The core of Doug Ford’s campaign — the premise on which all else hinges — is the claim that he can find “inefficiencies” in Ontario’s budget worth at least $6 billion.

Ford promises that he can do this without touching core services, like healthcare or education.

If you were living in Toronto during the reign of Doug Ford’s brother, Rob, then all this talk of “waste” may be giving you a case of déjà vu. The Ford’s ran a campaign for Mayor of Toronto in 2010 on largely the same premise, promising to “stop the gravy train” and “trim the fat” without touching core services.

To better understand the feasibility of Ford’s promise today, we should review what happened the last time the Ford brothers used nearly the exact same claims to win power in Toronto just 8 years ago.

The Audit

After his election as Mayor of Toronto in 2010, Rob Ford — and his Council ally Doug Ford — initiated a “core service review” to find $774 million worth of “waste” in the city’s budget.

This review was performed by KPMG, one of the country’s largest accounting and consulting firms. It’s worth noting that Doug Ford is now pledging to replicate this process with Ontario’s budget, recruiting an outside accounting firm like KPMG to find inefficiencies.

Unfortunately for the Fords, KPMG was unable to find the waste the brothers promised existed. A 2011 Globe and Mail column put it succinctly:

 If there is anybody left in Toronto who still thinks the city can solve its money troubles simply by stopping the gravy train, the results of the city’s core service review should disabuse them. The review of city public works programs by KPMG consultants gave Toronto its first good look at what it will take to get city finances in line and it has nothing to do with cutting back on hired chipmunk suits, overpriced plant waterers or any of the other fluff that Rob Ford went on about during last year’s election campaign.

The independent auditors found that, contrary to the Fords’ claims during the election, there was no “gravy” to be found.

In the end, the outside audit cost the city $3 million and failed to identify any “fat” for the Fords to “trim”.

What the audit did recommend cutting back on were key public services — services that the entire city depended on.

The Cuts

The KPMG audit — despite failing to find waste — was embraced by the Fords, who began to push hard for the cuts suggested in the report.

These were not the cuts that had been promised, however. The Fords were instead taking a chainsaw to key services.

The Globe and Mail noted at the time:

What we are facing instead is the prospect of cuts on things as practical as grass cutting, snow shovelling and recyclables collection. Even fluoridation of the water supply is being flagged as potentially dispensable.

The full list of potential cuts was, to put it mildly, substantial, and included:

  • Cutting back on residential garbage collection
  • Reducing snow clearing services
  • Closing libraries
  • Selling the zoo
  • Reducing community centre hours
  • Closing fire stations
  • Cutting back on street cleaning in the summer
  • Eliminating the collection of toxic waste from people’s homes
  • Cutting police patrols from two officers to one at a time
  • Privatizing a raft of city services, including elements of the transit system
  • Removing crossing guards from intersections near schools
  • Cancelling overnight bus service
  • Ending nutrition programs and drug prevention programs in schools

And on it went.

Presented with such deep cuts to core services, the Fords did not back down. Rob Ford called the items on the chopping block mere “nice-to-haves”. Doug Ford, for his part, championed his brother’s agenda and ultimately voted for the array of cuts.

The Defeat

With deep cuts on the table, Toronto’s residents organized in large numbers to pressure City Council to defeat the Fords’ proposal.

Tens of thousands of people signed petitions, emailed Councillors and the Mayor, and attended deputations at City Hall where they explained how service cuts would impact them.

One deputation, in particular, was a poignant reminder of the consequences of service cuts. 14-year old Anika Tabovaradan explained the importance of her local library in her day to day life:

With pressure mounting, Councillors eventually voted narrowly — 23 to 21 — to cancel the majority of the cuts.

Round II?

Doug Ford’s rhetoric around “waste” and “inefficiencies” is nearly identical to that used by him and his brother during Toronto’s 2010 election campaign.

Even the process by which he claims he will find waste — hiring an independent auditor for millions of dollars — is the same.

Back then, the Fords found no fat to trim. They instead used the audit process as a bait-and-switch scam: con people into believing there is “gravy” to eliminate, and then cut core public services instead.

As Doug Ford pursues an identical strategy in Ontario this election, we have no reason to believe that the outcome will be any different this time.

Just like last time, it will all end in tears.