Saturday 14 January 2012

What the @#$%^* do I know about Rob Ford?

Rob Ford, mayor of the city of Toronto, campaigned on a platform of reducing waste in municipal government and stopping the (supposed) abuse of power by the then current and previous administrations. He told everyone he would "find" $2 billion in the city's budget of $9.2 billion. His publicity buzz expression was "Stop the gravy train".

However, various media fact checkers like the Toronto Star investigated Mr. Ford's claims and promises and found that the candidate's grasp of the issues and his supporting math were very much lacking. In fact, it was repeatedly pointed out that some of what he said just didn't make any sense. Nevertheless, Mr. Ford's message that the "fat cats" of city hall were abusing the system hit a sympathetic cord with the voters who gave him a 47% win, one of the largest leads for a winning mayor.

A year later, here is where the city stands under Mr. Ford's leadership. Instead of finding $2 billion in savings in the existing budget, Toronto is $750 million in the red. Instead of following a promise to maintain services while finding $2 billion, Mr. Ford because of the $750 million shortfall must cut services. However to do so, he has gone to the public in a series of consultations asking them to pick which services he should cut. He's not cutting; the public is.

What's my opinion? Running a city with a $9 billion budget is not easy. Mr. Ford had never in his entire life done anything remotely similar to the complexities of such a job and yet the public, well, 47% of them, fell in love with this idea of fat cats abusing the system and wasting tax payers money. It turns out that none of this was true. Mr. Ford sold everyone on the answer being four when it turns out the problem was never two plus two; it was completely different, nothing as he described.

Another little point
Rob Ford made a campaign promise to remove 2 taxes that he said tax payers didn't want. He lived up to his promise and cut them for a loss of revenue to the city of $350 million. Toronto is currently $750 million in the red. If Rob Ford had left the taxes, Toronto would only be $400 million in the red. What I find curious about this is that when do tax payers not complain about taxes? Sure, go ahead and cut a tax but you better have a back-up plan and since Mr. Ford didn't find his $2 billion in the existing budget, his back-up plan just did not work, it didn't exist in the first place. My head hurts. What's your solution? Stomp on my foot.

Rob Ford: Let the show begin! 2010-10-26
As Toronto wakes up to the realization there's a new sheriff in town, I, for one am cogitating on just what the future holds for us collectively. You may say I'm a pessimist but I like to think I'm a realist. In the political arena, what one says and what one does can be very different however this is not for lack of trying. Getting things done is very much dependent on factors than are sometimes outside of one's control and not fully understood. That's not pessimism; that's just a fact of life.

At face value, Mr. Ford's buzz words and slogans hit all the right buttons. "Stop the gravy train." For any of us who have viewed and continue the view City Hall as being an out of control monster of fat cats who want nothing more than to steal from the poor to give to themselves, those are comforting words. However, now in the cold light of day, just who has taken the reins of power? Can he put his money where his mouth is?
In the Star's analysis (Ford's problem with free perks) of Ford's promise to remove these "free perks" and in so doing save Toronto $20 million a year, I see numbers which add up to a different picture. The total given by the Star is less than a half a million dollars, far short of this $20 million quoted by Ford. This is a perfect example of how Ford's statements sound good but do not hold up to mathematical scrutiny. Even if the Star is completely correct in their numbers, I see nothing from Ford's camp which would substantiate his $20 million claim. This just doesn't add up.

Rob Ford: Day#1, promise #1? 2010-10-27
Toronto Sun: Ford has vowed to rip streetcars off arterial roads and replace them with buses.

CBC: Rob Ford says, "We will improve traffic flow downtown by removing some streetcars. Streetcars on downtown arterial streets will be replaced with clean buses that provide the same capacity on the same routes." Rob Ford also told the CBC's Steve D'Souza during the campaign: "Eliminate them all, within, you know, ten years. Get rid of all the streetcars. We don't need them."

Subways not streetcars
Is Mr. Ford aware of the fact that a subway costs more than a streetcar? Far more?

When Mr. Ford advocates for buses, does he know that streetcars run on electricity as opposed to combustible fuel? Pollution = zero, zip, nada.

Does Mr. Ford realise that a streetcar can carry more passengers than a bus because it is just bigger?

When Mr. Ford talks of people complaining about having to wait behind streetcars when they're driving downtown, may I ask why the complainers are not taking the streetcar? Besides, who says that a bus weaving in and out of traffic is going to cause so much less congestion? I lived in the downtown core for 4 years and I found streetcars to be practical, quiet, efficient and non-polluting.

$100 million? Mr. Ford is not seriously considering the cancellation of the existing contract and making us all pay $100 million? This is exactly what happened in Ottawa a few years back. The newly elected mayor cancels the plan and the city has to pay zillions in penalties. Sorry, just plain foolish.

Rob Ford drops the bag... er, ball. 2010-12-30
Newspapers today are reporting that Rob Ford has plans to get rid of the plastic bag fee. This bylaw which came into effect on June 1, 2009, requires all retailers in Toronto to charge a nickel for every single-use plastic retail shopping bag. Toronto was apparently the first Canadian city to pass such a law with the goal of reducing the amount of plastic being sent to landfills.

The CBC has reported that a number of grocery stores such as the Metro and Sobey's chains have said their plastic bag distribution rates have fallen between 70 and 80 per cent since the bylaw went into effect.
I can say from experience that the charge, although only five cents, made me finally get my act together and start doing what I should have been doing for years: carrying my own cloth bag and reusing it instead of getting more and more and more and more plastic bags. That has been admittedly a sin on my part and I am now trying to atone for it. Hail Mary.

Unfortunately if Mr. Ford does listen to the little guy and eliminate the plastic bag tax, he may be putting 5 cents into our pockets but misses the bigger picture. Yes, a better written by-law would have ensured the 5 cents collected by retailers was not just pocketed but spent on community initiatives. The important point, the really, really important point is what the CBC reported: a number of grocery stores such as the Metro and Sobey's chains have said their plastic bag distribution rates have fallen between 70 and 80 per cent since the bylaw went into effect.

Rob Ford: Can I count on this man? 2011-01-06
"Rob Ford to axe LTR in favour of subway" Can this man count? I hate to keep coming back to an issue like a dog with a bone, but Mr. Ford has consistently said things where the numbers when added up do not match what he's saying. This leads me back to the belief that while the slogans sound good - Stop the gravy train! - is there substance behind the rhetoric?

Rob Ford: Cut taxes. Oops, no money for TTC 2011-01-25
Rob Ford was voted in by a public who seemed to be very much disenchanted with a number of high profile fiascos at city hall. I did not, I do not disagree that a house cleaning was in order. However, Mr. Ford while tapping into the public's thirst for buzzwords and catchy slogans kept uttering from time to time some ominous pronouncements which mathematically deserved to be thoroughly reviewed before implementation. I, like many, hate paying taxes. However, I recognise that taxes represent income for the government and just like me, if the government doesn't have an income, it can't spend money and if it can't spend money that usually translates into me not getting something I want. Did Rob Ford properly connect the dots before moving ahead with his buzzwords and slogans? Did the public understand "robbing Peter to pay Paul"?

Rob Ford or the public: Now who's dumber? 2011-07-30
This past week has seen the most unusual of events of the city's political scene. A marathon session of Toronto's city council's executive committee of over 21 hours saw over 300 people representing union members, arts groups, social agencies and others present their opinions about what to cut and what not to cut in Toronto's budget. There is an estimated $774 million funding gap in next year's budget and the mayor is going to have to cut something to save some money. The question is cut what?

As part of the mayor's pledge to find the "gravy" at city hall, Ford's administration commissioned KPMG to do a study of 155 of the city's "core services". The 400 page report lists $700 million worth of cost cutting options including the closure of libraries, the elimination of subsidized daycare spots, stopping water fluoridation, closing the affordable housing office, the sale of the Toronto Zoo, scaling back snow clearing, closing city-owned theatres, cutting back on night buses and crossing guards.
Rob Ford was voted in not quite with a landslide but enough that one would think the Toronto citizens wanted a change. Did they get one? Politics is a game of buzz words, feel good phrases and smiling warmly while shaking your hand. Unfortunately, at some point that politician has to do something. Running a city, heck running a country (don't get me started on Harper!) is not easy. Anybody who runs for office has got to have a great deal of arrogance as I imagine they haven't got the foggiest idea of what they're getting themselves into.

Rob Ford convinced the voters he was going to make a difference. Rob Ford convinced us that he knew exactly what he was doing. Okay, so where's the beef? Mr. Ford had not yet sat in the driver's seat when he was campaigning. Mr. Ford had not yet looked at the books when he made promises he now can't keep. Mr. Ford claimed he could run the city of Toronto when he had never a city before in his life. Was that dumb?

But the public voted for him. Now just who's dumber?

Final Word
I was speaking with a business acquaintance the other week who voted for Rob Ford. He said to me, "I think Rob Ford is doing a good job because he's doing what he said he would do." At the time I thought this was a curious thing for him to say but didn't debate the issue. I did however mull over this gentleman's view of Rob Ford and my own. Yes, Rob Ford said he would cancel two taxes he said the public did not like. He did this and cut $350 million of revenue from the city of Toronto's revenue. Now the city is $750 million in the red instead of $400 million. Rob Ford said he would "find $2 billion" in Toronto's annual budget of $9.2 billion. He didn't. In fact the city is three quarters of a billion dollars in the red. Rob Ford said he would not cut services. Due to the budget shortfall he is now doing exactly that. Rob Ford said he would cut the city's plastic bag tax (he hasn't yet) and yet, the major chains are reporting an 80% drop in the number of plastic bags being handed out which represents I'm guessing a lot less plastic going into landfills.

Economics as a subject of study can be a difficult topic. However there is a certain simplicity in the idea that if I earn a hundred bucks, I should only spend a hundred bucks. However when we throw politics into the mix, that is the concept of a leader trying to satisfy the competing demands of the constituents, we end up with the phenomenon of a human being making promises he may or may not be able to keep all because he wants to be elected.

As I said previously, Rob Ford throughout his campaign made some pretty wild promises and some pretty strange claims. I remain perplexed at how the public bought into his spiel as though a man who had no experience remotely similar to the job at hand would know what he was talking about. I will repeat this until I'm blue in the face: If it was as easy as a politician portrays it to be, it would be done by now. That means that since it isn't done, doing it has got to be a heck of lot harder than the politician is leading us to believe.

I will end with this quote from the Toronto Star reporter Royson James (Toronto Star - July 30/2011): "Mayor Rob Ford’s credibility is shot, shredded, blown to bits — victim of his excessive rhetoric and unsubstantiated claims." But what the @#$%^* do I know?


Ford for Toronto by Matt Elliot
2012 Budget: Trading tax cuts for service cuts in Rob Ford’s Toronto
After months packed with a weak, barely-heard consultation process and a maddeningly non-specific communication strategy employed by the mayor’s executive committee — who told us that nothing, specifically, was on the table for cuts, except everything —, today we finally received, by way of the city manager, a list of concrete recommendations for service cuts in the 2012 budget.

Toronto Star - July 30/2011
Royson James: Toronto wants it vote back
No. No. No. And still no. That’s all Mayor Rob Ford and his executive committee heard from the public for almost 23 hours Thursday, into Friday. Do not take the axe to city services that have made Toronto an enviable place to live.


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