Guest post by David Hains
Rob Ford’s legendary stubbornness has two sides to its penny-pinching coin. It’s at once the source of mind-boggling frustration when trying to find common ground on complicated issues but also admirable in a, “well, at least he has principles” sort of way. I suspect his reliable tenacity is a big part of the mayor’s enduring appeal for some. You may not always agree with him, but you can agree that he fights for his beliefs.
So it was a surprise when the mayor amended the budget on Thursday. Ford increased spending by $6.8M to restore 20 frontline firefighter positions (there is still a proposed cut of 71 to the department’s frontline complement), hire 40 new paramedics and restore mechanical leaf collection in Etobicoke and parts of Scarborough.
While there’s a fair case to be made for investing in firefighters and paramedics, mechanical leaf collection is different. The service generally benefits large, leafy suburban houses, and it was Etobicoke councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby’s bargaining chip in the budget process last year. The $500,000 service was preserved so as not to cut homeless shelters and nutrition programs, and Ford showed his disgust after the dramatic council vote, “They see money in front of them, and it’s like putting food in front of a dog. They just can’t resist.”
Ford has long argued that council needs to spend less on frills and put more away for capital reserves. For instance, he regularly points to the $751M repair backlog in Toronto Community Housing in his visits to resident apartments, asking people what they need and how they’re doing.
So where does Rob Ford get $6.8M dollars that he can’t resist spending?
Look at item seven of the motion he passed. The mayor offsets his $6.8M in spending from the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration budget, and he replaces that $6.8M with…a draw on social housing reserve funds.
So the chief critic of drawing down on reserves, who heralds this budget as a sustainable and responsible change from the past, does the same in his one change to the budget process.
Jonathan Goldsbie of the National Post and NOW Magazine has previously observed that Rob Ford does not have values, but preferences, and this is a great demonstration of the Ford ethic in action. How else can you explain choosing mechanical leaf collection over his stated priorities of capital reserves and social housing repairs? Whether you agree with Rob Ford or not, it’s hard to see the principles at work here, and even more difficult to respect the preferences.