Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stopping the Gravy Train

It has been a year since Rob Ford was elected Mayor of Toronto. I point this out because he won a large plurality promising to get rid of municipal government waste, and over spending, without cutting services.
My view is that Toronto, is like any Western democratic government in microcosm. The city  government has grown by leaps and bounds, taking on more and more responsibilities: sewage, water, electric power, schools, transit, affordable housing, waste removal, roads, entertainment, parks, recreation, and on and on. Ford's mantra in the election was to: "stop the gravy train." So, one year in, hows he doing?
Well, yesterday he managed to punish one of the larger municipal unions for having a garbage strike two years ago. One half of the city will now have "privatized municipal garbage collection." Projections are, that money will be saved and the possibility of a city wide strike will be diminished. Chalk one up for Ford.
In many ways Ford has the typical conservative view of government: we need it, we need lots of it, but we can cut the waste and make it efficient too.
He was serious, he hired a large independent auditor to find ways to cut government spending without affecting core services. Well, I've written about that issue, here and here. To me that sounded like having your cake and eating it too, but Ford will beat you to the cake. ;-)
After several months in office looking for the "gravy," Rob Ford discovered that he was standing in it. There was little waste in the actual machinery of government, the waste turned out to be the very services he had sworn not to cut. The libraries, the pools, the theatres, the zoo, and all the "freebies" the citizens of Toronto came to expect, paid for by other people's money. Let's not even talk about the bloated salaries city workers make so that they may have a descent living wage. The city has a fair wage policy where it will over pay workers because it's really not their money is it? Someone else is paying, so we can be magnanimous.
When citizens got wind of Ford's plan to downsize government by cutting their precious "free" services, there was lots of  blowback. His popularity plunged. Even the "Occupy Toronto" protestors, very new on the scene, and with little to actually protest about, decided Rob Ford's plans presented a large juicy target. Indeed it does.
So, will Ford prevail? Does Ford actually have a better idea? Short answer, no. I'm betting he tweaks the system a bit, makes some cuts and declares victory. The unions are starting to target their guns on him, not yet with attack ads, that will come later. Right now they are using media to deliver the message that unions are made of regular people, your neighbours, your friends, and they care! They care about Toronto, soon they will say Ford doesn't.

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