Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stopping that Gravy Train Might Not be so Easy

What did he say? “We have to stop the gravy train?” Or was it, “We have to stock the gravy train?” Rob Ford uttered those words so many times over these past months that sometimes they sounded blurred. But he had one message throughout his campaign for mayor and he stuck to it: “End the wasteful spending, lose the perks, cut the taxes.”

If he isn’t careful, he’ll end up “stocking” the train rather than “stopping” it. And if he doesn’t deliver early on, he won’t be back after four years. “The party with taxpayers money is over, ladies and gentleman,” Ford declared during his victory speech. “We will stop the gravy train once and for all! We are going to get the city back on its financial feet.”

There is no end to the clichés; the words spill out of his mouth like a song he can’t stop singing.

61% of the Toronto voting population came out to vote on October 25th—the largest turnout the city has ever seen. And with over 50% of the vote (he was declared mayor ten minutes after the polls closed), Ford has a clear mandate to put his plan into action. But first he has to make some friends on council. He may have a few already, but he’ll have to scratch a lot more backs if he wants them to jump on his bandwagon. Let the politicking begin!

Forty-four councillors with forty-four different platforms. These leaders may have some concern for city-wide mandates but, at the end of the day, they are there for their own ward, and that’s who they’ll be fighting for. As respected Toronto businessman and former candidate John Tory said, “Rob Ford has his work cut out for him to get his agenda implemented. He has the pulpit, but not necessarily the power.” Tory’s advice: “Do a careful excavation and build on strength as opposed to cutting things down.”

Spending cuts sounds great in theory, but two billion is a lot of cash. Adam Vaughan, city councillor for Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, said, “If Ford chokes growth there will be adverse consequences. You need to make big changes to come up with that kind of money.”

The unions may create further roadblocks. Ford says he’ll negotiate in good faith with them, but he is going to open the gates to full, transparent competition. They didn’t like him to begin with so it will be interesting to see how this not-so-warm-and-fuzzy relationship unfolds. Both sides will have to move their backs away from the wall if there is any chance of conciliation.

After Ford’s win, unions like the The Central Ontario Building Trades, representing over 60,000 Toronto construction workers, are reeling. Six days before the election they threw their support behind Smitherman (abandoning Pantalone because his chances of winning were near impossible), but to no avail. They were Miller supporters all the way and doing battle with their nemesis will likely end in deadlock.

Ford’s message was clear, concise, and well-communicated. But sounding good isn’t the panacea to Toronto’s problems. Now that he has jumped on the tracks, we’ll be watching to see if he has the ability to slow the train down let alone stop it.

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