When 24 councillors, representing the entire political spectrum, voted on February 8 to support Karen Stintz’s motion to block Mayor Rob Ford’s bid to set fire to $2 billion in provincial transit funding, they showed Torontonians what it means to rise above the normal-course political sniping at City Hall.
Sure, there were lots of residents who saw Stintz as a back-stabber, but the truth is that the mayor didn’t, and doesn’t, have a viable plan to build a subway on Sheppard. Those councillors recognized that the time had come to act like grown-ups and make a financially defensible decision the province could act on.
By sharp contrast, the ham-fisted ploy to wipe the Ford supporters off the TTC commission, which has surfaced in the last few days, looks to me like the mirror-image of the petty politics that cost the TTC chief general manager his job.
What’s more, the rushed spate of denials that followed Josh Matlow’s bizarre decision to reveal that plan to The Globe and Mail, well ahead to today’s council session, further suggests that the Stintz coalition is straining at the seams. All this static now threatens to drown out the more important story that surfaced on Thursday, which is that the Fords — and more precisely Doug, with his whacked-out scheme to pay for the thing with fictitious lottery revenue – won’t tolerate any new levies to finance their suburban subways, thus ensuring they’ll never be built.
So here’s the bottom line: if the Stintz coalition get down and dirty with the mayor’s team and their shameful approach to council politics, they’re going to lose the moral high ground and play directly into the Fords’ hands.
With a razor thin majority, I’d argue that the coalition doesn’t need to do too much to botch the March 21 vote on the future of Sheppard, which is to say the future of light rail in the suburbs. It is, in short, theirs to lose, and the internal politicking of recent days suggests to me they may well have it in them to screw this up.
The more specific question is this: if the coalition has the votes to defeat the Sheppard subway fantasy, why is it so important to bounce the Ford crew (Cesar Palacio, Frank DiGiorgio, Norm Kelly,
Doug Ford Denzil Minnan-Wong and Vincent Crisanti) from the Commission? Why not keep their powder dry until it’s really needed?
In my view, the power of the Stintz coalition is directly proportional to its capacity to not exercise that power except in exceptional circumstances. The less-is-more principle applies here in spades.
Why? Because the group has no leader with any kind of broad mandate; it is just a faction right now. Yes, Stintz precipitated this dynamic by calling out the mayor’s transit folly, and she was right to do so. But the coalition’s members include three potential mayoral candidates (Adam Vaughan, Shelley Carroll and Stintz, her protestations to the contrary notwithstanding), as well as plenty of partisans who may be thinking about the next provincial election as much as anything else.
The fact is that Ford is the mayor, and will be until 2014. He won by a solid margin in an election with a historically large turnout; real political authority stems from that accomplishment. How he uses his power is another matter, and he’ll be judged on his record two-and-a-half years hence. But that’s the way it should be.
If the coalition is trying to figure out its role going forward, I’d suggest they think about the Canadian Senate, which exercises its constitutional authority to override the House of Commons only in highly challenging situations.
The Stintz group coalesced because councillors of all political hue recognized that the mayor and his supporters were poised to make a truly historic mistake. For that reason, the coalition opted to release the emergency brakes.
It doesn’t follow that they now get to drive the train.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the originally posted version of this column Doug Ford was wrongly identified as a transit commissioner.