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Ontario’s $130.4B budget projects higher deficit, spending

CityNews | posted Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The big shocker in Thursday’s make-it-or-break-it Ontario budget wasn’t between the pages, but who didn’t show up to read it.

In a stunning move unheard of in recent memory, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath — who can decide the fate of the minority Liberal government — skipped her first opportunity to read the $130.4-billion spending blueprint, heightening speculation that the province is headed to the polls.

Opposition leaders are usually among the politicians, stakeholders, bureaucrats and journalists who are locked in a room to read the budget before it’s tabled in the legislature — an annual tradition to preserve its secrecy.

But despite Horwath’s insistence that she must see the document before deciding whether she’d prop up the Liberals for a third straight year, she dodged the lockup along with reporters’ questions about whether her party will trigger an election.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said Horwath let Ontarians down by not attending the lockup to state her position.

“I’m perplexed as to why the leader of the third party would not stand before Ontarians in terms of what it is that we are discussing today because this is about the well-being of Ontarians,” said Sousa.

“It’s not about the well-being of any political party or the fortunes of any political party. It’s about the fortunes of Ontarians and they deserve to know where it is that they’re at, because this is the right budget, it’s the right plan.”

Politicians make a good salary to show up for work, but Horwath decided to “duck and run,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, whose party plans to vote against the budget.

Horwath didn’t miss much, as most of the budget had already trickled out through campaign-style government announcements and unauthorized leaks.

They included ambitious promises for a provincial pension plan, levies to raise billions of dollars for public transit, roads and bridges, billions more for corporate grants, a minimum wage hike and higher taxes for individuals earning more than $150,000.

Sousa had also made it clear in recent weeks that Ontario’s revenues came up short last year and the government would likely miss its deficit targets, although it still planned to slay the deficit in 2017-18.

The Liberals are expecting to spend $12.5 billion more than they take in this year, up from $11.3 billion last year and the $10.1 billion projected in their 2013 budget.

Last year’s revenues came in $1.2 billion short to $115.6 billion, largely due to a sharp $1.5-billion drop in sales tax revenue. Officials attributed the decline to one-time adjustments from the federal government — which calculates the province’s share of the HST — from past years and lower consumer spending.

Total spending, including payments to service the debt, came in $636 million less than expected, mainly from austerity measures to clamp down on public service retiree benefits and pensions and “constraint measures” from ministries as well as savings in the education sector due to lower student enrolment, construction delays and balanced school board budgets. Interest on the debt was also $49 million lower than forecast last year.

But spending is forecast to jump by $3.4 billion this year, $900 million more than projected in the 2013 budget, with program spending expected to climb by nearly $3 billion to $119.4 billion.

That’s going to help push up the province’s net debt by $20.1 billion to $289.3 billion this year, a staggering 40 per cent of gross domestic product. The net debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to reach 40.8 per cent in 2015-16 before coming down.

Ontario’s current ratio of nearly 39 per cent is almost 50 per cent higher than it was just six years ago, which represents “a longer-term vulnerability” for the province, said TD Bank deputy chief economist Derek Burleton. Debt rating agencies will be watching that figure closely.

“The government still faces an enormous fiscal challenge,” he said in an interview.

“After four years of restraint, getting operating spending down and implementing a lot of the Drummond commission (austerity report) proposals, they still have four more years ahead to get back to balance. And it’s important to get back to balance and stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio.”

The Liberals have beat their budget targets five years in a row and are planning to hold program spending growth to one percentage point below revenues until the debt returns to pre-recession levels of 27 per cent of GDP, he said. They also have the lowest program spending per capital among the provinces.

Many of their spending announcements are spread out over a number of years, such as $11 billion to repair and build new schools and $11.4 billion to expand and improve hospitals over 10 years.

Some of their shiny new programs, such as the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, won’t cost them a thing since it will come out of the pockets of workers and employers. They’re also looking to “unlock the full value” of their assets, including Ontario Power Generation and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

But ratcheting down that key debt-to-GDP figure won’t be easy, Burleton said. The province would likely have to hold spending at three per cent for the next decade, given the current economic growth projections.

The Liberals say they’re aiming to save $250 million in their programs this year and double it over the following two years, with public servants squarely in their crosshairs.

With compensation accounting for over half of Ontario’s program spending, the budget said any wage increases must be absorbed within existing budgets through “efficiency and productivity gains, or other tradeoffs.” They’re also planning to find $1.4 billion in savings by 2017-18 from public-service retirement benefits.

The Liberals are already in showdown with AMAPCEO, the union that represents many managers and professionals in the civil service, with a possible strike or lockout looming in mid-May.

But other public-sector workers in the education and health-care sectors — groups that have traditionally supported the Liberals — will see their paychecks increase. The budget proposed raises for personal support workers, early childhood educators and other licensed child-care workers, leaving the impression that the Liberals may be circling the wagons before a possible election.

“Let’s end this illusion this is any kind of economic plan,” Hudak said. “It’s a plan to secure Liberal seats. I want to have a plan to get our province moving again, to secure more jobs for real Ontarians, not politicians.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Doug Ford gets emotional, says he’s standing by mayor

CityNews | posted Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Coun. Doug Ford choked back tears on Thursday, saying he’s standing by his brother Mayor Rob Ford who’s on a leave of absence to get help for substance abuse.

“This is not an easy thing for anyone to do especially when you’re the mayor of the city,” Coun. Ford said at a mid-morning news conference. “I encouraged my brother to take this time for himself and for the sake of his family.”

Coun. Ford said the mayor was very emotional when he told him his intentions following reports of new video and audio recordings allegedly showing him smoking crack and making vulgar comments. The prime minister even waded in saying the behaviour and comments were “troubling” but that he was “pleased” Ford was going to rehab.

“The hardest thing about this is he knows he let people down. He let his family down, he let his friends down, he let his colleagues down, he let his supporters down and the people of Toronto.”

He asked Torontonians to keep the mayor and his family in their prayers, but asked that they respect Rob Ford’s privacy, for the sake of his family.

“(I will) continue to stand by my brother and his family throughout this difficult journey.”

“This is one of the toughest days of my life, but in saying that I also have a sense of relief. As an older brother, I’m relieved that Rob has faced his problems and has decided to seek professional help,” he said.

He did not take questions from reporters.

Are Doug Ford’s enabling days over?

In the past, the mayor’s brother vigorously defended Ford and even said he never saw him drink. However, today, the public saw a different and very emotional side of the councillor.

“Doug is defending his brother to his last breath and he’s loyal to him, but there’s a lot of problems there because he keeps on getting undercut by Rob,” Mark Elliot, an addictions councillor in Toronto, told CityNews reporter Tom Hayes.

“He says Rob’s OK, but then Rob does something else that’s stupid.”

Elliot said the family receives the worst brunt of addiction, the “shame, guilt, fame and fear — everything rotten — and the addict gets to go and get high.”

He said Ford has not come clean yet, but that the mayor has taken the first step with a leave of absence.

Rob Ford announced Wednesday night he is taking a leave of absence to seek “immediate” professional help for what he calls a “problem with alcohol.” His decision came immediately after the Globe and Mail said two of its reporters had seen a video showing him taking a drag from a small copper-coloured pipe and exhaling a cloud of smoke.

Separately, the Toronto Star reported on Wednesday that Ford’s binge started at Toronto’s Musik nightclub on St. Patrick’s Day weekend more than a month ago. The newspaper reports that a witness saw the mayor do lines of cocaine at the club. The Toronto Sun also published a report about an audio that captured Ford allegedly making lewd comments about mayoral candidate Karen Stintz and his wife, Renata.

Norm Kelly assumes mayoral responsibilities

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said on Thursday that he has “agreed to assume the responsibilities of mayor” during his absence, effective immediately.

“The events that have brought us together this morning can best be described as a personal tragedy and should not be seen as a crisis of government,” Kelly said at a noon news conference.

He said council work will continue to “move forward” and that it is business as usual in Toronto.

“I do not see this as a crisis of government. We’ll continue to do things as we did previously,” Kelly said, who will keep his deputy mayor title and assume charge of Ford’s staff.

City manager Joe Pennachetti said the mayor would have to return to his position for the July council meeting unless councillors approved a resolution allowing for his absence.

Kelly said the mayor’s actions are inexcusable, but that “it is fundamental that we as members of a council respect each other and the people we represent.”

He also offered his well-wishes to Ford and his family.

Mayoral candidates react to latest allegations against Mayor Ford

Toronto mayoral candidates Stintz and Olivia Chow both expressed their disappointment over the latest drug-use allegations against Mayor Ford.

At a news conference on Thursday morning, Stintz said she is was upset with the “misogynist language” used in the audio allegedly featuring Ford ranting and making lewd comments about Stintz.

Stintz said the comments left her shocked and embarrassed and she believes the city has had enough of Ford’s scandals.

“I’d f*****g jam her, but she don’t want,” Ford is heard saying. The audio was published in the Toronto Sun on Wednesday.

“Rob Ford’s comments are gross. Rob Ford is not Toronto. Toronto is tired of being gripped in this sad, sad mess,” Stintz said.

The audio was reportedly recorded in a bar called Sullie Gorman’s, which is in a strip mall on Royal York Road, north of Eglinton Avenue West, near Ford’s mother’s house and across from a park named after his late father.

“There is no place in this city for sexism and homophobia,” Stintz said on Thursday.

Stintz said she hopes he can recover but that she’s “not interested in an empty apology — we’ve heard too many of those.”

Chow told reporters she was angry when she heard the latest allegations against Ford on Wednesday night.

“Angry and disappointed that once again, he is making offensive remarks against women. This time, against Ms. Stintz. Very hurtful remarks,” Chow told reporters at a news conference, which was held shortly after.

“A mayor needs to treat everyone in the city with dignity and he certainly has not done so … he has offended many and hurt many.”

Chow said Ford it’s “obvious Mr. Ford is a sick man” and that he has “serious drug abuse problems and substance abuse problems.”

“I am sure that everyone in this city will join with me to wish him, and hope that he as a person, recovers from his sickness and his illness and his addiction.”

Chow added that Ford “had his chance” as a mayor, and that he should have stepped aside last year.

“Last year, everyone said that he needs to take responsibility, he needs to get help. He didn’t do so. It’s too late for him to take a leave of absence,” she said.

When asked if the mayor should resign, Chow said “voters should decide.”

“That’s why, in October, the residents of this city will issue a verdict on Mr. Ford and we will have a new mayor.”

Stintz echoed a similar sentiment saying the Toronto needs a new mayor, but that only voters can remove him from office. She didn’t call for his resignation.

“The only people who can remove Rob Ford from office is the people from Toronto … we will choose a better Toronto.”

Reaction from politicians & other mayoral candidates

On Wednesday evening, mayoral candidate John Tory said he was relieved the mayor said he was getting help and sent his thoughts to the Ford family; however, he called for Ford to resign.

Mayoral candidate David Soknacki called Ford a “disgrace” and also called for Ford to resign “immediately.”

On Thursday morning, Premier Kathleen Wynne took a break from her morning run to talk to reporters about Thursday’s budget and the latest Ford scandal.

“This has been a distraction in the city for a long time,” Premier Kathleen Wynne said on Thursday morning during her morning run.

“Rob Ford needs to deal with his personal issues.”

With files from Patricia D’Cunha, Showwei Chu, Erin Criger, Tom Hayes, and Toronto Staff

Ford scandal: Mayor takes leave after lewd audio & alleged new drug video emerge

CityNews | posted Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Alongside another series of bombshell developments, Rob Ford announced Wednesday night he is taking a leave of absence to seek “immediate” professional help for what he calls a “problem with alcohol.”

The leave came amid reports of another video of him purportedly smoking crack cocaine — allegedly shot this past weekend — as well as an audio tape featuring Ford ranting and making lewd comments about mayoral candidate Karen Stinz and his wife, Renata.

“It’s not easy to be vulnerable and this is one of the most difficult times in my life,” Ford said in a statement released Wednesday night.

“I have a problem with alcohol, and the choices I have made while under the influence. I have struggled with this for some time.”

“Today, after taking some time to think about my own well-being, how to best serve the people of Toronto and what is in the best interests of my family, I have decided to take a leave from campaigning and from my duties as Mayor to seek immediate help.”

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The Toronto Sun reports Ford’s leave will be for at least a month. In an interview, his lawyer Dennis Morris said his name will stay on ballot for the Oct. 27 mayoral election.

On Thursday morning, the City of Toronto confirmed it received official written notice from the mayor that he’s taking a leave of absence.

CityNews reports Ford left his family home in a waiting grey car just after 7:30 a.m., without answering reporters’ questions. The vehicle — with luggage already inside — driven away by his sister Kathy Ford’s son, Mikey, followed by a red car. According to reports, a passport form was spotted on the dashboard. It’s not known where he was heading.

Upon announcing his leave of absence on Wednesday evening, Ford arrived at his home at around midnight but did not take questions from reporters.

Latest drug-use allegations

On Wednesday evening, The Globe and Mail said two of its reporters had seen a video showing the mayor taking a drag from a small copper-coloured pipe and exhaling a cloud of smoke.

The newspaper reports that the video was filmed in Ford’s sister’s basement Saturday morning by a self-professed drug dealer.

The Globe also stated that a man who looks like Alessandro “Sandro” Lisi can be seen in the background of the video.

U.S. site Gawker published still images of Ford from the alleged video on Wednesday night, claiming the photos came from a source who offered to sell them the video. Gawker says the source said crack was in the pipe. The Globe and Mail published the same photos, explaining that they paid $10,000 for the images.

It’s the second video to emerge of Ford allegedly smoking drugs. The first, which surfaced roughly a year ago, was the flashpoint in a massive scandal involving the mayor that made international headlines.

On Thursday morning, Toronto police confirmed to 680News that they’re looking into the possibility of a second alleged video of Ford smoking drugs. Police said they’re “interested to see the new information.”

Lewd audio of Ford ranting

Meanwhile, another recording was revealed on Wednesday night when the Toronto Sun published profanity-lade, lewd audio of Ford ranting. The audio was recorded on Monday night in an Etobicoke bar, the newspaper claims and contains comments about mayoral contender Stintz, as well as comments about his wife.

“I’d rather lose to Olivia Chow than to anyone man,” Ford is heard saying in the audio. “Once I’m gone, I’m gone. I’m going to California.”

“How about Karen Stintz?,” someone asked.

“I’d f*****g jam her, but she don’t want,” Ford replied.

Click here to listen to the full audio.

A statement later released by Stintz’s campaign team read: “The comments released tonight by Mayor Rob Ford are deeply offensive to everyone living in Toronto. That a sitting mayor would make such shocking and bigoted remarks is disgusting. This is the not the first time that Rob Ford has made misogynistic comments. Unfortunately, there are many that keep giving Rob Ford a pass.”

It later added: “In addition to seeking help, we hope for a full apology from Rob Ford, not only to Karen, but to all in this great city who expect more from their mayor.”

The audio was reportedly recorded in a bar called Sullie Gorman’s, which is in a strip mall on Royal York Road, north of Eglinton Avenue West, near Ford’s mother’s house and across from a park named after his late father.

Reports of Ford doing cocaine

Separately, The Toronto Star reported on Wednesday that Ford’s latest “spiral” started at Toronto’s Musik nightclub on St. Patrick’s Day weekend more than a month ago. The newspaper reports that a witness saw the mayor do lines of cocaine at the club.

“My wife and children hate me. I am in over my head,” Ford reportedly said at the club.

The Star also reports that Justin Bieber was at the club and apparently jokingly asked Ford if he had any crack to smoke.

The newspaper also reports that Ford has close ties to the club’s owner, who reportedly provided alcohol to the last two Ford Fests, which are parties for Ford supporters that include free drinks. The owner of Musik is reportedly listed as a registered lobbyist who seeks improvements to the club from city council. The club is located on city property on the Exhibition grounds.

Ford’s lawyer Dennis Morris said the mayor “realizes he needs help for substance abuse,” but would not say which substance his client is seeking treatment for or what steps he will take.

“In my eyes, he should announce those steps to the public in the near future,” Morris said.

Reaction from politicians & mayoral candidates

In addition to Stintz’s statements, mayoral candidate John Tory said he was relieved the mayor said he was getting help and sent his thoughts to the Ford family.

However, Tory then called for Ford to resign.

“Like Torontonians across the city I am, nonetheless, equally disappointed by these revelations of Mayor Ford’s latest behaviour and, for the good of the city I call on Mayor Ford to resign from his office as mayor,” Tory said on Wednesday night.

Mayoral candidate David Soknacki also called for Ford to resign.

“Rob Ford is not just a bad mayor. He is also a disgrace,” said Soknacki. “Toronto can’t wait until October 27th. It is time for Rob Ford to resign, immediately.”

Olivia Chow, another frontrunner, is expected to comment later Thursday.

On Thursday morning, Premier Kathleen Wynne took a break from her morning run to talk to reporters about Thursday’s budget and the latest Ford scandal.

“This has been a distraction in the city for a long time,” Wynne said.

“I’ve been dealing with Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly since he was given decision-making authority — I think that was the right decision, and Rob Ford needs to deal with his personal issues.”

“I have been and will continue to deal with Deputy Mayor Kelly,” she added.

Ford’s previous allegations

Ford has denied allegations that he is addicted to drugs or alcohol, though he has admitted having used crack cocaine while in a “drunken stupor” during his tenure.

Shortly afterward, city council voted to relieve Ford of many of his mayoral powers.

The mayor also admitted he had been drinking during an incident in which he was filmed using Jamaican swear words and other profanities at a Toronto restaurant.

He vowed last year that he had given up alcohol — part of a campaign to rehabilitate his image in light of his admission.

His family had previously backed up his assertions and his decision not to resign or take an official leave.

With files from The Canadian Press

Rob Ford releases statement, ‘I have a problem with alcohol’

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, May 1st, 2014

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STATEMENT FROM MAYOR ROB FORD

For Immediate Release

April 30th, 2014

Tonight I want to take some time to speak from my heart to the people of Toronto. It’s not easy to be vulnerable and this is one of the most difficult times in my life. I have a problem with alcohol, and the choices I have made while under the influence. I have struggled with this for some time.

Today, after taking some time to think about my own well-being, how to best serve the people of Toronto and what is in the best interests of my family, I have decided to take a leave from campaigning and from my duties as Mayor to seek immediate help.

I have tried to deal with these issues by myself over the past year. I know that I need professional help and I am now 100% committed to getting myself right.

I love the people of Toronto, I love being your mayor and I hope you will continue to stand by me.

With the support of my family, friends, professionals and the people of Toronto, I will conquer this.

Please keep me and my family in your prayers during these difficult days ahead.

I just want to say to the people of Toronto that I thank you for your ongoing support and encouragement. I cannot tell you enough how much I appreciate it.

Mayor Rob Ford

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