When Rob Ford was a city councillor, he was known for spending very little, next to nothing in fact, of his office budget. While that was lauded by many who admired his frugality as the effort of someone who respected taxpayers’ money, running the city as mayor is a totally different matter.
While no one wants to see wasteful government spending – and politicians are not shy when it comes to spending the public’s money – to be against spending money on anything, including infrastructure, could be problematic.
Long before Ford went into a two-month rehabilitation program for alcohol abuse, in fact, as early as during his first few weeks as mayor, Ford had been criticizing monies being spent upgrading Toronto’s waterfront as wasteful. In one interview he admitted that he had not “gone down there” but said, definitively, that the cost was too high. That was irresponsible.
Now, he is at it again, based this time simply on news reports of spending that appears to be excessive, labeling investment in the waterfront “a cancer”.
As has become his habit, Ford is usually far too loose with facts and it is no different with his pronouncements on the spending that has taken place to develop areas of the waterfront. That includes his claim that approval for spending on features at the award-winning Sugar Beach – totalling $432,000 on those permanent, all-weather pink umbrellas – took place during his two-month absence when he was in rehab. That money was approved four years ago, before he became mayor.
Ford also had much to say about public washroom facilities constructed at Cherry Beach at a cost of $400,000, spending that took place under his watch, but which he is now energetically criticizing.
For Ford, everything that has to do with support and development in the city, especially downtown, costs too much money. Whether waterfront development, housing for homeless youth or seed money for community development in high need neighbourhoods, he is only too happy to show up to for a photo-op to announce his opposition to the costs.
It seems he would rather leave the city’s downtown in a disgracefully undeveloped state, as it had been in for so many years, as long as he appears to be saving taxpayers’ money.
Never mind that the money that is being invested now is enhancing this special downtown space that thousands of Torontonians and tourists visit each and every weekend over the summer and beyond. Anyone who takes the time to visit the waterfront on any given weekend will find the area is very much alive. That is what a downtown should look like. But, if Ford had his way, this area would have never been developed.
An audit by the federal finance ministry concluded that the funds were being applied well and that there is proper transparency in terms of how it is being used. Apparently that would not be good enough for our penny-pinching mayor.
Wise government leaders use revenue to invest in infrastructure to advance the public good. Waterfront Toronto received the blessings of all three levels of government along with $1.5 billion to go forward with investment and development that is meant to attract private investment and development over a projected 20-year period. That includes land reclamation at the eastern end.
Ford is a businessman and should understand that. What he does understand is how to play politics. His divisive brand of politics includes pitting suburbanites against downtowners. In a city that is still uncomfortable with the amalgamation that was foisted on it 14 years ago by the Mike Harris Progressive Conservatives, the disunity between Toronto’s outskirts and its inner core has not yet been settled. The fallout is that folks in the suburbs already think downtown Toronto is getting more than its fair share and they are being left out. Ford knows that is where his vote is and is playing it for all its worth.