Rob Ford speaks with a staffer at an executive meeting, January 22, 2014. Photo by Ben Spurr.
A day after yet another video appeared showing Rob Ford intoxicated in public, Toronto's perpetually embattled mayor showed up for work Wednesday refusing to acknowledge the latest controversy surrounding him.
Ford arrived at City Hall just after 9 a.m. to attend a crucial budget meeting of the executive committee. The mayor did not speak to reporters on the way into his office, and then pushed his way to the meeting through the press throng using his driver and a City Hall security guard as lead blockers.
The mayor, who was removed as chair of the executive by council in November, took a seat in the packed committee room, ignoring the cameras photographing his every move. During a budget presentation he huddled in the corner of the meeting room, seemingly joking with members of his staff.
The mayor has claimed it would be "easy" to find $50 million in wasteful spending in the 2014 budget, and used his five minutes of speaking time to grill staff about the number of employees in the Shelter Administration, Employment Services, legal and IT departments, suggesting the city has too many workers.
But when he asked about reducing the number of workers at a revenue services call centre, staff told him it's already struggling to keep up with call volumes. When Ford suggested not adding five more staff to the legal department's 294 employees, he was told that the new hires would actually save they city money by allowing it to avoid expensive outsourcing.
Ford, who has boasted about increasing arts funding over the course of his term, also took aim cultural grants.
"I see we have, just for one example here, 32 cultural grants, $8 million," he said. "Have we looked at reducing any of the grants?"
Staff are now recommending an average residential property tax increase of 3.2 per cent for 2014, not the 2.25 per cent approved by the budget committee earlier this month. The new rate includes a previously unpublicized .48 per cent assessment adjustment, and a new .6 per cent hike to address extreme weather.
Ford has set his target at 1.75 per cent however, and as he left the meeting for lunch he said he wouldn't back staff's recommended rate.
"They don't care, they want to raise taxes," Ford said as he was swarmed by reporters.
"I won't be supporting that nonsense," he continued. "It's absolutely ridiculous. They don't care about the taxpayers."
The mayor's press secretary said that Ford would stop and talk in front of a side doorway where reporters were hoping to ask him more questions about the latest video controversy. But the mayor, his security guard and driver simply kept going. The scene became increasingly chaotic as Ford and his entourage pushed through the crowd of media, crushing some reporters in a narrow hallway.
At one point Ford lashed out, flailing his arms and saying "C'mon! Stop pushing me man!"
Following Tuesday's release of a pair of videos - one showing the mayor apparently intoxicated in a fast food restaurant and cursing the police chief in faux Jamaican patois, the other showing him apparently meeting with accused drug dealer Alexander "Sandro" Lisi - Ford's colleagues seem grimly resigned to enduring yet another cycle of scandal.
Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly issued a statement intended to assure the public that the business of the city would continue unaffected.
"We have a city government to run in a mature and responsible way. This is what Toronto residents expect and elected us to do," the statement says. "We cannot be distracted by the personal actions of others."
Asked by reporters if council is planning to take any further action against Ford, Kelly said "I'm not sure what further action would be possible."
Council slashed the mayor's office budget and transferred many of his powers to the deputy mayor in November, after Ford admitted to lying about having smoked crack cocaine.
Ford is scheduled to give a speech at the Economic Club of Canada on Thursday. Tickets are $100 a seat.