Can’t Touch This

January 27, 2011

So, imagine you just finished a game of coed slo-pitch. You and the team’s centre fielder are the last ones at the bar and are into that ill-advised 4th pitcher of Canadian. He hit 4 home runs in the game although, two would’ve gone down as ‘errors’ in any official scorecard, and a 3rd one probably should’ve been caught as well. No question, though, he hit one of them really hard, really far.

“I don’t think it’s out of the question,” he offers bibulously, “given the right pitch, at the right moment, I could take Doc Halladay yard.”

You might call that a little deluded, right?

And yet we allow the mayor and his equally self-aggrandizing councillor brother to promote the idea that they — inheritors of a label printing business from their father that employs, what? 300, 400 people? (You’d think I’d remember since the mayor took every opportunity to tell us on the campaign trail) — are equipped and have the business acumen to bring the corporation of the city of Toronto to heel. An organization with annual budgets over $10 billion and that employs 34,000 full and part-time employees. Sure, why not, boys? And after that, why don’t you mosey on over and sort out GM or Ford? Business is business, right? Government is business. Easy-peasy.

“I can assure you every department down here has fat,” Councillor Ford said at the budget committee meeting on Tuesday, touting the 2 months of experience he’s accumulated at City Hall already. “There isn’t one single department that does not have fat down here and they would not survive in the private sector, I guarantee you … In my guesstimate, there’s probably 10 per cent waste and fat …People have been down here too long, they don’t know what’s going on in the real world. The real world is making things run efficiently.”

There’s a lot more where that comes from, and sifting through it would be worth another post but I use this as an example of how cavalierly and nonchalantly the councillor, the mayor, his budget chief and every one of the other right thinkers on the budget committee just toss about numbers as if there are no implications or repercussions to them. Just like that, Councillor Ford  ‘guesstimates’ there’s ‘probably’ 10 % waste and fat that can be disposed of and no one would be the wiser. So simple, it’s a wonder no one’s ever thought of that before.

There’s just one hitch to this whole New Sheriff In Town schtick that the mayor and his posse are playing at. It’s not going to be all that and a bag of chips. As pointed out by Matt Elliott over at Ford For Toronto (and if you haven’t checked the site out yet, bookmark it now or follow along on the Twitter at @FordForToronto He is so much more informed than we are and doesn’t demand that you take up your entire lunch to read his posts) this past Monday, the city’s fairly handcuffed financially.

It goes something like this: Toronto’s biggest source of revenue, nearly 40%, comes from property taxes (which the mayor happily broke a campaign promise and froze this year). About 77% of that money goes to pay for largely inelastic items that can’t easily be sliced and diced because they are provincially mandated programs or are services that, either, “involve arbitrated labour contracts” as Ford For Toronto puts it and/or the mayor wouldn’t touch in a million years like the Police Services, at least not 10% worth.

Which means when the Fordites realize that privatization isn’t going to bring them anywhere near the amount of savings they, with their infinite private sector wisdom planned for, they are going to be faced with either raising taxes (the horror! The Horror!) or bringing the axe down on things like libraries, children’s services, long term care homes and services, city planning. They might be just fine with that but I’m guesstimating here it’ll start cutting into their popularity as all those folks who didn’t really vote for service cuts because the mayor assured them – no, guaranteed them — he wouldn’t cut services, will snap to attention when their bus stops running or their library branch starts closing on Sundays or they’re forced to put their little tot into unlicensed child care. There’s just not that much money, er, fat left over for them to cut away at.

It’s not like at Deco Labels and Tags when ‘customers call you up and ask for a 10 per cent reduction or they’ll go somewhere else’ and you have to lay off just 2 or 3 people and make do without year-end bonuses. Hundreds of people, perhaps thousands, will be affected by your customer demanding a 10% reduction at City Hall. That’s why the government isn’t just like a business, no matter how much you think it is and how much your supporters want to believe that’s true.

And, lest we forget, the Fords aren’t the first businessmen-turned-politicians who have brought their private sector savvy to City Hall. Remember His Honour Mel Lastman? The self-made millionaire appliance salesman possessed much more municipal governance experience than the Fords and he ultimately proved to be way in over his head, discovering (to our detriment not his) that a city of this size and complexity is nothing like running your own business.

It’s unfortunate we insist on re-learning that lesson over and over again.

submitted by Cityslikr