Friday, August 27, 2010

On Rob Ford.


I'm not worried about Rob Ford becoming mayor of Toronto. And you shouldn't be either. Given what he's presented right now as part of his platform, over at his website, the man seems to be well on his way to becoming another Mel Lastman. Embarrassing, incompetent, but incapable of serious long-term damage. Note that I'm not appealing to anything about justice or fairness or the like. This is purely a consideration of whether Rob Ford could be damaging enough that we should worry about his possibly being elected.

I'll revise this if/when Ford releases a more detailed platform and I feel there's something more that needs to be said about how pathetic (but entertaining) he'd prove to be as mayor.

(1) The structure of city council is a serious barrier

First: There are 45 members of city council (the mayor counts as a member, plus 44 councillors). So, to get anything passed requires support by 23 members of council. Currently, Ford and other right-leaning councillors are outnumbered. I don't know by exactly how much; given that there are no parties in Toronto municipal politics, alliances are somewhat fluid. But what this means is that right-leaning councillors can only get what they want passed either by horse-trading or by moderating. I don't think that would be Ford's style as mayor; he seems like a no-compromise kind of guy.

So, his option has to be to get Ford-friendly councillors elected. I'm not sure how likely that is -- polling data isn't available this early in the game -- but incumbents generally have a huge advantage in municipal elections. 8 incumbents aren't running, so that's 8 seats up for grabs. (That is, 8 seats that Ford wouldn't immediately find almost impossible to take.) Of those, arguably half are "Ford unfriendly" councillors, and half are "Ford friendly" (counting Ford himself, who is giving up his council seat to run for mayor). So, Ford needs to retain four seats with friendlies, and earn four more seats. That's a minimum, in order to make the balance on council more receptive to his agenda. If he can't even get those eight seats, then, as far as I can see, all his policies are up in the air. Furthermore, even if he can, that only puts him up four seats from where he currently stands. It's not clear to me that this gets him up to 23 -- which means that, really, once the dust settles, Mayor Ford's platform may end up going nowhere fast.

Second: Ford wants to cut the number of councillors in half. I don't think the mayor actually has the power to do this. I've read over Bill 53 (here (PDF)), which revised the City of Toronto Act and contains an explanation of the powers of the mayor and of council. Here's the relevant chunks:
Part IV

129. (1) Electors in the City may present a petition to city council asking the council to pass a by-law dividing or redividing the City into wards or dissolving the existing wards.
Number of electors required
(2) The petition requires the signatures of 500 of the electors in the City.
(3) In this section,


"elector" means a person whose name appears on the voters’ list, as amended up until the close of voting on voting day, for the last regular election preceding a petition being presented to council under subsection (1).



Coming into force
(4) A by-law changing the composition of city council does not come into force until the day the new council is organized,
(a) after the first regular election following the passing of the by-law; or
(b) if the by-law is passed in the year of a regular election before voting day, after the second regular election following the passing of the by-law.
Got all that? The gist is that only electors (i.e., voters) in the city can ask for wards to be dissolved or redistributed. (There's also language which says that council must pass the by-law as requested in the petition, or it goes to the Municipal Board. Given that only 500 electors have to sign, and given that Ford wants to cut half of all council positions, I can't see council going along with any such proposal without being compelled to.) And, even if electors do this, the by-law doesn't come into force until the new council meets after an election. So, it wouldn't take effect until the next election anyway.

Now, here's the mayor's powers:
Role of the mayor as head of council
133. (1) It is the role of the mayor of the City, as the head of council,
(a) to act as chief executive officer of the City;
(b) to preside over meetings of council so that its busi-
ness can be carried out efficiently and effectively;
(c) to provide leadership to council;
(d) to represent the City at official functions; and
(e) to carry out the duties of the head of council under this or any other Act.

(2) Without limiting clause (1) (c), the mayor’s role includes providing information and making recommendations to council with respect to council’s role unde r clauses 131 (d) and (e).

Role of the mayor as chief executive officer
134. As chief executive officer of the City, the mayor shall,
(a) uphold and promote the purposes of the City;
(b) promote public involvement in the City’s activi-
(c) act as the representative of the City both within and outside the City, and promote the City locally, nationally and internationally; and
(d) participate in and foster activities that enhance the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the City and its residents.
Got all that? Essentially, the mayor's powers aren't substantially greater than those of a council member. (There are some exceptions, but they're not relevant to the policy Ford wants.)

So, in order to cut the number of councillors down, Ford will need to get 500 electors to submit a petition to council, let this go to the Municipal Board, and the Board may -- but doesn't need to -- choose to go along with the petition. Even if they do, there's a section in the Bill which indicates that the Board's order becomes a municipal by-law once ordered. So, council could just amend or repeal it and bring us back to square one.

(2) He's made illegal promises

First: Ford wants to contract out garbage collection. The current collective agreement, which will IIRC expire in 2012, prohibits this. So, he'll either have to break the CA -- and get sued and lose -- or wait until 2012 and try to get it out during bargaining. As posed, though, it's illegal. The only way I know of to break a collective agreement is to declare bankruptcy. I'm not sure, honestly, if a city can declare bankruptcy. Even if it can, I'm not sure that's the kind of thing that Ford would be well-advised to do, just to contract out garbage collection.

Second: Ford wants the unions to bid on garbage collection like private contractors. If they could do so, they wouldn't be unions. Unions exist to represent the workers in a particular workplace, performing a particular set of functions. They aren't a separate business or incorporated entity which can offer bids on work.

Here's where things get very dicey for Ford's big plans for the city unions. If the garbage collection is, somehow, successfully contract out, that leaves the city with a lot of equipment it doesn't need -- garbage trucks and so on. The city would probably either sell or lease this equipment to the new provider. Given that the same work using the same equipment is being performed for the city, the union could go to court and argue that, rather than contracting out, this constitutes a sale of business. And in a sale of business, employment contracts get sold, too. Which would mean the same union collective agreement would immediately bind the contractor.

In cases where things like garbage collection are successfully contracted out, it's done piecemeal, I believe. The entire service doesn't get moved out tout court; instead, some is retained in house, so the unionized workforce can be mostly terminated, and so the union can't argue this constitutes a sale of business.

Of course, IANAL. But this is all speculative anyway, given that Ford can't, legally, break the provisions in the collective agreement which prohibit contracting out.

(3) He's made at least one promise outside the power of municipal government

Ford wants to make the TTC an essential service. This is a provincial power, not a municipal power. He could ask the province to do it, but I'm not sure McGuinty would be receptive. He seems to want to avoid strong interventions in union issues; he also seems to be disinterested in making major regulatory revisions, such as those that would be required to bring the TTC within the definition of "essential service".

Tim Hudak might do it. But, right now, the best Hudak could hope for would be a plurality -- not a majority. Admittedly, a lot can change between now and the provincial election in 2011, but there's no reason to think that Hudak will do particularly well, considering he'd be fighting his first general as PC leader. The same applies to NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, which really screws up the math. If she messes up, that might drive left-leaning votes to shore up the Liberal vote, while if Hudak screws up, that might drive right-leaning votes to shore up the Liberal vote. By "shore up" I mean either directly voting for the Liberals or abstaining from voting/voting for candidates from minor parties, thus decreasing the votes Liberal candidates need in order to obtain a plurality.

So, a whole lot would have to go right for Ford to get the TTC declared an essential service.

(4) He's made promises that are either impossible or unworkable

First: The TTC again. Ford seems to want to declare the TTC an essential service to stop strikes from happening. That's implausible. The TTC basically works like an essential service anyway, considering that they get legislated back fairly quickly when they strike. Furthermore, and probably more importantly, declaring the TTC an essential service would put all issues that can't be resolved in bargaining to binding arbitration. Arbitrators don't tend to like taking sides, so, like as not, an arbitrator would just split the difference. Which means that it'd be much, much harder for the city to negotiate a contract in a way that would, say, constrain compensation. It's likely, then -- and I think that the data on jurisdictions where transit is an essential service back me up -- that this policy would increase the city's costs.

Second: The garbage collection issue again. Suppose that Ford is serious about trying to get garbage collection contracted out. He has to, first, wait out the current collective agreement. I believe that it expires in 2012. So, come 2011, the union will ask the city to start negotiating for a new collective agreement. Given that Ford is generally not union-friendly, these negotiations will be very tough, if they even go anywhere at all; with the contracting out issue looming overhead, they will be tougher still. So, we will have another municipal strike, when the agreement expires in 2012.

This strike will likely end with back to work legislation, unless whatever council support Ford has managed to drum up collapses underneath him. This legislation will likely remand outstanding issues to an arbitrator. What arguments is Ford going to give the arbitrator to try to persuade him (possibly her, but usually him) to gut the anti-contracting out language that is currently in the agreement? Particularly given that one major stumbling-block in the negotiations will have been his insistence on being able to contract out the work. I can't see an arbitrator going for this without some extremely persuasive maneuvering on the part of the city or the province.

Even supposing Ford manages to pull that one off, I don't expect the transition to be smooth. Wildcat strikes are, by definition, unpreventable, and workers generally don't appreciate it when people try to take their work away from them. So, not only will 2011 be tense, 2012 will involve a strike, and 2012/2013 will involve ongoing political protest action by the union and likely other members of the labour movement.

Good times for Toronto, eh?

Third: The whole "saving money" angle. The cutting councillors thing is supposed to do this. He claims this would save about $15M a year. But he also wants to move this $15M to increasing cops involvement in targetting gangs and guns and violence. So, there's no savings here, just redirection.

Similarly, Ford wants to cut expense accounts, to save $1M a year, and he wants to cut the mayor's office budget, saving ~$.5M a year. That's a big $1.5M annually in a (operating) budget of $9.2B. That's a "B", not an "M" there. So, about 0.02% of the budget.

However, Ford also wants to cut the vehicle registration tax. This is $60 per vehicle per year. And he wants to cut the land transfer tax. I can't find information on how much cutting the land transfer tax will claw out of the budget, but I can at least ballpark how much would be lost from the vehicle registration tax. 2.5M people, assume 1 in 4 have a private vehicle (which is a number from nowhere, but it works to give a frame), works out to 625K vehicles. Multiply by $60 per vehicle per year, and that's about $160K in revenue. It is, clearly, a drop in the bucket, so there doesn't appear to be any pressing reason not to cut it. Then again, given that Toronto has serious budget problems, does it make sense to be removing a revenue stream without a clear plan for replacing it?

Basically, his fiscal proposals come off as pennywise, but pound foolish. He really has no conception of how to make a multi-billion dollar budget work, so he's counting paperclips and bitching about retirement parties. If the budget problem is really a problem, then it has to be attacked from both sides, aggressively: increase revenue, and decrease spending. The increases in revenue will have to be significant -- a few extra taxes or fees won't work -- and the decreases in spending will similarly have to be drastic -- cutting expense accounts is nothing compared to, say, cutting the entire fire service (which would only take $300M off the budget, BTW, or about 3%).


Jon Dursi said...

I agree with what you're saying; your vehicle registration numbers are wrong, though:

"works out to 625K vehicles. Multiply by $60 per vehicle per year, and that's about $160K in revenue."

I get $37.5M in revenue per year, which is 25x the cost savings in expense accounts + mayor's office cuts.

As to the land transfer tax, the combination of that plux the car registration tax was estimated to bring in $200M/yr at the time. I have no idea how typical August numbers are, but in August 2010, there were about $442M of real estate sales in the city; multiply that by 12 and take the typical 1% transfer tax and that gives about $50M/yr.

ADHR said...

Crap. You're right -- not sure how I missed that. There's no way my calculation was right.

August was low, AFAIK, but real estate sales are projected to be slowing down for the foreseeable future. So, $50M is probably a high estimate.

Makes the point well, though, doesn't it? He's willing to give up somewhere around $80-90M of revenue, and in "exchange" gives about $1.5M in savings. (To be fair, Rossi's numbers are even more insane -- pie-in-the-sky estimates on the sale of Toronto Hydro plus no allowance for the loss of revenue -- but he's not the front-runner.)

If he does win, it'll be fun watching how big a hole he blows in the budget -- and who he blames for it.

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Anonymous said...

Ford has to be careful how he handles this proposed contracting out of the west side of yonge street.
Indeed he will need to take away the 10 year job security clause but may need to offer say a one year deal touching nothing else until 2013, then with the contractors having been in control of the west of yonge street having time to get organized and become efficient Ford will then with the 10 year deal gone be able to simply replace the remaining workers in the east. But if he just locks them out this may not sit well with the voters who voted him in so he will strip everything from the contract and hopefully the workers will strike and that is the time Ford moves in and brings in people to replace them , either way this goes there is going to be violence as the striking workers try to stop the scabs from doing their jobs. Ultimately Ford will get his way but it is all in how he goes about it that will make it either an easy transition or something that erupts in to a free for all and there is always the danger of other unions coming in to play knowing their days are numbered and shut the city down.

ADHR said...

Oh, dear. I really don't have the time or the energy to correct the errors of fact and law in what you've said here, never mind the weird leaps of logic.

Here's the central point about Ford's attempts to contract out garbage collection in Toronto. Presume that council goes along with it. Presume that it actually will be a good deal for the city, financially (which is by no means guaranteed). Ford is the one being radical; the city's unions just need to protect the status quo.