Did Mayor Rob Ford move the pigskin towards his end zone last week?
An average – which is to say marginally informed – voter might say the answer is an unequivocal, Yes! The headlines told us that garbage privatization, the Holy Grail of his mayoralty, is now a large step closer to reality. An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted for an association of waste haulers confirmed that 60% of Torontonians are untroubled by outsourcing. And the mayor’s personal popularity seems in tact, despite a looming (and politically inconvenient) investigation into whether his campaign organization broke both provincial and municipal election laws.
But a closer read of the results at council last week suggests the brothers Ford are second-and-15, if I may invoke yet another football metaphor. On several non-trivial motions – regarding waste management outsourcing, the future of community-based advisory councils, and the dumping of toxic chemicals into Lake Ontario – the Fords came out on the losing side of very close votes.
In several cases, which I’ll detail in a moment, they didn’t manage to whip some of their core cabinet ministers and the newbies who normally align with them.
Then there’s ongoing saga of the by-election in Ward 9. After Maria Augimeri’s lawyers announced she’d appeal the judicial ruling that found irregularities with the vote count, city clerk Ulli Watkiss reversed her reversal and declared the city would, in fact, launch an appeal – a gesture that brought a tongue-lashing from the mayor, who, as my colleague Marcus Gee remarked, has recklessly inserted himself into the thick of a legal process. Perhaps stung by earlier allegations that she’d caved to Ford’s pressure tactics, Watkiss seems to have decided to assert the independence of her office.
Let’s start with council.
As Spacing contributors Adam Chaleff-Freuddenthaler and Jonathan Goldsbie noted in their tweets, Michelle Berardinetti, a right-leaning Scarborough Liberal, was the deciding vote on a motion by Councillor Gord Perks to stop the practice of dumping chlorine from the Ashbridges Bay treatment plant into Lake Ontario. The 18-17 vote on Thursday afternoon reversed a recommendation from Denzil Minnan-Wong’s works committee that was supported by the mayor’s party.
The Fords’ bid to silence a bevy of citizen advisory committees that produce the wrong flavour of policy advice similarly turned out to be more difficult than originally envisioned.
A Mike Layton motion to protect the aboriginal affairs committee sailed through 27-15, with a long list of Ford loyalists (Gary Crawford, Frank di Giorgio, Chin Lee, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Peter Milczyn, James Pasternak, Jaye Robinson, Karen Stintz) siding with the dreaded socialist scion. Robinson’s motion to ask for more detailed staff analysis, due in July, on the usefulness of these committees seemed designed to save the mayor from imminent embarrassment. After all, most politicians like to maintain the pretence that they listen to all perspectives.
As for the garbage privatization file, the Fords’ tactic coming in to the meeting was to allow council, as opposed to the bid committee, award the tender. The move, he said in a speech which sounded like it was written during the Cold War, will force all the councillors to reveal whether or not they’re “socialists.”
The particular gambit worked, to the chagrin of CUPE officials. But a handful of successful motions by the Joshes Matlow and Colle are more than just lipstick on a pig. One of Colle’s motions, which passed by a large margin, is a request that the auditor-general “consider conducting a post-implementation audit of the awarded contracts that focuses on, but is not limited to, diversion targets achieved, customer service levels and cost savings.”
Jeff Griffiths is almost certain to agree, and his assessment will offer the final word on whether outsourcing saves money or if it’s mainly about busting the union. After all, the city’s waste management officials have muddied the policy waters by taking explicitly contradictory positions on this most political of questions. An objective answer would resolve the point for future councils and voters at large.
Colle also slipped in a motion asking bidders to reveal their plans to hire some of the 300 displaced city temp workers affected by this decision; it won 24-20 thanks to the support of a handful of councillors who normally vote with the brothers (Norm Kelly, Di Giorgio, Gloria Lindsay Luby, McMahon). With council voting on the final award, the bidders now have a strong incentive to ensure these individuals aren’t out on the street.
The most interesting one, however, was Josh Matlow’s motion to ban bids from Progressive Waste Solutions, which last month hired the city’s long-time waste management boss Geoff Rathbone, presumably to help the firm land this lucrative deal. That one passed 23-21, with the winning votes cast by Ron Moeser, James Pasternak and Caeser Palacio, three of the Fords’ most stalwart allies.
The significance of this motion shouldn’t be underestimated. While city lawyers insist council was within its rights to take such a step, Progressive officials are now saying the company may sue. Who’s surprised? The contract is a big money prize and there’s a promise of more to come. Progressive, which clearly wants a long-term relationship with the city, has every incentive to rag the puck in the courts because a prolonged legal fight could delay the privatization process and thus one of the Fords’ key election promises. Given what’s at stake, it’s nothing short of remarkable that the brothers failed to whip their guys.
What’s the take-away? The Fords like to believe their electoral mandate – and subsequent polling results – magically translates into touchdowns at council. Not true, especially with a mayor whose diplomatic skills are roughly on par with those of a typical schoolyard bully.
The newbies, it seems, may not want to be manhandled all the time. But these results aren’t just about ineffective whipping and insufficient stroking. Those close losses for the brothers reveal, to me, that the mushy middle councillors, and even some of the mayor’s loyalists, are feeling a wee bit uncomfortable with the program. No wonder the Fords are betting so heavily on Gus Cusimano in Ward 9 (if he wins, they’ll make sure he never forgets the favour he owes them).
That discomfort will only grow when council gets a look at the implications of next year’s humongous budget cuts, especially on core services like the TTC and recreation programs. And it may catch fire when council (and the public) realizes what some of the mayor’s key advisors are beginning to acknowledge privately: that they were sold a bill of goods with his privately-funded Sheppard subway scheme.
A mayor with a solid mandate doesn’t, and shouldn’t, lose key votes on motions that advance the core agenda. Yet this mayor is starting to lose those votes.
photo form the Toronto Archives: series 372, subseries 100, item 571