Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vows he will stay the course — keeping a lid on city spending while finding a way to build subways despite an apparent lack of available money for his transit plans.
In a wide-ranging interview with CBC Toronto City Hall reporter Jamie Strashin on Friday, Ford discussed his plans for next year, including proposed cuts to services and the challenges of balancing family life with being mayor of Canada’s largest city.
Strashin asked Ford about his plan to build subways underneath Sheppard Avenue and Eglinton Avenue. Shortly after his election in the fall of 2011, Ford scrapped a provincially supported plan to pay for a series of surface light-rail lines in favour of subways along Eglinton and Sheppard.
Questions have been raised over tunneling problems with the Eglinton line while the cost of the Sheppard can’t be covered without more funding from either senior governments or the private sector. Also cancelling the previous administration's transit plan, known as Transit City, will cost $65 million.
Ford said he will go ahead with his subway-focused plan in spite of the apparent funding challenges.
"We're building a subway on Eglinton," said Ford.
He pointed to problems with a dedicated streetcar line on St. Clair Avenue as reasons to move those lines underground, which Ford said has failed to serve the residents and businesses there.
"It was budgeted for $40 million, it came at $120 million," said Ford. "The residents on St. Clair don't want it, the businesses don't want it and the previous administration rammed it down their throats."
With regard to the proposed Sheppard subway line, Ford said the funding needed will come from the private sector and senior levels of government, but did not offer specifics.
"The federal government has already come to the table with $333 million," said Ford. "I'm sure the province is going to come on side, the private sector is going to come on side. We're concentrating on Eglinton first and then we're going to build Sheppard."
'I worry about the taxpayers'
Strashin asked Ford why his office doesn’t make public his daily itinerary, as mayors of other large cities often do.
"With respect to the media, I worry about the taxpayers," Ford said. "The taxpayers know where I am. People call me, I return all their calls, I'm very accessible. I encourage people to call me, to email me."
"If the people need to get ahold of me, they know how to get ahold of me and that's the most important thing."
The proposed budget released earlier this month contains a 2.5 per cent increase to property taxes. Ford said he regrets having to ask taxpayers for more, but said it was necessary.
"Unfortunately I have to increase taxes but it's lower than the rate of inflation. I don't want to do it, but I have to do it. People elected me to reduce the size and cost of government and that's exactly what I'm going to do."
Strashin also asked Ford about current negotiations on a new contract between the city and its 8,000 full and part-time workers represented by CUPE Local 416.
"I want a fair settlement for the union and the taxpayers. We're bargaining in good faith and that's what we will continue to do. I want a fair agreement for both parties."
Ford said his proudest achievement after just over a year in office is his proposed budget, which will reduce city spending in 2012.
"I can proudly say we're spending less money in 2012 than we did in 2011," said Ford. "That's a tremendous success. The city is going to be booming in the next three years."
He also admitted the job takes a toll on his family life.
"The only thing hard about the job is my kids, I don't have much time with the family, but that's what the holidays are for. They know we come from a political family, you have to sacrifice."