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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

LORINC: Don Bosco, daycare and a little more math for Rob Ford

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Whatever else one thinks about Mayor Rob Ford and his tumultuous tenure on the second floor of City Hall, there’s little question that he is genuinely dedicated to his high school football team, which lost a big game on Friday.

Yes, Ford’s minions have made sure to flag the media when there’s a game – his infamously foreshortened post-election interview with “As It Happens” took place while he was out on the gridiron – so the public can see him in action.

But I don’t doubt his commitment, nor his empathy for his players. The location of the emotional headwaters is anybody’s guess. Everyone knows he’s a big football fan, and maybe he’s also working out some old baggage with his coaching and the foundation. Whatever the motive, it’s not about image burnishing.

What struck me Friday, however, was the yawning gap between Ford-the-coach and Ford-the-hatchet man when the  subject of the city’s subsidized daycare spaces came up for debate at the community development and recreation committee, chaired by Councillor Giorgio “The Thumb” Mammolitti.

Mammolitti has been meeting in secret with Ford’s daycare special ops taskforce. It appears they’ve come up with the genius tactic of playing chicken with Queen’s Park over the $27 million in one-time capital funding and an annual $27 million for the city’s 24,000 subsidized spaces. If the Liberals don’t dig deep, the message seems to be, all those kids (read: cannon fodder) will be shit out of luck.

Indeed, some parents will likely go onto welfare because of the daycare trap well known to low-income families. For some working parents with very poorly paid jobs, the cost of unsubsidized daycare is so high that it makes more financial sense for them to quit and go on welfare — the costs of which are partly borne by Toronto property taxpayers but are being gradually uploaded to the province.

So the question looms: is it better to subsidize daycare or to force working Toronto parents onto welfare so they can pay their rent and the grocery bills?

Ideally, the province should cover daycare subsidies, which is a social program and thus best financed from a progressive tax base. But rather than negotiating with the province, Mammolitti and Ford are trying a bit of blackmail. And like many local politicians before them, they’ll soon discover that the City of Toronto is rarely in a position to dictate terms when it comes to provincial relations. The mayor managed it once or twice, but I’m guessing he’s used up his allotment.

Which brings me back to Don Bosco. Some of Ford’s players, and other teens supported by his foundation, come from disadvantaged families, and may well have been enrolled in subsidized city daycare spaces as children so their parents could work. But in this, as in so many other things, Ford seems incapable of making the leap from the particular to the general.

True, he’s helping his group; in fact, some adults may even be motivated by his example, and follow suit. Yet his good angels have little sway with his political demons — the ones who shout in his ear that subsidized daycare is (pick one) a nice-to-have; a redoubt for lefty parents; or a source of gravy for the public sector unions.

The Math

I wrote a story for The Globe and Mail this week that showed how Ford has moved some expenses from the mayor’s budget to council’s general budget, thus undermining his claim about running a much leaner operation than David Miller.

The mayor’s office was not pleased, and said my analysis was incorrect.

Okay, then, let’s do the math.

Ford states that he’s “saved” taxpayers $700,000 by reducing the mayor’s office budget from $2.7 million to $2 million, the amount council budgeted for 2011. This claim reminds me of those retailers that hike their prices before a sale so they can entice gullible consumers with claims of giant discounts.

Here are the facts:

In 2010, Miller budgeted $2.56 million for his office budget, and ultimately spent about $2.4 million, as the 2011 budget documents indicate [PDF]. (The $2.4 million comes from a third quarter variance report and is the latest available figure.)

If we’re doing apples to apples, then Ford could reasonably claim he cut the mayor’s office budget by $500,000. The actual savings to taxpayers will be the difference between what Ford ultimately spends in 2011 and what Miller spent in 2010, allowing for the fact that Ford & Co. quietly transferred some mayor’s office expenses (e.g., telecom/telephone service, insurance reserves) to the general council budget last January, and thus they wouldn’t represent a savings to taxpayers.

So where did that $2.7 million number come from? Turns out it’s a straw man, disguised as a staff projection. During the 2010 budget process, the clerk’s office, which administers council, estimated the 2011 mayor’s office budget would be $2.8 million; that number was subsequently re-stated as $2.715 million.

Problem is, city council never approved that figure. It is merely a target produced by staff and was not subject to political scrutiny – you know, the sort of thing Ford did when he declared he was going to run his office for $2 million. Needless to add, Miller was in no position to dictate the quantum of the 2011 mayor’s office budget because, well, he wasn’t the mayor any more.




  1. If Ford cares so much about the Don Bosco football players, then why did his brother support a petition to close a pedestrian walkway that connects several large high-rise buildings with the neighbourhood to the north, which includes Don Bosco? Surely some of Bosco’s students, maybe even Ford’s players, live in these buildings. Unfortunately, neighbouring homeowners felt that having high rise tenants walk down their streets brings crime and vandalism, and since they pay high taxes they deserve to cut off access to these lower income people who are more dependant on walking. Losing this access will add a long, dangerous detour to hundreds if not thousands of people. See item EY11.17 – I really hope someone in the media picks up on this. Jane Farrow, we need you now!

  2. The Mayor and his posse show little regard for facts or even (to quote one their gods, Mike Harris) common sense.They seem to lurch from issue to issue relying on their feeling at the specific moment.  As we have seen, that feeling can move 360 degrees in a short time. So, one day they are big supporters of something, the next they are in fierce opposition and then back to day one.

    I used to think this was a tactic to confuse the media and citizens – but alas, they have no tactics.  They are just folk who appear to not understand the greater impact of their decisions and feel that short term saving of money always means long-term savings (As Lorinc indicated, many of the feelings they implement will cost us much more than the money saved through cuts). 

    This feeling-based government is something we haven’t seen for a while or perhaps we have never seen such a beast.  It’s kind of like having teenagers actually in charge of the City.  Those of us with teenagers could only imagine our teen as Mayor. We would not let it happen.  Yet, the teens who run City Hall are lurching from feeling to feeling.  When Mike Harris and his henchmen were finally removed from power, it took many years to recover from the wounds inflicted.  Here’s a question, how long will next Mayor require to do the same for Toronto?

  3. In my short time in the press gallery Ford’s team has never alerted the media about a football game. In fact, they’ve made abundantly clear that we are not welcome anywhere near the field. Two weeks ago, reporters were shooed away from Don Bosco field. On Friday, my presence definitely wasn’t encouraged. His office is intent on quashing personal story-lines of every kind, even ones that might put him in a good light. 

  4. John,

    If I follow your math it suggests the Mayor has been exaggerating the size of the “problem” of the office budget,and attibuting the 2011 figure to his predecessor so that he can claim to have accomplished a savings that he didn’t accomplish.

    Isn’t this exactly what is going on with the 2012 operating budget? $774 million anyone?