National Post editorial: Rob Ford is the best choice for Toronto
Tyler Anderson/National Post
Rob Ford will be able to rein in spending at City Hall.
National Post editorial board October 22, 2010 – 4:36 pm
Toronto desperately needs change at City Hall. Spending has increased 43% since outgoing mayor David Miller took office — salaries and benefits by 47%. Over that same time, revenue from user fees and permits rose nearly 30% and property tax revenue by nearly a quarter — far outstripping the city’s population growth. The city has anywhere from 15% to 25% more employees than it did in 1998, depending on whose numbers you go by, and very little to show for it. All candidates in this campaign agree the city faces a $503-million budget shortfall for 2011.
The municipal government simply spends too much money, a plain fact that becomes evident every time budget day approaches and mortal panic sets in. In the past, some ad-hoc combination of service cuts, fee hikes, property tax increases and temporary, desperation budget cuts across departments has kept the city treading water. But treading water isn’t good enough. Torontonians rightly sense that their city is in trouble.
In our opinion, Rob Ford is the best candidate to address this situation.
Policy-wise, Toronto very much needs a proverbial bull in the china shop. A great many precious, expensive things at City Hall need shattering: the fair-wage policy that ensures the city can’t contract out labour for less than union rates; the sense of entitlement that led to a taxpayer-funded $12,000 retirement for councillor Kyle Rae; sole-sourced contracts in favour of companies such as Bombardier, which was paid as much as $100-million too much for subway cars; garbage collection as the protected domain of public-sector employees, while other cities go looking for the best deal. Mr. Ford promises to address all these issues. And given his record on council, we believe he will.
George Smitherman is also running on a fiscal-reform platform. (We are pleased to see that unrepentant Miller-ite Joe Pantalone’s “everything’s OK, and what’s not OK isn’t our fault” campaign is stuck in a distant third place.) But is he sincere?
Mr. Smitherman is the consummate Liberal. He does what it takes to win. It’s all too believable — especially as left-wing endorsements pile up from the likes of councillor Joe Mihevc, former mayor Art Eggleton and even Montreal MP Justin Trudeau — that he might run from the moderate right in order to capitalize on the zeitgeist, and then simply collapse to the status quo if elected: begging Queen’s Park and Ottawa for crumbs, refusing to fight the tough spending battles lest the unions revolt, content to watch the city self-righteously stagnate for another four years rather than risk losing his job.
This cannot be allowed to happen, and we believe that Mr. Ford won’t let it happen. While there is no guarantee that Mr. Ford will be able to get his entire agenda through council, the city will be better off as a result of his fight for fiscal reform. At the very least, Mr. Ford will block major new spending increases — something the incumbent certainly couldn’t do.
We do not arrive at this decision lightly. Mr. Ford is not an ideal candidate. Some of the numbers he’s thrown around in his campaign are misleading. He has repeatedly claimed the bike lanes on Jarvis Street cost $6-million, for instance; ill-advised as they are, they cost 1% of that. His transit plan doesn’t just assume Queen’s Park will be willing to repurpose billions of dollars already dedicated to the Transit City plan, but nearly $800-million specifically earmarked for York Region.
There is also Mr. Ford’s penchant for bumptious behaviour. Toronto needs Mr. Ford to pursue his agenda doggedly, not recklessly. But we believe he’s serious when he pledges — as he did in a recent meeting with our editorial board — that the most egregious of his gaffes are behind him. In any event, Toronto has more serious problems to contend with than the occasional YouTube moment at City Hall.
A final note: If Torontonians want to maximize their vote for change, they need to realize the mayor is only one vote on City Council. A ballot marked for Mr. Ford and also for a squishy, inoffensive incumbent councillor is a vote for the status quo. To effect real change at City Hall, the David Miller legacy must be addressed at the ward level as well. Excellent candidates for removal include Adrian Heaps, Sandra Bussin (who famously launched a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against a local media outlet), former Communist Party of Canada official Paula Fletcher, and Mr. Mihevc, vice-chair of the insular, dysfunctional, antiquated TTC. Their time, thankfully, has passed.
We urge voters to examine their candidates’ platforms closely, and vote for fiscal sanity on Oct. 25.