Comparing the Ford and Smitherman financial plans: different ideas, same big question marks
Coincidences are rare in politics, so it makes perfect sense that the two leading contenders to be mayor of Toronto released their financial plans on the same day. What an excellent opportunity to place them side-by-side, compare their numbers and ask, What do the plans of George Smitherman and Rob Ford have to say about the kind of Toronto we’re about to get?
OK, the production values here must be addressed. Every time we watch a Ford campaign video—whether it’s got an animated Super Ford stopping an equally animated gravy train or not—we can’t help but think these videos are being put together by amateurs. Yes, running a money-saving campaign is good. Yes, people made fun of Karen Stintz when she took public speaking lessons. And yes, some people would make fun of Ford’s hypocrisy if he released a lavishly produced infomercial. But there’s got to be a middle ground here, right?
With that out of the way, the actual proposals aren’t terribly new if you’ve seen Ford in any of the debates in the past month: fire half of council (if they allow it), competitive bidding, and shrink the city’s payroll through attrition—hire only half as many people as leave the city’s rosters over four years. It’s worth saying here that there’s a huge disconnect between the part of Ford’s platform that’s had the most attention (halving council) and the one that saves the most money (attrition): about a third of Ford’s proposed savings come from attrition alone, while halving council would save a measly $9 million if we believe Ford’s numbers (and we’ve been skeptical of all the candidates’ own estimates). Given how unlikely it is, and how little money it would actually save, we’re almost surprised Ford has stuck to his guns on this one. Almost.
Fair is fair—a lot of people have dismissed Ford’s blowing up council plan because it’s exceedingly unlikely to happen. The same could fairly be said of Smitherman’s plan, which relies heavily on the province picking up $100 million of the TTC’s operating budget. Two questions: One, why does Smitherman think he’ll succeed where David Miller has failed? (The city’s demand for the province to restore funding is hardly new.) Two, if Smitherman does succeed in shaking down his old boss, how long can Toronto expect to keep that funding? Until the next election, in which Ford’s buddy Tim Hudak is looking good?
Erika Mozes, a spokesperson for Smitherman, says that the plan doesn’t ask Toronto to bet on Smitherman’s relationship with McGuinty: instead, Smitherman is making what he thinks is “a reasonable ask” by giving the province some credit where it’s due. As for the next election, well, Mozes says that at least in the first year, we know whom George will be speaking with at Queen’s Park, and they would hope to negotiate a long-term agreement that wasn’t a hostage to electoral fortune.
Like Ford, some of Smitherman’s biggest savings come from labour attrition—saving $800 million over four years—but Smitherman proposes a slightly slower form of attrition. He also proposes selling off certain city properties, as well as its minority stake in Enwave. Shades of Rocco Rossi here, though Smitherman says Enwave isn’t special the way Toronto Hydro is.
THERE YOU HAVE IT
Two hopefuls, two proposals. Smitherman’s is either more realistic or less ambitious, depending on which candidate you favour, though both candidates leave large question marks hanging over key proposals. Smitherman, at least, did not grace us with a YouTube video.
• George Smitherman Releases Plan For Balanced Budget [George Smitherman for Mayor]
• Rob Ford’s Saving Our City Plan [Rob Ford for Mayor]
• Rob Ford Has Sort Of A Financial Plan, Kinda [Torontoist]
• Smitherman relying on $100-million from province to balance budget [Globe and Mail]
• Rob Ford defends financial platform, puts numbers to savings [Globe and Mail]
• The Smell Test: Smitherman’s TTC [Toronto Star]