Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s ‘gravy train’ budget cuts amount to a whimper

Andy Radia
Canada Politics

Less than a year after sweeping in to office, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finds himself in deep trouble.

Polls suggest his popularity is plummeting, key allies are deserting him and his plan to slash city spending by closing libraries and slashing public transit is meeting fierce opposition.

That might explain his administration's meagre budget cuts announced Tuesday, which equate to only one-third of one per cent of Toronto's total annual budget of $9 billion.

Ford was elected with a clear mandate to cut the "gravy" at city hall.

The cuts announced Tuesday, however, are a mere drop in the bucket relative to his goal to cut $740 million from the city's expenses.

The mayor put a positive spin on the cuts — claiming to have spared beloved services and found $28-million in "service adjustments," as well as another $65-million in possible cuts that were referred to during this fall's budget discussions.

"This is a huge victory," the mayor told reporters after the vote. "Childcare saved. Libraries saved. We don't reduce grass cutting in the parks. It's a win-win for everyone. This is an example. There is waste at city hall."

Councillors did vote to stop offering four free garbage tags, eliminate horticulture programs and plant fewer trees.

They scrapped the requirement to have police officers at construction sites where possible and will ask an outside group to run the Christmas Bureau.

Council also voted to sell, privatize or come up with another operating model for the Toronto Zoo and the city's three theatres, plus make Heritage Toronto a not-for-profit organization.

Discussion about other cost-cutting proposals for affordable housing, shelter animal pickup, environmental programs, heritage grants, dental programs for the poor and library hour reductions has been put off until later this fall.

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, a member of the mayor's executive, told The Globe and Mail council is only delaying the inevitable.

"All of council needs to understand, the public needs to understand, that if we don't make the decisions now, the challenges are going to come back," he said. "The tough decisions that we don't make today are just being deferred until the 2012 budget cycle."

(CP Photo)