The chief vs. the mayor: Bill Blair gets a two-year option for budget cuts (but he isn’t happy about it)

The chief vs. the mayor: Bill Blair gets a two-year option for budget cuts (but he isn’t happy about it)

Bill Blair is either incredibly gutsy or a little bit crazy. At a special police board meeting yesterday, the chief maintained his demand for a 1.5 per cent increase in the police budget, despite earlier rumblings at city hall that his request could cost him his job. For its part, the Police Services Board responded by ordering Blair to fall in line and make the 10 per cent reduction that Rob Ford is hoisting on every city department.

From the Globe and Mail:

In standing by his 1.5 per cent proposal first released on Friday, Chief Blair is choosing to ignore warnings from board vice-chair Michael Thompson that the chief’s failure to make substantial budget trims could be a fireable offence.

In response to the chief’s defiance, the board approved a hard target of reducing the police operating budget by 10 per cent in 2012, which effectively compels Chief Blair to submit a budget he cannot personally endorse.

“I can submit a budget that tells you how to do that, but I have to tell you that I cannot recommend that in good conscience because of the impact it would have on public safety,” Chief Blair said, before several board members talked over him.

Blair maintains that the 10 per cent reduction will require massive layoffs, which will in turn compromise public safety—something he can’t support—although the board also passed a motion that would allow the police to spread the cuts out over two years, a luxury that other city agencies don’t have.

Of course, that’s a far cry from Ford’s campaign promise of an additional 100 officers on city streets. But for a mayor who purports to be both tough on crime and fanatically fiscally conservative, the two-year concession may be one of his only remaining options politically. This way, Ford can still point to the two-year clause as evidence of his support for the police, while insisting that everyone can afford to cut a little gravy. The Toronto Star mentions some other options sources believe would reduce the police budget, which—feasible or not—Ford could also point to in an effort to shift the blame for layoffs. Still, 85 per cent of the police budget is devoted to salaries and benefits. And Ford supported a police pay increase earlier this year. So one thing Ford—and Blair—cannot honestly claim is that the cuts are a total surprise.

Police board demands 10% budget cut [Toronto Star]
Blair gets reprieve on police budget cuts [Toronto Sun]
Police board gives Chief Blair 2-year option for budget cut [Globe and Mail]
Police board still asking for 10% cut, but allows for it to be spread over two years [National Post]

(Images: Rob Ford, Shaun Merritt; Bill Blair, Daniel Ehrenworth)