LEVY: You heard it here — Doug Ford did not close libraries

Published on May 22, 2018

(Story is courtesy of the Toronto Sun from Sue Ann Levy column published May 21, 2018. Story is also available at this weblink: http://torontosun.com/news/local-news/levy-you-heard-it-here-doug-ford-did-not-close-libraries)

Former city budget chief Mike Del Grande bristles when he hears the propaganda — perpetuated by the left and their complicit media lackeys — that libraries were closed, staff tossed on the street and bus routes slashed during the Ford regime at City Hall.

Yet this is the kind of faux fearmongering being spread by Premier Kathleen Wynne and her comrade-in-arms, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, to imply PC leader Doug Ford is only out to slash and burn government services should he win the June 7 election.

Del Grande should know that nothing is further from the truth.

He’s the one who brought forward three balanced budgets from 2011-13, reduced the city debt considerably and trimmed waste without cutting services, all with the full support of Rob Ford as mayor and Doug Ford, who was a city councillor.

A 2014 briefing note from the city’s finance gurus explicitly shows that the Ford regime reduced the budget by $1-billion and balanced the books through efficiencies, savings in the collective agreement and by reducing debt.

That kind of approach was unheard of in the regime of Ford’s predecessor — NDP mayor David Miller — who balanced the books with new creative taxes (the municipal land transfer tax, in particular), by drawing on the city’s rainy day funds and by getting the province to give the city more, either through uploading or bailouts.

According to the briefing note — which has been dissed by all the usual suspects from the left  — Ford and Co. negotiated some $138.2-million in savings on benefits in the CUPE local 416 and local 79 agreements without the nasty strike that the city was subjected to in 2009 under Miller.

The savings from contracting out garbage pickup west of Yonge St. were $11.2-million annually or $44.8-million over the four years the Fords were in power at City Hall.

Del Grande said when the garbage was contracted out, all city workers with 10 years of seniority were “guaranteed a job with the city.” Those with less than 10 years of experience were hired by GFL, the contractor.

“We never gave anyone pink slips (other than the garbage workers who went to GFL),” he said.

Del Grande said contrary to the hysterics from the likes of author Margaret Atwood and assorted others, they did not close any of the city’s 98 libraries (In fact there are 100 now.)

They simply “rationalized” the hours of usage — meaning they gave specific locations with higher traffic longer hours which was offset by reducing hours at other smaller locations with fewer resources.

“We reallocated assets to maximize the use of those assets,” he recalled.

Del Grande said he adopted the same kind of philosophy with respect to TTC bus routes, shifting buses from routes with low usage to the highly crowded routes.

“It didn’t make sense to have buses with one or two people on them when we had other situations where people couldn’t get on the bus,” he said, noting on some of the less utilized routes people just had to wait a little longer.

Del Grande said his philosophy was also to take surpluses — starting with the $300-million he inherited in 2011 from the municipal land transfer tax — and squirrel them away to first pay down the $700-million owing on the Bombardier streetcars (the liability left behind by Miller) and then the debt outright.

Del Grande managed to get the debt service charges down from $420-million annually to $377-million per year — freeing up $43-million in the operating budget to spend on services.

Under Mayor John Tory, those debt service charges have jumped to $569-million in the 2018 budget.

When Del Grande asked departments to cut 5% or 10% from their budgets, it was done by eliminating the fat built into the department budgets.

“I sat down with everybody spending my money … I went through (their budgets) line by line,” he said.

He insists people didn’t see a drop in services.

“The city didn’t fall apart … the cops were still answering calls … garbage was still being picked up,” he said.

“The money was there … the culture was a problem … the way money was spent was a problem.”

He feels savings could easily be found in the province’s $158-billion budget but the ministers that will be put in place must be prepared to roll up their sleeves and really see where the money is being spent.

The Mike Del Grande school of efficiencies:

— Learning how to say “no” despite the pushback from the usual suspects.

— Extra money from somewhere squirreled away to mostly reduce debt.

— Keeping a close eye on the big capital projects that always seem to go over budget and holding to account those who don’t manage the overages.

— Looking at government money as if it is your own — and not to be “pissed away.”