The city recommended 2012 operating budget target for the Toronto Police Service reflected an overall decrease of $84 million, about 10%, from the total 2011 approved budget.” (See Agenda Item 5; a straight-up 10% reduction totals $93 million, but the city probably accounted for some — but clearly not all — mitigating factors in its original request, to knock that down to $84 million.)

Okay, so the mayor wanted the chief to cut 10%. But the chief said he couldn’t do it. And of course he couldn’t: it was only a few months back that the mayor approved a giant pay increase for officers in this city. The police budget is more than 80% labour. You’re not going to make a  dent in that without taking cops off the street.

Here’s where things get ridiculous: at this week’s meeting, the chief came forward with a budget request for $936 million. This is $5.9 million more than the 2011 budget, a 0.6% increase year-over-year. There is no reasonable way to present this as any kind of reduction, let alone 10%.

And yet, as the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale tells us:

The 2011 police budget was $930 million. Blair’s “starting budget” added the $23 million in salary increases produced by this year’s collective agreement with officers, then added $26 million in other “pressures identified during 2011,” for a total of $979 million.

Using this figure, two Ford allies on the board, Thompson and council speaker Frances Nunziata, joined Blair in arguing that his $936 million budget request amounts to a $43 million cut — about 4.6 percentage points of the requested 10.

“It’s a huge reduction,” Nunziata said.

via Blair wins: Ford poised to accept police budget hike | Toronto Star.

So, through the power of imagination — and uncompetent thinking — a 0.6% budgetary increase is now being touted as a 4.6% budgetary decrease.

I guess the lesson to be learned here for all city departments is to start high. Come in with a huge budgetary request for 2012. Then whittle it down a tad and claim mega savings. With imaginary money on the table, we can all be fiscal conservatives.

Why Blair’s strategy worked

Other departments are unlikely to get away with so blatantly side-stepping the mayor’s request for cost reductions, even though that request will undoubtedly mean major service cuts. Blair was able to pull this off because he put the mayor in a position where he would have to publicly endorse a reduction in the number of police officers in Toronto to achieve his target. There is no way that Ford was going to do that.

Still, it’s worth noting that this is a mayor who campaigned on adding one hundred officers but will likely end his term having taken many times that number off the streets through attrition and hiring freezes.

A caveat

There’s still a conversation that needs to be had about the cost of policing in this city relative to declining crime rates. There might be a better way forward. But that is not a conversation this administration seems capable of having.

Further reading

Over at The Clamshell, David Hains has a very nice analysis of the police budget and all the steps that got us here.

Oct 11

10% budget reductions, fewer cops on the streets, and reluctantly defending Bill Blair

From Rob Ford's "Financial Impact" platform document, his pledge to hire 100 more police officers. At present, it seems he will actually take hundreds off the streets through attrition to meet budget targets.

This week’s drama at City Hall: the police budget. The mayor wants all departments to cut their budgets by 10%, but Chief Bill Blair — whose budget is mostly labour costs — has refused, saying that he can’t do that without taking an unacceptable number of officers off the streets.

The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:

On Friday, the chief presented a scenario that would see a 1.5 per cent increase to the service’s $915 million operating budget, rather than the mandated 10 per cent cut.

Blair’s refusal to make concessions set [Councillor & Police Board Member Michael] Thompson off, who decided to publically question whether it was time to find a new chief if he won’t meet the budget target.

Ford made a near identical threat in January to force hiring concessions from Blair.

On Monday, in addition to his meeting with Ford, Blair set out on a daylong media offensive, giving a number of high-profile radio interviews where he spoke harshly of Thompson and defended his budget reductions.

via Toronto News: Chief Bill Blair tries to strike a budget deal with Rob Ford – thestar.com.

First: Let’s stop pretending that budgeting is easy. If running a government was as simple as pointing at budgets and demanding they be made smaller, anyone could do it. Hell, why stop at a 10% reduction? Why not 20%? Or 50%? All these blanket requests do is penalize the departments that have been run efficiently in recently years, forcing them to volunteer service cuts to meet their targets.

Second: A 10% reduction year-over-year is not an ‘efficiency’ target. It’s a number that requires service cuts to achieve. And that’s fine, I guess — some people like service cuts –, except that the mayor is attempting to have his cake and eat it too: claiming efficient victories while city departments scramble to gut services to meet his targets. In the case of the police service, the mayor’s request has a clear and direct outcome: he’s taking police officers off the streets. He can’t hide from that reality. There will be fewer police officers on Toronto’s streets this year and next year because of Rob Ford.

Third: Not that fewer police officers on the streets is necessarily a bad thing. Conventional wisdom is that Toronto spends too much on policing relative to its declining crime rate. Still, it has to be noted that Rob Ford campaigned on adding 100 police officers to the force, but instead has taken several times that many off the streets. It’s also fair to ask where the reductions in the force are coming from, because it sure would be a shame if, say, community policing in priority areas took a hit in favour of traffic enforcement.

Fourth: Bill Blair’s actions during the G20 are indefensible, which is why it’s challenging to write this: he shouldn’t resign. Setting aside that weekend where Toronto turned into a police state for no real reason — and I know, that’s hard — Bill Blair has been an effective leader of the Toronto Police Services, embracing a more liberal approach to public safety. If he goes, he’ll be replaced by the same guys who thought Julian Fantino was awesome at his job, and who seem to view allegations of corruption and excessive force as assets. It’s not worth going down that road.

Jul 11

Cutting through 2012: Ten places the Fords might look for savings

There are 194 budget considerations — not recommendations — in the KPMG Core Service Review reports, commissioned by Council to help us fix our budget shortfall. A shortfall that, we’re told again and again, totals $774 million this year. Though it’s impossible to get an accurate estimate of how much would be saved if all of KPMG’s considerations were taken and implemented, some shoddy-guesswork-mixed-with-math puts the total at more than $2 billion.

So, problem solved, right?

That figure really is nonsense, of course. In fact, any attempt to put a dollar value on these budget considerations will inevitably be complete nonsense. Because KPMG lists “detailed articulation of cost savings” as out of scope. They weren’t hired to tell us how much money we could save. Instead, all they’ve done is taken a stab at guessing whether each of their considerations will yield small (5% or less), medium (20% or less) or large (more than 20%) reductions in overall department budgets.

But I don’t want to dismiss the study process outright. KPMG’s work would actually have value if it was presented as only a first step in a long line of studies and planning that will, over many years, yield efficiencies in government. Looking at it like that, this is good data. But, unfortunately, we’re supposed to believe that these documents will serve as the shining star that leads all of us through the 2012 budget crisis and into the promised land.

So let’s look at 2012 — and only 2012 –, because that’s what the mayor seems to be doing. Let’s throw out the 109 KPMG budget considerations that won’t produce savings in the 2012 fiscal year, and instead focus only on the remaining 85 that could possibly produce results within the next year. Of those, only about a dozen look like they could yield savings amounting to more than a few million dollars off the gross budget. (On the net budget, once user fees are other revenues are accounted for, the savings are even smaller.)

The small stuff for 2012 — Riverdale Farm and the Centreville Petting Zoo at $1.4m; Heritage Toronto at $900K; Community Enviroment Days at $500K, and so on —  is important, of course, and may still face the axe of the overzealous administration at City Hall, but it’s not going to amount to much in the face of that $774 million figure we keep hearing about.

So let’s stick with the big stuff. Below are ten of the biggest cuts or “efficiencies” for 2012, as identified for consideration by KPMG.

10. TTC & Other Agencies: Integrate administrative services with the City

This is a good one to start with, because it’s one of the many places where KPMG has actually identified something kind of reasonable. They say there might be duplication of administrative services across the City’s departments and its boards and agencies. Finding a way to share administrative staff might provide a cost savings without impacting services. This is a legit efficiency that’s worth pursuing.

Service Cut or Efficiency? Efficiency.

How much could it save? Just looking at the TTC as an example, KPMG projects up to 5% savings off a gross budget of $264m, which works out to $13.6m in the best case. In actuality, though, given the administrative needs of the TTC — one of the largest transit corporations in the world — and the complexity of integrating things with the City, it’s unlikely you could just flip a switch and see immediate savings at that level.

Will Council go for it? This isn’t an angle that’s gotten much press throughout this process — it’s kind of boring when compared to, for example, selling the zoo — but it may well come up. Administrative, HR, Payroll and other such functions probably could stand to be better integrated and shared. It’s an idea worth considering.

9. Community Development & Recreation: Cut some Recreational Programs

The City offers a variety of recreational programs, including arts programs, summer camps and fitness & wellness programs. They also offer subsidized access — some based on income — to athletic facilities, including pools, rinks and golf courses. Offering these programs costs $68.2 million gross, though when user fees are taken into accounts, the net cost drops to $38.8 million.

KPMG is detailed in their analysis of this item, asking that we consider questions like, “Should taxpayers pay $2 an hour to have a child figure skate or play hockey? How about an adult? Should it provide extra support for children who can’t afford fees? For adults? Can clear targets be set, and used to evaluate programs, supporting those that provide good value, and changing or terminating those that cost more than they are worth?”

Service Cut or Efficiency: Service Cut.

How much could it save? KPMG says it could be a Low-to-Medium savings, putting it somewhere between 5 and 20%. If we work off their high estimate, that’d be about $13 million.

Will Council go for it? The Ford administration cut access to recreational programs in the 2011 budget, when they removed free access to community centres in the city’s priority neighbourhoods. Odds are good that we’ll see continued cuts to subsidies through an increase in user fees for these programs. Eliminating some programs outright would also be a way to quickly slash the operating budget.

8. Childcare: Reduce funding & subsidies

The goal here would be to reduce the childcare spaces that are funded 100% by the City. Most of the cost behind childcare spaces in Toronto are shared at an 80/20 split with the Provincial and Municipal Governments. But there are some 2,000 such spaces this year — with another 700 set to be added next year — that the province doesn’t provide funding for. These spaces, and maybe even others, could be eliminated.

Keep in mind that there are almost 20,000 children on the waiting list for subsidized childcare in Toronto.

Service Cut or Efficiency? Service Cut. Anything that means a net reduction in the number of childcare spaces has to be considered a service cut.

How much could it save? KPMG pegs this as a ‘Medium’ cost-saver. Childcare costs the City $78 million on its gross budget, but a lot of that is balanced by provincial funding, with the net cost coming out to only $11 million.

Will City Council go for it? I don’t think a reduction in the number of childcare spaces is workable. Even the most cold-hearted councillor will have balk at putting “eliminated spaces for children” on their political résumé. Still, though, the mayor has appointed Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to head up a task force on childcare in the City, which means we’ll probably get some kind of ridiculous suggestion on this file as part of the overall 2012 budget discussion.

7. Library: Reduce hours & days of operation

KPMG points out that the Toronto Public Library has the highest number of library holdings per capita of all the comparable municipalities they looked at, along with a “high rate of library use.” Our cost-per-library-use is only slightly above the median figure, despite much higher usage.

If this sounds like an efficient service that probably doesn’t need to be cut, too bad. Cuts to library service hours is an easy cost-saver that doesn’t require a lot of administrative upheaval. Even David Miller once tried to close some libraries on Sunday as a cost-saving gambit.

Service Cut or Efficiency: By definition, less hours of operation means less service. A Service Cut.

How much could it save? TPL’s budget for collection use is $87 million gross, which levels out to $78 million net when you account for revenues from late fees, etc. KPMG identifies reduction in service hours as a low-to-medium savings, which pegs it around $17 million at the extreme high end.

Will Council go for it? Cuts to libraries are politically challenging, but we could see a scenario similar to last year’s closing of the Urban Affairs library, where suburban councillors argued that the downtown facility was redundant given its proximity to other branches. No one wants to vote to close or reduce hours at branches in their own ward, but targeting branches in places that are decidedly not part of ‘Ford Nation’ is a possibility. If councillors can deal with the public outcry and the hurdles posed by the existing collective agreement, library cuts are surely on the table for next year.

6. Toronto Fire: Reduce the number of calls

The National Post’s Megan O’Toole has a very well-done look at the ongoing turf war between Fire Services and EMS in this city, which explains the issue better than I ever could. But, in short: the number of fires is down, yet Fire Services is often sent out on calls that they are not fully equipped to deal with. They often then just have to wait until EMS arrives. Changing the system such that Fire doesn’t so often show up at medical calls could result in efficiencies and cost savings.

Service Cut or Efficiency? As long as overall response time doesn’t take a hit, this would be an Efficiency.

How much could it save? KPMG says it’d be a small savings (5%) off the Fire Department’s very large operating budget of $335 million. Though I have to wonder if some or all of the projected savings would be offset by a necessary increase in funding for EMS. (KPMG also has floated the idea of merging EMS and Fire Services, but that couldn’t happen until 2014.)

Will Council go for it? Maybe, but it’s a delicate operation. No councillor wants to open the door to the bad press storm that would arise should a serious incident happen shortly after they’ve voted to make a cut to Emergency Services. Merging EMS and Fire in 2014 probably has a better chance of happening, if the political will is there.

5. Toronto Zoo: Get other levels of government to help

This one’s easy. KPMG says the City could off-load some of its costs for managing the zoo to other levels of government. But we all know that other levels of government are unlikely to go for it, so this isn’t going to happen.

Selling the zoo, something the mayor brought up in his infamous CP24 interview last week, is a move that KPMG says probably could not happen until 2014.

Service Cut or Efficiency? If they could get a government to provide funding that would maintain service levels, this would be an Efficiency.

How much could it save? If another government were to pick up, say, half of the Zoo’s operating budget, that would take $23 million off the city’s gross operating budget. Though when you consider that the Zoo only requires a $12 million subsidy when revenues are factored in, the numbers start to look substantially smaller.

Will Council go for it? They would, sure, but other levels of government are unlikely to come running.

4. TTC: Reduce or eliminate service

TTC ridership is at an all-time-high following the Ridership Growth Strategy introduced in 2003. Therefore, I guess, it’s as good a time as any to cut back on service. Cuts to bus service in 2012 would likely come paired with a fare increase for a double whammy of suck.

Service Cut or Efficiency? Service Cut.

How much would it save? KPMG pegs reductions in the amount of service as bring in ‘Small’ savings, but even 5% of the TTC’s $573 million budget for operating conventional transit is significant.

Will Council go for it? I’d bet heavily that we’ll see a reduction of TTC service in 2012. The Mayor’s Office showed their hand with their push to eliminate late-night and Sunday service on several bus routes in the 2011 budget. It’s worth noting, however, that they had to sell these service cuts as ‘reallocations’, meant to improve transit service on other routes. Even then, they met with enough resistance that they had to publicly revise their plan.

3. Police Service: Eliminate Paid Duty

This cut would target the practice — widely decried — of posting uniformed police officers at construction sites and special events. Council has already taken some steps to reform the policy, voting unanimously to develop “more effective criteria in delineating the need for paid duty policing in traffic control.”

Service Cut or Efficiency? Efficiency, mostly.

How much could it save? KPMG pegs it as a small saving — 5% or less — off the  Police Service’s $716 million gross operating budget. But when the item was debated at committee earlier this year, it was noted that the direct costs incurred by the city due to this program — from hiring police officers to stand guard at city-funded construction projects — stands at between $5 million and $8 million per year.

Will Council go for it? They seemingly already have, though it remains to be seen what the revised policy will look like.

2. Community Grants: Eliminate the Community Partnership & Investment Program

Rob Ford made direct reference to this $47 million program in his interview with Stephen LeDrew last week, indicating that he is unable to justify grants during a time when the city faces a budget shortfall. He has consistently voted against most of the grants covered by CPIP as a councillor, and continues to do so as mayor.

The program covers a variety of grants, from small amounts of money given to local artists under the Mural Program to funding for major events like Pride and Caribana.

Service Cut or Efficiency? Service Cut.

How much could it save? If the whole program was cut in 2012, it would save $47.4 million.

Will Council go for it? Cutting all grants would be challenging — though Rob Ford would seemingly support such a move, he did not find many allies when he voted against a round of community grants at the July Council meeting — but a significant reduction in the amount of grants given is a real possibility. The economic value of community grants is hard to quantify, but it’s generally acknowledged that they provide an economic benefit several times their cost. KPMG notes that every city they researched as part of this study also operates a community grant program.

1. Police Service: Reduce the number of officers and staff

Not much to explain here, as this is both a simple budget consideration and one that is very unlikely to go anywhere. The Toronto Police Service continues to add officers to its ranks despite a declining crime rate. KPMG points out that Toronto has a low arrests-per-officer ratio, but also notes that other cities — especially American cities — have more officers per capita.

Service Cut or Efficiency? It depends on how reductions in staff are achieved. If various crime rate indicators don’t rise as officers/staff are removed, this would probably be an Efficiency.

How much could it save? There’s a lot at play here, especially because the mayor recently inked a new deal with the Toronto Police Union that guarantees them substantial pay increases. Regardless, the Police Service is the biggest cost by far on Toronto residents’ property tax bill, costing nearly twice as much as the next biggest item, the TTC.

Will Council go for it? Layoffs seem very unlikely but the mayor did show a willingness to — quietly — reduce the number of police officers with his 2011 budget. That budget slowed hiring of new officers to replace those that retire. Still, any chance at achieving significant near-term savings on the police budget seem to have flown out the window when the new collective agreement was signed.

Total savings: not much

Let’s imagine a scenario: a new mayor gets elected in Toronto, swept into office on popular support calling for an era of smart fiscal management at City Hall. He’s said he can run a more efficient city, one that still delivers all the same services but with less bureaucratic bloat.

Due to low fuel costs, a mostly snow-free winter and a combination of various other pieces of good luck mixed with some decent planning on the part of the new mayor’s predecessor, the new council is blessed with a significant surplus going into their first budget. They opt to sock most of that surplus away, instead balancing the 2011 budget with a modest property tax increase — in line with inflation. They do cut the vehicle registration tax to $40-per-year, with an eye toward eliminating it completely when the books are in order.

With the 2011 books balanced and 2012 in decent shape due to the retained surplus and revenues, Council is now able to embark on a three-part Core Service Review aided by a consulting firm. First, they’ll identify which programs are mandatory and which are discretionary. Then, they’ll evaluate the value of all programs: both in terms of efficiency and economic/social benefit. Finally, they’ll detail a list of ways the city could save money, with a focus on savings that won’t significantly affect service levels.

Decent, right? But it didn’t happen. Instead, this administration is forcing us to look at a $774 million hole that they helped dig and telling us that we’ve got to throw libraries, community grants, recreational programs and transit service into the abyss to help fill the gap.

But the truth is there, in the very same reports the Fords and their allies keep telling us to look at: there aren’t enough potential cuts available to significantly reduce the 2012 budget shortfall.

Jun 11

Ford’s approval rating down, weak support for Sheppard subway

The Toronto Star’s David Rider has details on a Forum Research poll regarding municipal issues:

Asked if Ford is doing a good job as mayor, six months after his upset victory, 57 per cent agreed, down from 60 per cent in a late-February Forum Research poll. An early-May Toronto Real Estate Board survey pegged Ford’s support at 70 per cent.

As a whole, the new results aren’t great news for Ford, said Bozinoff, who said he did the poll independently to gauge opinions on civic issues.

“Ford’s support appears to have plateaued and these trial balloons being floated on how to solve financial problems, like road tolls and cutting the number of police, have no real support,” he said.

via Road tolls to pay for Sheppard subway a non-starter, poll finds – thestar.com.

A 57% approval rating is actually remarkably low for a sitting mayor less than a year into his first term, especially because Ford hasn’t had to make any unpopular decisions.

The big news springs from the two questions asked about road tolls. When asked if they would support road tolls to reduce traffic congestion, 43% of people approved. (With a strong majority of 58% in Toronto & East York.) On the other hand, when asked specifically about road tolls to pay for the Sheppard Subway, support drops to 35%. A loser of an idea anywhere in the city, apparently, as the mention of the subway doesn’t even draw increased support for road tolls in Scarborough, where the new subway line would go.

The full report detailing poll results is available as a PDF. Other findings:

  • Privatizing garbage collection is still popular with residents, with 52% approval. This is down 2% from Forum Research’s last poll, in February. I’m still surprised that this doesn’t poll higher. Interestingly, a majority opposes privatization of garbage in Scarborough.
  • The five cent plastic bag fee enjoys a majority of support with 52% in favour. Not sure how this squares with the populist mayor continuing to push the idea that people hate paying a nickel for a bag.
  • A strong majority — 57% — oppose “reducing the police force to help freeze property taxes.” We are unlikely to see either a property tax freeze or a reduction in the number of police officers this year.
  • A whopping 72% of people support “physically separating bike lanes from car lanes.” I wonder if this question is too vague, however. Phrased as “adding a new, fully separated bike lane on Richmond Street”, would the results differ? Either way, this is an encouraging result.
  • In the most ridiculous question in the poll, 65% express support for “having public festivals, marathons, marches and walkathons in city parks, rather than closing city streets and expressways.” This would appear to suggest that moving, say, the Toronto Marathon to High Park is feasible when, of course, it isn’t. These events don’t happen on the street just for the hell of it, but rather because they require the space.


Jun 11

Credit to Thompson for considering police layoffs

The Globe & Mail’s Patrick White:

In a move that introduces the unprecedented spectre of police layoffs in Toronto, the city has asked Chief Bill Blair to explore reducing the number of officers under his command by 10 per cent – down to levels not seen since Mel Lastman was in office.

At a Toronto Police Services Board on Monday, Councillor Michael Thompson asked the chief to look at how much money the city could save by dropping 500 uniformed officers and 300 civilian members of the Toronto Police Services, the country’s largest municipal force.

via Layoffs possible as city asks Blair to reduce police staff by 10 per cent – The Globe and Mail.

I have to give credit to Councillor Michael Thompson for at least floating the idea of downsizing the Toronto police force, even if it is both a) impossible; and b) politically unpopular. The reality is that if these guys at City Hall really want to get serious about reducing the size and cost of the city’s government, they can’t ignore their single largest budget line.

This won’t happen, of course. If for no other reason than because one of Rob Ford’s campaign promises was to do the opposite of this: to increase the number of officers on the streets. Ford’s platform called for a 0.1 per cent decrease in non-policing city spending to fund “100 additional frontline police officers.”

May 11

Police contract sets the tone, 2012 budget hole gets deeper

The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:

Mayor Rob Ford’s “rookie mistake” of awarding the police association a 3.19 per cent salary hike could end up costing the city more than $50 million annually, his critics charge.

“This is going to drive every single essential service contract in the city. The city has said it can afford to pay 3 per cent a year. Not only are the firefighters going to get it, but who else is going to now that they’re an essential service? The TTC,” said left-wing councillor Adam Vaughan.

“This will have a ripple through the largest employee groups in the city.”

via Ford’s costly police deal a ‘rookie mistake,’ critics say – thestar.com.

In 2008, an arbitrated settlement between the Police Services Board and the Union saw a new contract with awarded pay raises of just about 10% over three years. 2005 was similar, with a three-year raise of 9.85%. This contract, which didn’t go to arbitration, comes in at about 11%.

Lots has been said about this already — notably by the Posted Toronto Political Panel — but I think it’s important to point out how this deal will highlight the folly that was essential service legislation for the TTC. We have now told transit workers — operators, ticket takers, all of them — that we can’t live a single day without them. As a result, they’re worth more now. Probably a lot more.

That sound you hear is the 2012 budget hole getting deeper.

Is the agreement with the police union necessarily a bad deal? It’s hard to say. An appointed arbitrator may well have awarded the same contract, or an even better contract. With some of the lowest residential property taxes in the GTA, an impartial observer is unlikely to accept that the city can’t come up with the money.

But, coming on the heels of the TTC essential service designation, it definitely makes for a bad situation.

It also will screw with other police boards as they negotiate with their unions. The Ottawa Citizen’s Randall Denley writes about the ripple effect the Toronto deal will have not only in his city, but also provincially when the OPP contract comes due:

The Toronto deal will cost Ottawans more at the provincial level, too, because it will drive up the OPP contract cost. The provincial police have an unusual deal that gives them a raise of 5.075 per cent in the first year, followed by a two-year wage freeze. That doesn’t sound too bad, but there is a special clause for the fourth year that ensures that the OPP will be the province’s highestpaid police service at the end of the contract. The Toronto agreement will add roughly six per cent to the OPP deal.

In Ottawa, every one-percent increase in police wages adds $2 million in costs, so a deal like the one signed in Toronto would cost taxpayers more than $22 million a year by the end of a similar contract.

via Toronto police increase costs us | Ottawa Citizen.

Conservative politicians often talk about how they will get tough with unions, but that rarely materializes. It is far easier to quietly concede, avoiding the damaging political impacts that result from protracted labour disputes. The added cost of the new labour contracts will be partially recouped through service cuts later this year.

Mar 11

Changes to paid duty program something all of council can agree on

Robyn Doolitte:

Unnecessarily strict rules for employing paid duty police officers are costing Toronto taxpayers as much as $2 million each year, a city audit has found.

The official findings won’t be released for weeks, but a draft copy obtained by the Star recommends reviewing some “debatable” permit criteria, particularly for road work.

via Paid duty policing costs taxpayers millions: audit report – thestar.com.

At a community meeting last month, Councillor Pam McConnell — a stalwart of council’s left — was all excited about this report by the auditor general. It’s one of those programs that I think everyone can agree is ridiculous. Hopefully someone makes a motion to restructure this program, and council will actually get a chance to agree on something for once.


Jan 11

Ford the Candidate versus Ford the Mayor

Ford the Candidate:

100 additional frontline police officers will be hired

via Rob Ford for Mayor 2010 | Stopping the Waste and Getting Spending Under Control

Ford the Mayor:

Ford promised during the campaign to boost the police force by 50 officers this year. But he later abandoned the pledge, and police board chair Alok Mukherjee said he believed Ford was on board with Blair’s money-saving but force-shrinking plan.

The new police budget request of $905.9 million, approved by the board Tuesday afternoon, is $9 million smaller than the one with which Ford had publicly expressed unhappiness on Monday. Of the savings, $7.6 million comes from deferring the replacement of all officers and civilian employees who leave the service this year.

via A new budget day: fare hike off, no 2011 police hires – thestar.com.

The new budget will actually reduce the number of police officers on the street by approximately 200. I’m not particularly opposed to the plan, but it’s certainly an about-face. Why is this ‘mandate’ so malleable where others are not?

Jan 11

Cut tha Police

The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno:

Outgoing: A cart piled high with cases of beer empties.

Incoming: Police Chief Bill Blair.

This was the intriguing traffic at Mayor Rob Ford’s second-floor City Hall office Monday afternoon.

Presumably, the two men did not slug back brewskies during their private 90-minute conclave, though they did emerge with hail-fellow-well-met bonhomie, all flushed with mutual goodwill.

via DiManno: Chief Blair has to make some cuts – thestar.com.

Quick tip to budding writers: if you ever look up from your keyboard and realize you’ve just typed something like “they did emerge with hail-fellow-well-met bonhomie, all flushed with mutual goodwill”, maybe you should consider another career. Or smashing your fingers with a hammer. Whatever comes naturally.

Otherwise: Holding the line on the police budget is one of the few things that’s impressed me about the Ford administration thus far. It’s a principled stand, and one that I did not think he’d make.