The boy in short pants just got pantsed. Again.
Under the old premier, the mayor of Canada’s largest city complained he felt like a schoolboy going begging to the headmaster in his dealings with Queen’s Park. But the new guy in charge up at the top of University Ave. is less like a stingy administrator and more a campus bully, stealing the city’s lunch money, delivering atomic wedgies and leaving us dangling from a hook stuffed inside a locker.
Case in point: Thursday’s provincial budget eliminated more than a billion dollars in gas tax money the city was supposed to get from the province over the next 10 years. That’s money — a lot of money by municipal standards — that the city needs and has been counting on to keep buses running, repair broken escalators, rebuild subway tracks. It’s money (not enough of it, even still) that would keep the transit system running.
Former Premier Kathleen Wynne promised that money to the city when she spiked Mayor John Tory’s proposed road toll plan. That inspired one of those “short pants” complaints. But cash in hand, the city was able to plan, at least (and did, to the tune of planned spending of half that money — over $500 million — over the next few years).
I think it’s important to note that on the campaign trail, now-Premier Doug Ford explicitly and specifically promised to maintain that funding. But as many of us have long noted, Ford says a lot of things that turn out not to be true. And, surprise, surprise, this turns out to be yet another of those.
So, what is the city supposed to do? Ford’s finance minister, Vic Fedeli, suggested on CBC’s Metro Morning on Friday that the city should find “efficiencies” in its budget to make up the difference.
For those not fluent in the language of this government, that translates loosely as, “Why are you hitting yourself, Nerdlinger? Stop hitting yourself and pull your pants up!”
It’s not just that Ford has an epic, entirely fictional history with that word “efficiency” that has fouled up Toronto city hall’s business. It’s also that he and Fedeli and their party, when they were campaigning, explicitly, specifically promised that they would be the ones finding efficiencies. They said there would be no job losses — “not at all,” Ford said — and no service cuts. They were going to cut spending purely by finding efficiencies.
Ford mocked a reporter who questioned him on the likelihood of this panning out. “It’s funny, Robyn, I’ve got to ask you this question. Do you think there’s not four cents on the dollar of savings in the bloated government of Ontario?” the Ottawa Citizen quoted him as saying to a CBC reporter. “Ford then suggested that people at his events ‘broke out laughing’ at the prospect of finding ‘only’ four cents.” He was gonna find those efficiencies and no jobs would be lost, and he’d protect education and health services, and transit would be better than ever, he said.
FORD: Just watch me do it.
NARRATOR: He didn’t do it.
I imagine he and his “people” are laughing all the harder now. Job cuts, and service cuts, in education and health care. Decreased student aid to low income students and cuts to university funding. Slashed funding for legal aid. $1 billion less in funding for children and social services. And — ha ha! — Toronto and other cities get absolutely shafted on desperately needed funding to keep their transit systems operational.
This miserable failure of Ford and Fedeli to deliver on the promise of finding efficiencies is such a great setup for the punchline of telling those responsible for delivering services that it’s no big deal because they can just find efficiencies to make up the difference.
Doug Ford’s pants are on fire, but what else is new. Meanwhile, those of us in Toronto have ours around our ankles, which is going to make it even harder to get around when our bus, streetcar and subway system falls apart.
Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire