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Rob Ford's success test: Granatstein

What does the new mayor need to accomplish in his first term
to satisfy the voters?

by Rob Granatstein

Mayor Rob Ford’s aggressive start to his new job sent shockwaves through Toronto City Council.

The “new sheriff in town” and “fasten your seatbelts” lines are already tired as Ford smashed down the door on his first day as His Worship with his proclamation Transit City is dead, the war on the car is over, and property taxes are frozen.

The last promise surprised even his inner circle.

What he’s really done, though, is start to solidify two camps at City Hall.

Those with him, and those against him.

It’s a no-brainer that David Miller’s old team, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher, Joe Mihevc, Pam McConnell, Gord Perks and the like were going to vote against a lot of Ford’s plans.

But what do Josh Colle, Josh Matlow, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Gloria Lindsay Luby and some of the others do?

It will be baptism by fire for some of the rookies.

Ford has spread the power to some of the flip-floppers, like Norm Kelly, to try and keep them onside, but whatever the bombastic mayor says, he needs 22 friends at council to back him up.

And on a Transit City vote, if it comes to council, there are 18 guaranteed votes against Ford.

So what promises will Rob Ford have to squeak through a likely fractious council to see his first term considered a triumph?

Cutting councillors’ office budgets — from $50,000 to $30,000. He’ll also slash the mayor’s office budget from $2.7 million to $2 million.

Boom, Ford saves $1.5 million. A new king, indeed — pending council approval, of course.

Ending the so-called gravy-filled perks of Metropasses, zoo, parking and golf passes, and the like from councillors (although expect taxi expenses to rise as a result), will also be signs of success.

Crushing the $60 vehicle registration fee will be a triumph.

Council will back him on all of these items.

“Plucking those low-hanging fruits will show to council and the city there’s a new sheriff in town,” former city budget chief David Soknacki said. Yup, there’s the sheriff line again.

“People voted for change,” he said. “They’ll get it through the symbolic stuff.”

But, as Soknacki points out, stopping something is easy, doing something is far harder.

So is success stopping Transit City, or is it getting shovels into the ground before the next election on a subway?

And speaking of taxes, success is stopping the vehicle tax, worth $50 million a year to the city. But is Ford a failure if he can’t wipe out the land-transfer tax, and its cool $180 million, too?

On the city budget issue, is success stopping the gargantuan growth of the budget or cutting the budget? I’d argue if he can almost flatline the city budget — an enormous “if” based on the fact most of it is made up of salaries contractually obligated to rise — he’s done yeoman’s work.

And can he do it without cutting services? That’s his gold-plated promise.

“I will assure you services will not be cut, I will guarantee it,” he said.

Former councillor Brian Ashton said David Miller’s greatest failure was not putting the city on sound financial footing.

“Will that be Ford’s epitaph?” Ashton said. “Will he be rewarded for that?”

The smelly issue of garbage is also one to look at.

Is success contracting out garbage all across Toronto, or just adding more parts of the city to Etobicoke? Don’t expect to see city workers lose that entire contract.

Plus, will he be able to put 100 more cops on the street? Does starting that job equal success?

Of course, on Day One he announced a property tax freeze, something he called “impossible” on the campaign trail. So all bets are off on what comes next.

One City Hall insider put it much simpler: “Success for Rob Ford is keeping his foot out of his mouth.”

What Toronto chose in the October election is change.

Rob Ford will run Toronto differently. Taxpayers should feel like the bottom line is vitally important, waste is not allowed, and goofy spending will be crushed.

They want to see the city moving in the right direction — and maybe the specific wild boasts of campaign trails are just the hot air we believe them to be.

If Ford accomplishes that, not delivering on cutting the size of council in half or ripping up streetcars or contracting out all garbage pickup will be minor issues easily overlooked.

But there are a lot of “ifs” involved. And this is only the first week.