After watching his second consecutive city budget get rewritten on the fly by his colleagues on council last week, Coun. Mike Del Grande stepped down from his post as budget chief. He quit suddenly, prompting a messy round of finger pointing and blame.
Even worse, his resignation came only a day after the budget chief had to sit in council chamber and watch as Mayor Rob Ford — his boss — voted to blow up the budget Del Grande had spent thousands of hours pulling together over the last year. Ford surprised everyone when he supported a wildcard motion by Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti to freeze property taxes for 2013, based on an assumption that the city could replace that lost revenue with a floating casino.
Thankfully, in his bid to support Mammoliti’s casino boat, the mayor lost. The next day, he lost his budget chief, too.
Del Grande deserved better.
I say that even though I disagreed with virtually everything he did as budget chief. Del Grande approached the job with a set of priorities that didn’t really gel with the reality of the city’s fiscal situation. He appeared to want to be the guy to save Toronto from an economic apocalypse, but instead he inherited a huge surplus, very manageable debt levels and a top-flight credit rating.
But that didn’t stop him from moving forward, proselytizing for a budgetary doomsday that showed no sign of ever showing up.
Sure, he reduced city hall’s reliance on prior-year surplus money to balance the budget, but it’s hard to call that progress when it was achieved through budgeting that didn’t really consider service levels or Toronto’s growth. It doesn’t make much sense to cheer on fiscal sustainability when, at the same time, infrastructure crumbles, the TTC is still at crush load for much of the day and the affordable housing waiting list lurches toward 200,000 people.
But that’s just me. Others, I know, feel differently.
And that’s kind of the point. If you step away from policy and ideology, Del Grande was probably the best budget chief the Ford administration could have asked for. Unlike some politicians, he took the job incredibly seriously, approaching it with an unshakeable determination.
He was also loyal, sometimes to a fault. Translating the vague and often contradictory ideas coming out of Ford’s office onto his budget ledger had to be a frustrating task, but Del Grande did his best to make it work. And he stood by as a reliable vote even as the mayor exploded the goodwill and command of council he was elected with. Through it all, Del Grande was there to support the guy who hired him.
It’s just too bad the reverse wasn’t true.