Ford Finding Financial Fallacies

Doug Ford displays the "Gravy Train" T-shirt. Turns out it was more of a bike.

Okay: I’ll admit I did not vote for our current mayor. There were a lot of reasons, and I won’t dwell on them. The bottom line comes down to the fact that he just didn’t impress me. His financial concerns were the big hype of his campaign: much though the city needs to be fiscally responsible, his claims really rubbed me the wrong way. I have found that, in general, anyone who claims they want to “balance” the budget, they mean cutting services to people who are not powerful or vocal enough to stand in the way. I wasn’t the only one: apparently when he moved in to office, packages of gravy were left to poke fun at his claims that he would stop the “gravy train”. Indeed, his brother started making (tax-deductible) T-shirts claiming he would keep the “gravy train” from going any further.

The tactic worked. He won the election by fighting the rich councillors who he claimed were so wasteful. That’s all he cared about. Now that’s he’s in, he’s certainly going to cut spending: but it won’t be the rich who will find their services cut. It’ll be those who need it most.

Here he is: out to fight waste and save money. And what does Mr. Ford do in this pursuit? He hires a consultant to find out cost-cutting measures. They spend thousands of dollars to bring outside “experts” in to look at the way things are run. And what do they find? According to CBC, there were a range of things that could be cut… or at least a few. They found that over 96% of what the city does, it needs to do. The did find that there is cost savings but cutting back on a few of them:

  • HIGH SAVINGS: “reducing bicycle infrastructure “. I assume this refers to bike lanes and places to leave a bike around the city. These have been planned for years, and one of the biggest concerns around here is traffic congestion and gas prices. A proactive way to approach the problem is by proving “bicycle infrastructure”.. but it is expensive.
  • HIGH SAVINGS: “eliminating small commercial waste collection”. I don’t think I get this. Are not small businesses the very ones we are supposed to be concerned about in the current economic climate? And the city is going to “eliminate” trash collecting from these businesses, making them pay for it themselves?
  • MEDIUM SAVINGS: “further contracting out of waste collection”. This one is debatable. All the “cost savings” I’ve heard about from contracting out municipal services like trash collection have been short-lived at best. The drive for privatization has failed elsewhere, and I don’t see why we should cut well-paid unionized trash workers so that trash company owners can have the money instead.
  • MEDIUM SAVINGS: “reducing the target rate for diverting waste from landfills into recycling and composting”. Instead of recycling, it’s cheaper to just throw trash in to landfills. Isn’t it even cheaper to just throw it to the bottom of the garden?
  • LOW SAVINGS: “reduce snow clearing in the winter”. Yeah, right. Do they know what it’s like getting home on a snowy night even now? We live in Canada. This isn’t Little Rock. Reduce the snow collection and you’ll certainly increase accidents, considering the number of city-dwellers who don’t use snow tires. But at least the city will save money.
  • LOW SAVINGS: “The fluoridation of drinking water could be eliminated”. I could not believe this when I read it. Are they serious? How much did we pay for this report? Oh, there is an addendum to this one: “with impacts on dental health”. So dentists will make a fortune. It’s all a matter of perspective. And at least the city saves money.

I wonder if those who bought those T-shirts recognize the irony in all this? The “gravy train” apparently doesn’t have many cars.

It should be noted that this is the same consulting company that found that Toronto is one of the most competitive cities in the world when it comes to business taxes. It ranks “5th overall [in the world] on the total tax index.” Yet I note that this is not one of the recommendations of the report on trying to meet the budget. They’ve recognized that Toronto is at the top of the world with respect to our taxation of businesses, which is how other cities pay for the cost of doing business in a city. Apparently it’s perfectly acceptable for “impacts on dental health” to plague the average citizen (or rather, more among the poor than the rich) than it would be to threaten that wonderful 5th in the world standing for low taxes.

This does not seem to me to be proper thinking.

Mr. Ford’s priorities would seem to be a wee bit skewed.

Apparently there have been a number of public reviews of how to save money in the city. (I haven’t heard about them, but I guess I don’t run in the right circles.) According to the Globe and Mail, “Included with the service review are the results of a public consultation that took in 13,000 submissions from Torontonians. In all, the respondents, who registered their opinions online and through a series of meetings throughout the city, were overwhelmingly against contracting out municipal services.” So we, the people of the city are “overwhelmingly” against Ford’s approach. So how did the man get in? Fellow city dwellers: did you not expect this? Ford said he was going to “balance” the budget, by whatever means he could. This would seem to be a typically Canadian approach to politics: we want budgets balanced as long as it doesn’t impact us. Cut the other guy’s job/salary. What we don’t understand is that the “other guy” has more power and influence. So his salary’s safe.

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