Mayor David Miller asked for and received Councillor Brian Ashton’s resignation from City Council’s Executive Committee on Tuesday, as reported in today’s Star and Post. The move came two weeks after Ashton cast the deciding vote that deferred Miller’s proposed tax measures until October.
Asserting the Westminster-style collective responsibility principle, Miller reinforced the role of the Executive Committee (EC) as a cabinet-like body through this decision.
Booting Ashton (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest) is sure to raise the ire of those in the Royson James school of thought, who believe that mavericks like Ashton should be at the heart of Miller’s inner circle to provide a sense of perspective. From people in that camp, you’re sure to hear terms like â€œintolerant,â€ â€œundemocraticâ€ and “childish.â€
But I see it differently.
The tax issue was as close to a matter of confidence as you’ll find in municipal government. This was the plan to get the City through its 2008 budget nightmare and on to the path toward financial independence. Knowing this, Ashton did the responsible, if unpopular, thing and supported the plan at EC.
Then at some point in the 21 days between EC and Council, Ashton was persuaded to change his mind.
Without a lobbyist registry, we can’t be sure who was in the back rooms trying to sway Ashton’s vote and he hasn’t volunteered that information. However, what we do know is that, according to documents filed by Ashton after the 2006 election, at least 14 of his 64 donors have an interest in home prices. Those donors provided Ashton with $7,150 or 28% of all donations (Search for Ashton in this database.) So that reality was in play, along with the Canadian Taxpayer Federation-organized e-mail blitz that, according to anti-tax Councillor Michael Walker (Ward 22, St. Paul’s), resulted in about 2,000 messages to his inbox alone.
But regardless of the reason for Ashton’s change of heart, his decision wasn’t known until minutes before the deferral vote when rumours began flying around the council chamber that Ashton might be flip-flopping. Up until that point, it was assumed that Ashton would continue to vote as he had at EC. Minutes later, Miller would watch the right-wingers high-five one another as the outcome of the vote was announced by the clerk.
So though any member of EC neglecting their collective responsibility on such a key issue may require their resignation, the way Ashton maneuvered on this issue is in itself cause for dismissal. At the very least, the wily veteran should have been upfront with Miller about his intention to support the deferral. Without even that courtesy, Miller had no choice but to sack Ashton.
Do the shuffle
As Ashton was a member of EC by virtue of his appointment as chair of the Planning and Growth Management (PGM) Committee, he has also been stripped of that responsibility. In his place, Councillor Norm Kelly, already a member of EC, will take the reins of PGM and Councillor Adrian Heaps will take Kelly’s spot as an at-large member of EC.
The way the shuffle played out had little to do with the capability of Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough-Agincourt) or Heaps (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest) and everything to do with where they’re geographically and politically positioned. To protect Scarborough’s spot at the table without taking an entrenched member of the official opposition on at EC, Miller had to promote Heaps (the only rookie to serve on that committee) and then choose one of them to chair PGM. Kelly was the logical choice between them given his years of experience in government and somewhat lighter workload.
The winner in all of this could be cyclists. Although some advocates have been unimpressed with the changes Heaps made to the Cycling Committee, having him on EC should enhance his ability to champion cycling issues at Council.