LORINC: Council opposition needs to keep eye on prize

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.

12 comments

  1. Trouble is, the current Commissioners are directly opposed to the plan that Council has chosen. It is quite evident from Webster’s firing that Palacio, Di Giorgio, Crisanti, Kelly, and Minnan-Wong (not Ford) will do their best to stymie that decision or at least drag their heels. This means that Council will have to override them on all sorts of issues if light rail is to actually be built—that is, Council would be acting as the Commission.

    I appreciate that Mayor Ford has a mandate, of sorts. That doesn’t mean he gets to dictate his own personal interests above what’s best for the city. It is clear that his conceit of subways that no one has to pay for is unrealistic and reflects a desire to put his mark on the city at any cost.

  2. Actually very surprised at your article. The mayor is acting irrationally (developers giving him a buck or two?) and it is the duty of councillors to keep him in check right now and wherever it is applicable. It is not for them to allow him to ruin Toronto and let him be voted out. If there is no strong alternative, he *will* be re-elected. Keeping him in check is not petty or dirty politics, but their duty to Toronto.

    The majority of Toronto did not vote for the mayor nor do they agree with every single thing he stood for… for that matter, the mayor did not stand for everything he said he did during the campaign… remember no service cuts?

  3. Have to agree with the above posters.

    Keeping Ford’s cronies on the TTC commission virtually guarantees that they will interfere with the will of council in matters of transit. It’s an untenable situation. Either deal with it today, or deal with these Fordite problem-makers for the next year or two.

    I agree that Stintz et al shouldn’t necessarily be allowed to completely “drive the train,” but in the absence of intelligent leadership, someone must take the wheel.

    Stintz is making the right call here, and doing it in the most democratic way possible by bringing it to council. (And risking her TTC chair position in the process.) Good on her.

  4. Your bias is showing. What is going on in Council at this juncture has nothing to do with intelligent transit choices for Toronto its all about POWER. We are saddled with a very dysfunctional City Government.

  5. “What is going on in Council at this juncture has nothing to do with intelligent transit choices for Toronto its all about POWER.” >> As far as I can tell there is only one intelligent transit choice on offer right now and it’s the fully funded fully planned LRT that council is pushing… the other “plan” is contingent on billions of dollars falling out of the sky which seems fairly unlikely to happen.

  6. 1) The Executive Committee put the issue of restructuring the Commission on the agenda for the Monday March 5th Council Meeting. Thus the so-called Stintz
    coalition was forced to act. 2) Regardless of that, they would have been quite justified in bouncing Councillor Di Giorgio for his comment that Mr. Webster had an obligation to “respect the mayor’s mandate.” That reflected his ignorance of the fact that the TTC is not another city department

  7. Ford won a mandate from the electorate to build subways largely with private money. Since little of that money has materialized, the mayor is expected to pursue alternatives. If it must, members of Council will use their weight to ensure that viable alternatives (i.e., light rail) are explored.

  8. The suburbs voted for Ford, not Toronto. This situation shows how strained this amalgamation is. Ford has no right to destroy Toronto. As far as the TTC goes, it has become almost unusable in my part of town and certainly totally unreliable. Even when streetcars come, they can be so full that no one can get on. I no longer shop at my favorite suburban stores as getting there is too much of a hassle. Business people should be concerned. Toronto needs new transit as fast as possible; preferably yesterday, and we can’t afford to waste any more time with Ford’s unrealistic fantasies.

  9. In normal times, under a normal (read: intelligent) Mayor, I would have no problem with a no-politician commission.  This is, in fact, exactly how most North American transit boards operate.  There is no local politician on the boards of the regional transit agencies in Boston or New York, nor the municipal-owned transit agency in San Francisco.  It’s just a bad idea.

    That said, Ford is without exception the dimmest, most insular, most selfish mayor seen in North America in decades and in such times unusual action is needed to protect the city from the fool they voted for.

  10. Further to iSkyscraper: Ford vs. Miller should be a reminder (to both the left and the right) that policies introduced by a “friendly” administration can also be used for different purposes by a subsequent “less friendly” administration. (And vice versa.)

    As an example: Toronto Open Data was introduced under the Miller administration and was populated by datasets of interest especially to progressives. Under the Ford administration, there seems (seemed?) to have been a shift in the focus of new datasets, more along conservative / populist lines.

  11. Hmm, looks like Stintz et al. did exactly what John advised against. Let us see what next.

    Personally I applaud her for the move. If the council does what John suggested, to sit back and let Ford drive, and only applies brake when it is heading over the edge of cliff, it is virtually guaranteed that we will have an impasse on the TTC file for the next 2.5 years. Not a bad strategy to ensure Ford get ousted, but that is a hell lot of time to waste for the most pressing issue that the city faces right now (or has been facing since a decade or so). So Mrs. Stintz has the guts (and ability) to act, brush the mayor aside and instate herself and the majority of council in the drivers’ seat. She is taking on a lot of risk with the bold move. But she has demonstrated both her ambition and her skill as a leader. Good for her.

  12. Another issue to consider is the Province. It’s bad enough for the provincial government to go ahead with a project the Mayor opposes – it would be worse to know that the TTC commission might also actively sabotage it. Making sure the commission is in line with council’s decision on the provincial money gives the Province better certainty about going ahead with Council’s decision.

Comments are closed.