Weighing the truth from Ford’s facts and figures
Rob Ford: “I’m the best mayor Toronto ever had”
By Beatrice S. Paez
TORONTO–Mayor Rob Ford may have lost his footing in council, but he wants voters to know he isn’t going anywhere. In his address on Monday (Jan. 20) to the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, he touted his fiscal record and mapped out some of his priorities in his bid for re-election.
The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star had asked to attend the round table initiated by the ethnic press council, but an invitation was not extended to them.
Since the crack scandal broke, Ford’s encounters with the press have usually been limited to ambush interviews and scrums.
The embattled mayor wanted to focus sights on his accomplishments as, he boasted, “the best mayor Toronto ever had.”
“I ran on a platform of saving taxpayers money, being transparent, reducing the size and the cost of government and customer service excellence. I’ve fulfilled them all,” he said. “I eliminated the personal vehicle tax and saved $200 million dollars.”
Scrapping the $60 registration fee for car owners, which would have brought in an estimated $50 million, meant the city had to find other ways to raise revenue. A hike in user fees for recreational services — taking the TTC, a trip to the zoo, enrolling in a class at a community centre, to name a few, was needed. Ford merely relieved certain taxpayers, but then shifted the costs to all others, raking in $20 million from the user fees and $45 million from TTC hikes over two years, amounting to a net gain of $15 million to the city’s budget.
Ford’s solution to appease frustrated TTC riders is to effectively reverse the hike of $5.25 on the Metropass over the next year. “For one year, I can scale back that transit tax. Second or third year, it might go up. But I can guarantee for one year, I’m going to eliminate the transit tax,” he said.
Among his other promises is to invest 75 per cent of whatever surplus the city has towards capital infrastructure, and the rest to city services, and to fight to reduce council’s size from 44 to 22 members.
On creating jobs, Ford said the cranes in the city skyline tell a story about the booming economy. “We have over 170 cranes in the sky, equivalent to 1,000 jobs. Job creation was a key platform and I have fulfilled that. And it’s just the beginning.”
Numbers tell a different story. Toronto’s unemployment rate ended on a high note in December, hitting 10.1 per cent, according to a city report. Statistics Canada reveals that Toronto actually has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, next only to St. Catharines, with a population of 392,184.
When pressed on the issue of social housing, regarding the waiting list and the backlog of outstanding repairs, he said his priority is to “clean up the housing stock first,” before building more. He added: “There’s absolutely a waiting list. But there are a lot of bachelor apartments available in the city, but people don’t wanna live in them, you gotta be flexible.”
According to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, there’s a shortage in affordable housing for single people, seniors and families. Their annual survey in 2013 showed there are 72,696 people currently on the waiting list. And ONPHA’s 2011 figures indicated that childless couples and single people are the largest subset waiting for housing, with the wait time across Ontario averaging to 3.2 years.
Ford was later questioned on his administration’s efforts to provide a safety net for the city’s most vulnerable citizens. He responded, “We’ve put more money in social services than the previous administration… There are less people now on the sidewalks than three years ago.”
There’s actually been a shortfall in funding for housing support programs since Ford took office. The Wellesley Institute, a non-profit policy group, noted that city’s operating budget in 2010 for shelter, support and housing was $854 million. The recommended budget for 2014 is $636 million. In 2013 the city spent $665 million, down by $128 million in 2012.
Last year, Ford refused to back council’s motion to increase the number of shelter beds, arguing the city had more than enough in supply. Council overwhelmingly voted, 36-3 to find ways to open 172 emergency beds for extreme weather conditions. If there are vacancies that pop up in the system, those spots are set aside for people who are homeless and have special needs, like seniors and individuals living with a mental illness.
The talk later shifted to his hopes of expanding the casino at Woodbine Racetrack to create jobs and to bring in revenue. “There’s a casino there, the only thing that’s missing are the tables. I’m not saying I want three or four, and I never said I wanted one downtown.”
Last spring, Ford’s executive committee entertained the idea of opening a casino resort by the waterfront. There were talks of marrying Ontario Place and Exhibition Place to develop it into a casino and convention centre. He also wrote an open letter to the public, claiming that a downtown casino would be a “golden opportunity” that only comes once in a generation.
When someone asserted that casinos tend to attract unsavoury people, he responded, “Not everyone who goes to the slots are addicts. I’ve been there. You have to have self-control.”
He also said that he’s sure everyone in the room had lied and had made mistakes before. And that everyone should move on including himself.
A video taken approximately after midnight that same evening after his meeting with the ethnic press surfaced, showing an intoxicated Ford ranting and swearing, after he promised to stop drinking.