For anyone interested in the tectonics of the 2010-2014 council, last week’s tortured evening session – dedicated to the bloody business of rooting out the Toronto Community Housing Corp.’s board and replacing it with Case Ootes – offers a glimpse of how politics in Rob Ford’s city hall will work, or not, in coming years.
Because the meeting ended so late, well past the deadlines of the major dailies, some of the more intriguing details of council’s decision haven’t really penetrated the public consciousness.
Yes, we all know the brothers Ford got their way and canned the board, this despite the fact that auditor-general Jeff Griffiths, in his report on the procurement problems [PDF], made it clear the directors had in fact passed several policies calling on the TCHC brass to be more diligent about purchasing decisions.
But the politics of accountability prevailed on Wednesday night, and in more ways than one. Consider the other motions that accompanied the sacking:
• That Ootes’ compensation and term of office be made public;
• That TCHC begin posting on its website the expenses of all staff and directors earning more than $100,000;
• That the board (i.e., Ootes) directly approves all purchases over $1,000 while they (he) are re-writing the procurement rules;
• And that the TCHC disclose all meetings between the managing director (Ootes) and lobbyists.
Every one of these successful secondary motions came from the centre-left, and specifically the following sponsoring councillors (in order): Josh Colle, Shelley Carroll (twice), and Adam Vaughan. All the resulting votes were split sharply along partisan lines, with the mayor’s regulars opposing each one.
Which brings me to the core of the issue, and specifically six individuals who hold a remarkable degree of power in the city these days, though I believe they, as a group, have yet to realize the extent of their influence.
The swing vote bloc on this council comprises the following six councillors: Ana Bailao (Davenport), Josh Colle (Eglinton Lawrence), Mary-Margaret McMahon (Beaches East York), Michelle Berardinetti (Scarborough South-west), Josh Matlow (St. Paul’s) and Jaye Robinson (Don Valley West). Some lean more to the left (Bailao and Matlow) and others lean more to the right (Robinson and Berardinetti). But if last week’s votes were an indication, neither the left nor the right owns them outright, and therefore they are worth watching.
Looking for bellwethers? My nominations would be Colle and McMahon.
click chart to view it larger
A few notes: They are all rookies, but not all 14 newbies on council swing, as it were. Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton almost never break ranks from the left, and James Pasternak and Vincent Crisanti have a similar voting record with the mayor’s gang. As well, there are a few right-of-centre veterans who will occasionally exercise a measure of independent thought, including Chin Lee, Frank DiGiorgio, and Gloria Lindsay Luby.
For the 15 substantive motions moved during the TCHC board debate, all but Robinson supported each of the left’s three winning motions. As well, Colle scored near unanimity on both his substantive motions (the other had to do with ensuring the new board would be in place by mid-June).
Interestingly, Berardinetti (who is related by marriage to Josh Colle and his father, Eglinton-Lawrence Liberal Mike Colle) managed to pull off a perfect at-bat, voting with the winning side on every one of the main motions, including those put forward by the centre-left. McMahon, who beat left-winger Sandra Bussin last fall, and Robinson, who beat a right-winger in Cliff Jenkins, also voted mainly, though not exclusively, with the right. Of the two, McMahon seems more willing to side with the opposition.
Bailao, Colle and Matlow — whose wards include large chunks of the old City of Toronto — mostly voted against the mayor’s party, but not consistently so. Colle — unlike Bailao and Matlow — did opt to support the Fords’ bid to oust the TCHC board, reckoning that the broad brush politics of this tale won’t be altered [editor’s note: this sentence has been corrected from an earlier version].
What’s the moral of the story? Certainly, if I were one of these six politicians, I’d probably take care not to align myself too closely with one side or the other, thus increasing my leverage and the price of my support.
For progressive voters who have mounting concerns about the way the brothers Ford intend to run this city, the trick will be figuring out what makes these politicians uncomfortable enough to risk the wrath of the mayor’s whips. Indeed, if the centre-left block on council actually wants to rein in the right, they’d be wise to spend some serious time trying to understand how the city looks to the gang of six.
Not to be overly dramatic, but as they go, so goes Toronto.