We Can't Afford Ford

When Rob Ford Becomes Mayor...
But here’s the most disturbing truth of all: it’s not worth going into detail about the city Rob Ford promises because it’s pure fantasy. Mayor Rob Ford has absolutely no chance of enacting his agenda and will, as a result, grind the city to a halt, undoing seven or more years of progress and creating a situation much like the one he claims he’s addressing now.

Reality One: basic math
Ford’s numbers simply do not add up. The cuts he proposes to “waste” at City Hall are almost purely symbolic — a footnote to the budget — and are dwarfed by the $250 million a year in revenue that would be lost from his elimination of the vehicle-registration tax and land-transfer tax. That scenario alone would make his expansion of customer service, police service and subway building impossible. Meanwhile, cancelling new streetcar orders and discarding the ones we have while buying fleets of new buses would create hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs and vastly increase the operating shortfall of the TTC. We simply could not afford it.

Reality Two: he can’t boss the province around
Much of what Ford wants to do — notably cutting the size of council — would depend on provincial legislation McGuinty or any other premier would never approve. And his great transit scheme? At the moment, the province is paying for $3.7 billion worth of the Transit City plan Ford wants to scrap. Do you think they’ll continue giving him the money to use for his own devices?

Reality three: He can’t really boss anyone around
Finally, even before things get to the provincial level, Ford wouldn’t have the authority to get his ideas past the council level. He could set the agenda and make appointments to committees, but he — as outgoing Councillor Howard Moscoe put it — “could not pass wind” without winning a vote at council.

This is a problem for Ford more than any other candidate because he has shown no history of being able to work with anyone on anything. He proudly told me in 2006 that even council’s right wing hated him (“I don’t want to eat lunch with those guys anyway,” he said). It’s easy to forget now that even Mel Lastman considered Ford an enemy.

So who would accept the kamikaze mission of being his budget chief, charged with making his magical numbers add up? Who would sit on his transit commission, trying to keep the trains running while negotiating the stiff penalties and absurd demands of his platform? No one who knows anything about finance or transit, that’s for sure.

What we’re actually facing is gridlock and regression. Why? Because we’re looking at four years of angry shouting and a loud, probably unproductive argument between Ford and council (and between Ford and the province and between Ford and the city’s labour unions and between Ford and city staff…).

He might well succeed in stopping progress altogether in a few areas: grinding Transit City to a halt, cutting some taxes and slashing spending on arts and cultural programs. The city’s years-in-progress bike plan might be scrapped or halted, environmental progress rolled back. But Ford would replace those with nothing.

The opportunity cost — what we’ll miss out on by taking no action — will be huge. Development will slow as the planning department becomes paralyzed by political deadlock. Transit growth will stop and basic maintenance and service will be cut as the commission endlessly debates how to square financial and contractual circles. Basic infrastructure will be neglected. In short, the city will start to rot.

And, most distressingly for a penny-pincher like Ford, our financial hole will just keep getting bigger following tax cuts while pressing budget and revenue problems go unaddressed, forcing steep tax hikes or drastic service cuts or, most likely, both.

Then by the time the next election rolls around, everyone will be even angrier and perhaps we really will be a city in decline.