On his radio show this past weekend—in the leadup to a contentious casino proposal at City Hall—Mayor Rob Ford said he’d welcome a gambling palace in Toronto, and justified the decision on economic grounds: “We’re in desperate need of revenues,” he said. And just then, two years into his term in office—the halfway point to the next election—the last faint signs of life that had once animated the ideology you might call “Ford Notion” died out.
For if the mayor has been clear on one thing since the moment he started campaigning for the job, it’s that the city did not want for money. “There’s more than enough money,” he told radio host John Oakley in explaining a tax cut shortly after his election, followed by the familiar mantra: “We have a major spending problem at City Hall, not a revenue problem.”
Even back then, most people who had any familiarity with the reality of the city’s finances could tell he was wrong, or lying. But his supporters believed him. Now that casino lobbyists are crawling the backrooms of City Hall (and drinking late into the night with members of council after mayoral arts fundraisers), Ford himself has come around to the obvious conclusion that the city needs money to pay for things.
That was about the last flimsy plank of Ford’s sloganeering platform that remained in place. As for the others, remember “Stop the Gravy Train”? On the campaign trail, Ford claimed very specifically that he’d be able to cut $3 billion in pure waste and inefficiency from the city’s budget over four years ($1.2 billion in the first two years alone). Today, he walks around claiming he stopped the gravy train when he saved the city just over a million dollars in councillor expense budgets. “Well, folks, the gravy train is over,” he told a crowd in his mom’s backyard in September. Meanwhile, the city’s net operating budget—the budget we fund with our municipal tax dollars—is more than $15 million higher than it was when Ford took office, as political blogger Matt Elliott of Metro is fond of pointing out.
Then there was his claim that he wouldn’t cut any city services. “I will assure you that services will not be cut, guaranteed!” he said repeatedly while running for office, even promising that services for seniors, childcare, and the poor would be enhanced rather than cut. But then bus service was slashed and the library budget was scaled back, among other things. Ford himself had supported much more drastic measures, and is considering 50 more cuts to services heading into this year’s budget season. The only reason he hasn’t broken that promise more dramatically is that city council has refused to allow him to do so.
And finally, there’s “Respect for Taxpayers,” his big umbrella slogan. Barely a day goes by that we don’t hear another story about how he abuses taxpayer resources in exactly the ways he claimed were an abomination when he was running for office. Bailing on his responsibilities at City Hall—repeatedly—to coach a football team, using his mayoral office payroll as a staffing budget for that football team, directing city benefits funds from a developer to renovate his football team’s dressing room (see a pattern emerging here?), getting his office staff to inquire about money for the province for his football team, comandeering city buses from crowded suburban routes to chauffeur his football team… But it isn’t all football: There was also that time he personally intervened with city department managers to fix up the street around his family company’s office, and his repeated suggestions that the accountability officers charged with keeping government free from corruption should be eliminated.
Council long ago stopped taking direction from the mayor, and what we saw at the most recent council meeting—squabbling over possible mayoral reprimands, a defeat for the mayor on a major transit vote—has become the normal order of business under Mayor Rob Ford. But as an assessment of Rob Ford halfway through his term, his own frank admission that the city is in desperate need of revenue is a more significant marker. Because taken with his other broken promises and dispelled illusions, it’s clear to everyone that, two years in, the very premises of Rob Ford’s campaign were false. And it appears that’s even becoming clear to the mayor. I guess that’s progress, of a sort.