LORINC: The gang of six swing votes

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.


  1. I’d hardly include Berardinetti and Robinson in “the Mighty Middle.” Their voting record certainly suggests allegiance to the right, particularly following Robinson’s appointment to the Exec. Committee.

  2. Berardinetti and Robinson should not be considered part of the “Mighty Middle.” Robinson’s voting record demonstrates allegiance to the right, especially following her appointment to the executive committee.

  3. So let me get this straight, as they say. The swing bloc in what’s apparently a fearsomely Fordist assembly consists of at least three card-carrying Liberals, one of them in a deep-downtown ward, a granola-loving Beacher, a former Toronto Culture bureaucrat who spearheaded LuminaTO, and a guy representing Yonge & St. Clair who’s been slamming Ford in the Star.

    I’ve been proven wrong by the Brothers Ford before and I will be again, but if the partisan hinge on Toronto Council runs through Josh Matlow’s flowing locks, I don’t see how their math is going to add up when they get to tough, unpopular proposals starting later this year. 

  4. You say that accountability prevailed due to successful secondary motions from centre-left councillors:

    • 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.

    TCHC salaries (& taxable benefits) over $100K are already disclosed at and the honorariums ($2,500/yr + $500/meeting) that the directors receive are public knowledge as well — so the added requirement to “disclose all meetings …” and for the board to approve “all purchases over $1000 …” seems suspiciously like a centre-left plot to drown the board (Ootes) in paperwork so that little can be accomplished in the interim.

    Is this the added bureaucratic red-tape that TCHC residents have to look forward to as they await repairs to their dwellings? Have these councillors forgotten that TCHC was created to provide social housing to those in need — that the residents and taxpayers will pay the price for centre-left’s desire to ridicule Rob Ford for becoming Mayor?

    Hopefully these councillors with swing votes remember their constituents. We can be a fickle bunch.

  5. Oddly enough, the fact that the swing votes seem to not be trapped in partisan rhetoric (and both right and left are guilt) but are instead reasonable, intelligent people voting on common sense, kind of restores my faith in the system. I had kind of lost it for a while there among the awful partisan bickering.

  6. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that the left was urging us to vote for Pantalone, because even if Ford won, council’s progressives would basically run a parallel city government and keep him from doing anything at all. This argument, which I found weak even at the time, looks even more ridiculous each time council’s progressives manage to eke out an amendment or two that slows down Ford’s political freight train.

  7. @ Helen — the motion calls for the disclosure of expenses, not salaries, and the existing board policy says nothing about meetings w/ lobbyists. But yes, the $1000 approval floor on purchase order approvals does sound like a bit of lefty mischief. 

  8. “lefty mischief”, that was rich coming from the remnants of the New Development Party on Council. They were bigger bandits than the Lastman-Slobodsky duo! 

  9. Considering all of this has gone down under Miller’s watch, how come no one here or any leftist isn’t calling him to task for such wasteful spending?

  10. Thomas: Because he wasn’t spending wastefully. You do remember that it was Miller who produced a surplus with the last budget? The budget is not bloated; we just have a provincial governemtn that doesn’t want to share the proper piece of the pie with Toronto and its 22 seats up for grabs.

    Look, of the 100% of taxes collected in this country, only 10% go to cities, yet 50% live in urban settings, and another 25-30% live in suburban areas.

    The wasteful spending is mostly coming from the Feds and Province. Let the cities raise their own taxes instead of thru transfer payouts and then we’ll see just how smart our city council is when it comes to finances.

  11. when the bullying tactics in council ends, I’m pretty confident in the mighty six’s votes swaying towards a common sense approach. And common sense to me is a safe city and public services to remain public. Do the Ford brothers have a special interest in privatizing the city? Are they blind to the fact that upper management is the real culprit in overspending and sole sourcing?

  12. @Moya

    I’m not talking about Miller’s budgets or how the city is funded; I’m asking why no one has suggested that this is a legacy issue of Miller, that Miller is ultimately the responsible party for the actions at the TCHC. He was the man in charge of the city and it was under his watch that the TCHC decided to spend wastefully (either through the misuse of funds or using contractors that weren’t doing a proper job of repairing the social housing). Whether directly or tacitly, it was Miller’s job to make sure that all of his departments were operating above board and without damaging the public trust.

    Instead, all I’m reading is Ford brothers this and Ford brothers that… that they are somehow the fault for this situation. The problems at the TCHC were under Miller’s reign, not Ford’s, so to call into question the action of Ford, who’s trying to clean up the TCHC, is ridiculous.

    Also, to attack the newbies on council is just as ridiculous. Perhaps they are just as appalled with the actions of the TCHC as the rest of Toronto and want the TCHC cleaned up as well. The mandate of city council is to run the city smoothly and efficiently for the public that elected them. We place the affairs of the city in their hands; we give them the power to run the city for us.
    When portions of that government decide to abuse that privilege, then it’s up to the councilors to take responsibility for those actions and to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. To me, that is what the newbies on council are doing; ensuring that the environment at the TCHC is changed so that abuses of the public trust don’t happen in the future.

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