By Doug Hallett
Mayor Karen Farbridge says what she can’t figure out in the Rob Ford saga is how he has been able to get away with working so little as the mayor of Canada’s biggest city.
“I don’t understand the double standard with the mayor, just with workload,” Farbridge said of Ford during her annual year-end interview with the Tribune.
Other mayors “would not get away with the hours he is putting in – or even members of council,” she added.
It also “would not be tolerated in the private sector,” she said, apparently puzzled that it hasn’t hurt Ford more politically.
Farbridge has said a lot about Ford during her year-end interviews with the Trib since the 2010 civic elections. That December, she said she was keeping a close eye on Toronto’s controversial new mayor. “I think every mayor in Ontario is waiting to see what happens” with Ford’s promises on spending and taxing, she said.
A year later, in December 2011, it appeared that Farbridge had pretty much made up her mind about Ford and any lessons to be learned from what was happening at Toronto city hall.
“Ford is taking a path that is not that uncommon,” she told the Trib. “We’re seeing it federally as well. Cut and slash services and programs. Close facilities, reduce service levels and try to make ends meet.”
When she was asked last month if she had anything to say about Ford in light of the scandals that have swirled around him in 2013, she began by once again spelling out differences between her approach and Ford’s.
“We have not taken the slash-and-burn, highly rhetorical approach we see in Toronto with Rob Ford,” she said.
Instead, she said, Guelph city hall has taken “a persistent approach” to reducing the gap between the Consumer Price Index and Guelph’s annual budget increases. The 2.38% budget boost for 2014 approved by council in December is “the lowest increase in the municipal levy in a number of years” in Guelph, she said.
Right after being re-elected in 2010, Farbridge told the Trib that during her third term as mayor she would seek a “new path.” Her objective was a city hall that’s able to “demonstrate that we are giving value for every dollar we spend,” in order to deal with a deep divide she saw in the last election between Guelphites willing to accept tax increases for better services and those who are against tax hikes.
In her year-end interview for 2013, Farbridge said she thinks her administration has made significant progress over the past couple of years in bridging the split between these two groups of voters. “What we have really done over the past two years is stitch those two sides together,” she said as part of her answer to the Trib’s query on what she had to say now about Ford.
Guelph is intensifying residential development in the downtown instead of gobbling up more land by expanding the city’s borders, she said, and it is also doing more with less when it comes to use of the city’s limited groundwater.
“Doing more with less water benefits both sides of our community who want us to manage our resources efficiently, but at the same time we are reducing cost,” Farbridge said, noting that something similar is happening with the city’s wastewater treatment operation.
“If we just focus on cost cutting and cost containment, we miss out on a whole world of opportunities in adding value,” she said, noting that Guelph has been working actively with the municipalities of Waterloo Region to promote a job-creating “innovation corridor” from Kitchener-Waterloo to Toronto through Guelph.
Asked again if she has anything to say specifically about Ford, Farbridge replied that the spectacle at Toronto city hall in 2013 saddened her. “I think it is very sad what is happening in Toronto. I think we should be concerned,” she said, “because what happens in Toronto is important to us.” She then went on to criticize Ford’s work ethic.
Later in the interview, when asked about her biggest disappointment as mayor during 2013, Farbridge replied that it was the same one she’d mentioned to the Trib a year earlier – namely, government scandals in Canada that tarnish everyone who holds public office.
“We all get cast by that, and it erodes trust,” she said. “People in this community deserve to be able to trust their local government, so that makes it very challenging.”