Toronto

Toronto budget balanced for 2011

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's inaugural budget contained no major service cuts and no property tax hikes, though it also came with a strong indication that his expected slash and burn is still to come.

Cuts to come in 2012, mayor indicates

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's inaugural budget contained no major service cuts and no property tax hikes, though it also came with a strong indication that his expected slash and burn is still to come.

While the 2011 budget proposed Monday is largely a stay-the-course affair, the mayor, who took office last month, warned that the 2012 budget will bring "more significant changes to the way we spend our money."

Most departments and agencies met cost-cutting targets, Ford said. The ones that didn't were told in no uncertain terms that cuts are coming, whether they like it or not.

"Their managers and their boards of directors decided their interests were more important than the taxpayers' interests," Ford said.

"I will assure you as part of our upcoming department review process we will focus on those agencies first and foremost. If they are unable to manage effectively in the best interests of the taxpayers, then we will have to find new managers that can."

Beginning in March outside experts will conduct detailed departmental reviews "with a fine-tooth comb" to find savings, Ford said.

"They will leave no stone unturned."

The 2011 budget even amounts to a marginal spending increase — a $9.4-billion gross operating budget this year, compared to $9.3 billion last year.

Ford appears to be buying himself time with this balanced budget, offering an initial period of stability before any dramatic alterations to the budget, said Ryerson University politics professor Myer Siemiatycki.

"Politicians who have been elected on an austerity or retrenchment kind of campaign and platform along the lines of what Mayor Ford ran on, I think are more typically inclined to think that they should cut deep, early and fast," he said.

"It's an interesting signal that Mayor Ford is wanting to take more time to think through the nature of the cuts to come."

Of the $706 million Ford used to balance the budget, just $57 million comes from his service efficiencies and "minor" service level changes, while $268 million is thanks to a projected 2010 surplus and another $78 million from residual surplus from 2009.

Still, in a news conference Ford took a few digs at his predecessor David Miller, blasting the "crippling" structural deficit with which the city was left and the "irresponsible" practice of finalizing budgets in April. Ford is aiming to finalize his by the end of February.

Ford took 47 per cent of the vote in October's municipal elections with his "stop the gravy train" message, and holds views that differ starkly from those of former mayor Miller on many fronts.

After his election pundits predicted his victory might herald a Conservative sweep in this fall's Ontario election.

There is also a message provincial Conservatives can take from Ford's budget, said Siemiatycki.

"I think the campaign and the starkness and one-dimensionality of Mr. Ford's campaign certainly stands as something [Progressive Conservative Leader Tim] Hudak might want to copy," he said.

"But lo and behold it turns out it's not being implemented, and what does that tell you about the reasonableness or the plausibility of that kind of recipe for actually governing?"