A Sharpie can turn a 5 into an 8 pretty easily, I guess

I read a great little Globe and Mail article this morning wherein Rob Ford decided that we needed to cut 75% of the city labour force.

Or something to that effect, at least. I’m just going to take a page from the mayor’s playbook and make up the story as I see fit.

His worship notes that 80% of Toronto’s budget is devoted to labour costs, which Ford unsurprisingly deems to be “a lot of gravy.” His desire is to run city hall more like a business, which according to Ford involves spending about 20% of the budget on labour. Ford fanatics will know that his family runs DECO Labels and Tags, a successful business that makes some product that people buy, presumably labels and/or tags.

See what they did there? The word "tags" looks like it's on a tag. Clever!

Anyway, I pondered to myself, and to the people over at OpenFile Toronto, and to people I know on Facebook—an indignant lefty can’t shut up, apparently—whether an 80% proportion of an operating budget eaten up by labour costs is actually unusual for a city. I mean, we don’t produce anything nearly as important as labels or tags. Look at how ambiguous this image is without labels:

Solving that label problem must cost 60% extra at the very least.

Being unable to let go of petty issues, I felt compelled to look this up. Is Toronto really as big of a money drain as I’m being told? Or could I pay KPMG a large amount of money to find out I’m being lied to?

Well, I took to the Google to find out for myself. Here’s what someone admittedly terrible with financial matters was able to glean from various 2010 city budgets in Canada:

  • Calgary: labour costs, $1 200.1 M; total expenditures, $2 306.3 M; 52% of budget
  • Edmonton: labour costs, $966.5 M; total expenditures, $1 703.1 M; 57% of budget
  • Vancouver: labour costs, $672.3 M; total expenditures, $1 073.6 M; 63% of budget
  • Ottawa: labour costs, $1 261.1 M; total expenditures, $2 515.6 M; 50% of budget
  • Montreal: labour costs, $964.1 M; total expenditures, $1 595.6 M (not including $1 706.8 M contribution to Agglomération de Montréal); 56% of budget
  • Toronto: labour costs, $4 378.2 M; total expenditures, $9 213.7 M; 48% of budget

In other words, Toronto spends approximately 50% on labour. It’s a bit less proportionately on salaries, overtime and benefits than other major Canadian cities, and nowhere near the 80% Rob Ford has suggested. I’m not sure where this 80% came from. It’s possible that Ford’s lovely older brother played a trick on him and turned a 5 into an 8, like so: 

It’s possible I have misread the budget documents I found, and if that is the case, please let me know. But if I’m right, this either means our mayor either blatantly lied to us, or he just didn’t bother to find out the facts. Either way, given some of the questionable decisions made by city council as of late, and the fact that these numbers are being reported without question in a national newspaper*, this is pretty appalling.

Citizens shouldn’t have to rely on themselves to fact check and question everything they are told by elected officials, but sadly, it seems it has come to that. I’m used to politicians bending the truth to fit their ideologies, but blatantly false statements and statistics should be where the line is drawn.

*When I first read the story, I don’t think it included the actual proportion of labour spending. Either that, or I suck at reading. That said, when I reread the story after publishing this post, it contained a number of 44.8% total expenditures on labour based on a staff report. I’m not sure where the discrepancy with the approved 2010 budget proportion of 48% comes from, but I’m not too concerned over a 3% difference. My apologies to doubting the Globe and Mail in the initial version. I hope we can still be friends.

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About rmcw

Brewmaster student, academic refugee
This entry was posted in Toronto City Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Sharpie can turn a 5 into an 8 pretty easily, I guess

  1. Even ignoring all this, how is it possible to go from 80% to 20%? Unless councillors are taking private jets down to Las Vegas on the weekends, failing miserably at poker and hiring strippers and such there is isn’t that much gravy to cut out.

    • rmcw says:

      Ah, but you see, there “isn’t enough work to go around.” That’s why we don’t have problems with, say, the ombudsperson not having enough staff to deal with complaints. Or heritage buildings being torn down because they didn’t have enough staff to get them researched and designated.

      Anyway, yes, I agree. Cutting 75% of the city staff, aside from likely being impossible, would cripple the city.

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