At a health care announcement in Hamilton Thursday, Premier Doug Ford was asked to comment on why his government refused to provide the $1 Billion bailout that John Tory had penciled in to the City of Toronto’s 2023 budget. Last week the Federal government followed suit, also declining to provide the funding that Toronto had apparently counted on.
Ford told a reporter, “You have to be prudent fiscal managers,” he said. “You can’t go out there and say ‘give me more revenue tools’…” I didn’t hear anything about driving efficiencies, driving standardization, focusing on lean practices—they can’t just go there and think the taxpayer is going to constantly bail them out.”
One can reasonably conclude that the tough-love message Ford is delivering to Toronto goes for other municipalities as well, including Hamilton.
Hamilton just approved a budget increase in excess of 5.8 percent. It was approved by a margin of 10-6, which is a bit deceptive because the budget would have failed on a tie if there had been just two more no votes. Several members of council talked about the budget process being opaque and hard to navigate—understandable given the number of new members.
If we take Ford’s comments about Toronto as a message to all municipalities in the province, there is a need to consider a new approach to budgeting that looks to find ways of paying for new initiatives out of greater efficiencies, rather than increments to the overall budget. It’s not that the $5 million in program enhancements council added to the current budget weren’t justified—they all carried compelling rationales—it’s just that there was no discussion about using efficiencies to provide the funding.
The Hamilton budget process has become a protracted slog, featuring departmental “business cases,” which this year resulted in the addition of more full time employees than had been added in all of the last term of council. Was that because there were so many new councillors trying to learn the ropes? The underlying premise is that any improvement to service levels must automatically require more bodies. That thinking would only hold if the 8,000-odd bureaucracy was operating at maximum efficiency—but between the Auditor General, the Red Hill Inquiry and numerous other problems that pop up like whack-a-mole, we know that is not the case.
Perhaps we need to put senior managers on a bonus system that would incentivize the kind of sweeping efficiencies that are commonplace outside government. Maybe there is an expert out there that could point to best practices. What is clear that there is no incentive to re-engineer or re-imagine the way our city does business under the current system and the result is this slow drip of incremental costs and ballooning body counts. Only council can make this happen, it will never appear in a staff report.
How can they pass the operating budget when all of the City union contracts are still up for renegotiations?
Silence,scandals all part of the high cost of taxes.