Faced with a packed room full of Town Crier and cultural media reporters, mayoral candidate Rob Ford was peppered with questions about whether he’d welcome newcomers to Toronto.
“The official plan says we need another million people in the GTA or Toronto. We can’t even take care of the 2.5-2.7 million people we have in the city now,” he told the Town Crier editorial board this afternoon.
He said wait times in hospitals are too long, there are 70,000 people on the city’s affordable housing list and the homeless population is increasing.
“We don’t have the right to say you can’t move to Toronto,” he said. “Of course not. But in a perfect world, what I’d like to do is get us from the red into the black, have a surplus, reduce our debt, have our finances under control then I’d say great let’s welcome more people.”
He rhymed off the city’s $3 billion debt, property tax increases, higher water rates, additional costs for garbage, land transfer and vehicle registration taxes as proof the city can’t afford more residents.
He pointed to these taxes as a way the city’s tried to increase revenues in the past to pay for existing residents and infrastructure.
If elected, he promised to eliminate the vehicle registration and land transfer taxes, which bring in approximately $218-238 million a year.
He’ll also push to reduce councillors office budgets from $53,100 down to $30,000 annually saving $880,000 a year.
“I don’t think free gas, limousines, bunny suits, retirement parties, French lessons that has nothing to do with your office budgets,” he said of some of the expenses his colleagues have filed.
“There are no rules and regulations about how you can use this $53,000 on. I wish they would stop calling it an office budget and call it what it is — a tax-free expense account.”
Ford cited his personal 20-year experience working for the 1962-founded family business Deco Labels and Tags that’s taught him the number one issue is customer service.
As a councillor Ford said he personally returns 50-70 calls and 100-150 emails a day. In the last 10 years, he says he’s returned 200,000 phone calls and made over 10,000 home visits.
He said applying this customer service model to city agencies like the TTC doesn’t cost a lot.
Ford recently toured the city’s subway system and found it dirty, full of litter, graffiti and loud screeching noises as trains enter the stations. He promised to take TTC general manager Gary Walsh on a tour to deal with these problems.
Ford was short on details about his transportation policy, which he’ll reveal in mid-September, but said he’s spend the $4 billion the province has dedicated to Transit City on subways not streetcars.
He also complained about the 21,000 free Metropasses given out annually to TTC employees, board members and councillors. He’d like to eliminate that but would consider giving free transit passes to seniors and people with disabilities instead.
He also plans to open up new contracts to multiple bids and not sole-source contracts in order to keep costs down.
And he intends to eliminate closed door council sessions unless absolutely necessary. Ford pointed to the Tuggs/Boardwalk Cafe 20-year sole-source contract, which was discussed by council in secret prior to a public vote as a problem.
“The Tuggs deal stinks to high heaven. I wish I could tell you what happened behind closed doors, but I can’t,” he said.
Ford hasn’t supported many of colleagues as he’s often the dissenting vote on council. But if he moves from opposition to leader, he’ll bring more councillors onside and he believes 20-25 new faces will grace the 45-member council after the election.
“There are about 10 councillor retiring and I believe 10-15 will lose because of their voting record attached to (Mayor) David Miller. A lot of people are not happy with the tax and spend mentality,” he said.
He wouldn’t name which incumbents he believes are at risk of losing their seats.
“There are some very good candidates running for council right now. And I think they have a really good chance of winning,” he added.
Ford’s been leading in a number of polls lately despite the multiple scandals from a DUI conviction in Florida in 1999 to a recent statement that council is corrupt. His popularity is because he’s honest.
“I am only human. I have made mistakes in the past. I have yet to meet someone who is absolutely perfect. And I have yet to meet anyone who has any skeletons in their closet,” he concluded. “I am as honest as the days are long. The people say, ‘I’ve never voted in my life. But I am voting for you because I trust you.’ ”
For a recap of the live blog of the editorial board click here.
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