Watching the mayor on CP24, trying to keep track of the truth.
This morning the mayor appeared on CP24 for an interview with Stephen LeDrew. The whole interview is posted in three segments on the CP24 homepage right now—I have no idea where it will live on their site once it gets bumped from the main story slot. Overall, I got a reminder while watching it that as much as he can be a controversy time-bomb when speaking off the cuff, he is also his own best weapon when he finds himself in a friendly interview environment. A lot of what he says about cutting the Land Transfer Tax or making the city responsible sounds perfectly reasonable and sensible to those not involved in the day-to-day debate at City Hall, and his “I’m just a regular guy” schtick (which isn’t actually a schtick, I don’t think, it’s how he thinks of himself) comes off perfectly. See for example how he ruefully laughs off talking on his cellphone while driving, “My staff are always on me, everybody’s on me…” Despite being born wealthy and getting wealthier, it is a role he is in many ways born to play.
Anyhow, there’s a lot I’d have debated him on if I were there with him in person, especially about the wisdom of some of his stated plans for 2012, his interpretation of the effects he’s had on the culture of city hall and the legitimacy of his “it’s just a scheduling problem” claims about skipping out on Pride last year. But in keeping with the headline above and the tradition that’s evolved around here, I’ve tried to restrain myself to examining a few of the claims he made that could be called “facts.” (Tried. Not entirely successfully.) And while he got many facts right during the interview, I have skipped those ones and focussed on some that jumped out at me as misstatements or misrepresentations:
1. “When I took office,
I didn’t know there was a $755 million mess that we’d have to clean up. I inherited that.”
Presumably here he’s referring to the the opening budget shortfall that was bandied about by his team for half the year in order to emphasize the need for cutting. He gets his own talking-point figure wrong here, since the number that was repeated constantly was $774 million. This number was, of course, a political fiction, as outlined by me here and by others here and here and here.
Furthermore, his claim that he did not know about the structural shortfall is dubious. David Miller complained about it all the time (in 2010, when Ford was busy campaigning for Mayor, Miller and his team claimed to face an opening shortfall of more than $800 million), and it was a well-documented phenomenon. The Toronto Board of Trade issued a report on that subject in February 2010. That same month, the Toronto Star published a piece by TD Bank’s chief economist claiming dealing with the budget shortfall should be job #1 for the new mayor. He had said that before, a year earlier. It was actually the existence of that structural annual shortfall that inspired Miller to run his whole one-cent-now campaign asking for a share of federal GST revenue for cities. I find it hard to believe Rob Ford was oblivious to that whole discussion. Although, since he ran his campaign by denying there was any revenue problem and claiming he could cut $2 billion in pure waste from operating expenses, it’s possible he didn’t believe it existed. Which would make his claim of ignorance here true, but would make much of the premise of his election campaign false.
2. Saying that the city is implementing cuts is
Okay, what? The mayor insists, at Stephen LeDrew’s odd suggestion, that it is misleading to suggest the city is implementing service cuts. I guess a lot hinges on what one means by the word “cuts,” but closing pools, reducing library hours, eliminating grant programs—most of us agree those are cuts. The mayor tells LeDrew that he likes to call them “efficiencies,” and I understand why he would prefer to call them that, since it sounds much nicer. Kind of like how Donald Trump likes to call that thing on top of his head “hair” and Fonzie liked to call the public washroom his “office.” But the nicer term in all these cases seems to stretch the meaning of the word in question to breaking point. It is not misleading to refer to service cuts as “service cuts.” It is misleading to call them “efficiencies,” which is what the mayor does.
They said we were going to have to shut down libraries, now we’re not.”
A lot of this statement’s veracity hinges on who the mayor means by “they.” If he means “my brother and my team and the people we hired to suggest possible cuts,” then I guess it makes sense. Because indeed, KPMG, at the mayor’s request, did suggest some libraries could be closed, and Doug Ford did suggest some should be closed, though no one really suggested they had to be closed.
Still, this is kind of a strange boast. Since it was the mayor and his team who threatened to close libraries and now it is the mayor and his team who are now instead forcing shortened hours and other cuts, claiming the contrast in options as evidence that he’s saving the day is sort of like a bully claiming, “I originally said I should break your legs, and now I’ve decided just to punch you in the face. See how compassionate I am?”
4. “Contracting out garbage saves $11.5 million per year.”
Nope. The city’s own report suggests the city will save $6 million per year. Even that number is hotly contested.
CORRECTION/UPDATE: As an alert and frustrated commenter named “Unknown” points out below, the estimated savings of the contract as awarded are far higher than I initially reported, and far closer to the mayor’s claim. While the city’s estimate was that it would be possible to save $6 million per year, the winning bidder came in significantly under that estimate, and will save the city $11.2 million per year according to the city’s estimates (an Ernst and Young evaluation of the bid estimated savings of $11.7 million before adjustments were made prior to approval, as noted by the commenter below). As I noted previously, this number is hotly contested, both by those who say savings are being overestimated by attributing non-contract-related efficiencies to the contract and by those who doubt the winning bidder will be able to deliver as promised.
However, the number the mayor stated on CP24 is not out of line with what the city has officially proclaimed as the expected savings. The mayor got this one right, I was wrong. I should have been more diligent, and I am happy to have that pointed out.
5. “Transit City, it’s a disaster.
You look at St. Clair, let’s use Transit City 101.“
The St. Clair Streetcar Right-of-Way, which was in fact the construction fiasco Ford claims it was, was not part of the Transit City plan.
6. Look at what’s happening in York Region [transit strike],
you’re not going to see that happening here.
The mayor is speaking here of making the TTC an essential service, and in that regard he is correct. But since he’s just finished bragging on contracting out garbage collection, he might make note of the fact that the transit employees on strike in York Region all work for private contractors. Since one of his primary justifications for contracting out garbage was avoiding strikes, this should really cause him to think hard. (“Mayor Ford said the lengthy garbage strike was a major driver of his privatization plan. ‘The strike was a tipping point,’ he said. ‘Enough is enough. We can’t have another situation like that.‘”) [NOTE: not so much a factual error, I realize. Still. Really.]
7. The $65 million in Transit City cancellation costs
is a “completely fictitious number… I have no idea where those numbers are getting pulled out of the sky from.”
I have an idea where it came from. It came from Gary Webster, the general manager of the TTC, who told the budget committee it was the number given to him by Metrolinx, as the total so-far that the mayor promised to pay Metrolinx under this Memorandum of Understanding on changing plans.
If we put it in, it would cost billions.”
As I explained yesterday, if Transit City had been completed, it would have cost the city $0. Because we’ve cancelled it, we will pay costs to Metrolinx for cancelling it. The billions that would have been spent to build it ($8.4 billion or so) were going to be spent by the province. And they still will be spent, all $8.4 billion of them, to build the newly buried LRT line on Eglinton, at the mayor’s insistence. The $65 million (or more, or whatever they actually turn out to be) in costs to the city are over and above that.
9. “I haven’t had
one councillor tell me, ‘My residents want it above ground.’”
I have no idea what Councillor John Parker, the mayor’s deputy speaker, has told the mayor about what his residents say. But he told the Town Crier newspaper that ““I’ve always had my doubts of the logic of putting it underground in the eastern end … We’re buying LRTs and asking it to do what a subway does. It’ll be the goofiest LRT line known to man.”
A lot of money was going downtown … I want to equal the services out.”
The mayor is saying the suburbs were financing premium services for downtown residents. The blogger CitySlikr wrote about this old canard yesterday. Whether the suburban areas got fewer services than downtown depends a lot on which services you look at, as this Toronto Star graph from last year shows. Toronto downtown gets more dollars for libraries, the suburbs get lots more for pools and recreation. And that chart does not even mention services such as clearing leaves off of lawns (only in central Etobicoke and a couple Scarborough neighbourhoods) or shovelling out the ends of homeowners’ driveways (only in the suburbs). Nor the increased costs of providing many services in the suburbs, from transit (hello, half-empty Sheppard subway) to gassing up garbage trucks.
From that chart, the big thing that jumps out is that Etobicoke does really very well in pretty much every category, while Scarborough gets shafted across the board (as City Slikr noted). Check out Parks and pool spending in particular. Doug Ford’s wading-pool envy looks pretty silly in that context—he’s jealous that wading pools in Toronto outnumber those in Etobicoke, when his end of town has 2.5 times as many actual pools as downtown does (and almost three times as many ice rinks). Anyhow, that’s a different fact check.
***Fact checking Edward Keenan: originally this post claimed John Parker was a member of the Executive Committee. A sharp reader, in the spirit of this column, pointed out he is not. Mea culpa.