No political showdown between Rob Ford and Bill Blair at budget meeting

Watch the video above: Budget talks remain cordial despite tensions between Fords and Bill Blair. Jackson Proskow reports. 

TORONTO – There was no political showdown between Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Police Chief Bill Blair during Wednesday’s debate about the force’s budget because the mayor didn’t show up.

He toured a community housing complex instead.

Ford took aim at the police chief during a television interview conducted by Conrad Black that aired on Monday, accusing the chief of going after him because of budget grudges and stating he wants to know how much money police spent conducting surveillance on him over the past eight months.

Ford told Black he supports Toronto’s frontline officers but has “an issue” with the chief.

“I definitely think this is political. I think they used [Sandro] Lisi as a prop to get to me,” he said.
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Watch the video belowFord brothers standing firm on budget position

Blair has previously denied the accusation that a police investigation into a video showing the mayor smoking what appears to be crack cocaine is political.

The police chief told reporters Wednesday he won’t comment on “personal attacks” and sidestepped questions on whether he thinks the Fords’ problems with him would interfere with the budget process.

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“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I have great confidence in the governance structure that’s in place for policing,” he said.

Chief Blair: ‘I don’t respond to personal attacks’

Despite the recent vitriol, the budget meeting was “relatively tame,” said budget chief Frank Di Giorgio – perhaps because there was nothing to vote on.

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“I think once it becomes evident that there’s a vote to be taken then the feelings may escalate, simply because I suspect when you have a meeting where a vote is taking place, on a particular budget or what have you, there might be comments on whether somebody might be declaring a conflict-of-interest.”

When asked whether the Ford brothers should declare a conflict-of-interest, Di Giorgio said neither one has a financial interest in the matter but he understands there could be questions about whether their apparent bias against the chief could influence their votes.  But even then he’s not sure whether the mayor should declare a conflict.

“If he were the only decision maker on it, then that’s a different, but when you’re one of 45 that’s something else,” he said.

The police budget

The current proposal for the police budget asks for an increase of 3.1 per cent – approximately $29 million – over last year’s budget and includes hiring 300 new police officers to replace retired officers. Last year, Blair got a $5.9 million increase in the budget despite the mayor demanding a 10 per cent (roughly $84 million) cut.

“It’s difficult to deny [Blair] the opportunity to replace police officers,” Di Giorgio said. “I think the 3.1 [per cent] in that context is reasonable.”
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The mayor wouldn`t answer questions about the police budget specifically, instead saying he simply wouldn`t support the city`s budget if the property tax hike was 2.5 per cent, as staff has recommended.

“I said I’m going to vote on the budget, I am, and if it’s a 2.5 per cent, I’m not supporting the budget. I’m not budging from that. We can find the efficiencies. I have a number of motions that can save us money and I’m going to be putting them down on the floor of council.”

Ford didn’t describe any of his proposals to save money.

“If council supports it, we can get it down to one and three-quarters. If council doesn’t, they have to answer to the taxpayers.”

Follow a LIVEBLOG from Global News reporter Jackson Proskow at the police budget meeting to start at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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-with files from Andrew Russell

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