Scores of Torontonians headed to city hall on Monday to have their say about plans for the multibillion-dollar city budget that the mayor and his brother want to see pared back by $18 million.
Most of the people who showed up for public consultations on the budget were asking for more money for programs such as child care and city libraries.
But while the public made their case for various programs, two prominent members of council — Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Coun. Doug Ford — were talking about a possible hike in residential property taxes that has rankled them.
City staff put forward a recent proposal to raise residential property taxes by about 2.5 per cent, amounting to some $64 for the average household.
That proposed hike exceeds the 1.75 per cent increase the mayor was calling for, which has led Rob Ford to claim recently that council is "getting back on the gravy train."
On Monday, the mayor told reporters that he intends to bring forward budget motions calling for even deeper cuts.
"They say, 'Show me $18 million?' I’m going to show them $50 million, easy," Ford said.
"We’ll see if it gets through, but you’re going to see the old Rob Ford back in action saving the taxpayers money."
The mayor was also critical of a pending meeting between deputy mayor Norm Kelly and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne that is scheduled to take place Tuesday.
Council 'lost the will' to hold taxes: Doug Ford
Doug Ford said on Monday that both council and staff appear to have "lost the will" to hold back on a tax hike.
"There has to be the will and since the councillors took the political will off the mayor, undemocratically, this is what happens, taxes are going up," Ford said, alluding to council's move to strip the mayor of selected powers in the wake of a drug-related scandal that has made headlines around the world.
Last month, Rob Ford admitted to having smoked crack cocaine and to having purchased illegal drugs while in office. He also acknowledged drinking to excess at times and to potentially having gotten behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.
Mayor Ford ignored calls from his colleagues to take a leave of absence, and council then moved to strip him of selected powers.
As for the property tax issue, Coun. Gord Perks acknowledged on Monday that there is still a long way to go before it is settled at council.
"The property tax is going to be a bit of a conversation," Perks said.
"We’re in the right ballpark, but there are a number of programs, particularly on the recreation side and daycare side, where we’re going to have to look carefully about whether or not we’re providing the services that keep communities growing, stable and livable."
The debate on the budget will continue until the new year, when council will finally vote on the size of the tax increase.
‘Put Toronto first’
Also on Monday, Carol Wilding, the head of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, called for transit issues to be less politicized in the future.
Wilding had issued a statement in November calling for the mayor to take a leave of absence and “put Toronto first.”
On Monday, she said moving the budget ahead was a step in the right direction.
“We need to be putting Toronto first and that is what today is about, putting Toronto first. We’re talking about $9 billion and a lot of city services and that’s what we want to talk about,” she said.
When asked if the board believes the controversial east-end subway extension should be scrapped, she said that is not what they are demanding but expressed concern regarding the Scarborough subway and its lack of cost-benefit analysis.
“We’ve advocated very strongly for a comprehensive regional system, we need a regional plan, so they all need to link together,” she said. “Then when you’re looking in the context of any particular line, you need to have a strong business case and a rigorous cost-benefit analysis.
“In the case of the Scarborough subway, it’s not clear that was actually the case in the work that was done,” she told reporters at city hall.
Wilding went on to say that she believes the Scarborough subway issue has become overly politicized.
“When you see five decisions over the course of 12 or 18 months, we're never going to get on with building the infrastructure that we critically need,” she said.
But Coun. Ford responded in disagreement.
"She might be the president, but she doesn’t represent the average member of the board of trade," he told reporters following Wilding’s comments.
"I was a member of the board of trade for years. I know the folks on the board of trade; they love our fiscal, prudent message that we’ve done over the last three years and we’re going to continue."