LORINC: Mayor Ford fumbles for third time on transit

The Great Subway Battle of 2012™ was Mayor Rob Ford’s to lose, and he lost it with such single-mindedness and determination that this episode may well go down in Toronto history as the textbook example of political self-immolation.

Future generations of urban government students and ambitious party operatives will sift through the sorry details for shards of insight on how to avoid IEDs and devastating missteps. Indeed, a new phrase – “they really Forded that issue” – should enter our lexicon.

Scarborough’s long-suffering residents will be encouraged to believe that their craving for rapid transit was thwarted — again! — by a collection of hypocritical downtown pinkos and a small team of ideological turncoats.


But the vector of blame in this case travels only in one direction, and that is towards the mayor. Indeed, there were few strategic or tactical errors the Ford administration didn’t make:

  • Alienating and bullying key council allies to such an extent that enough of them were prepared to switch teams;
  • Ignoring Gordon Chong’s worldly advice about the need to make a Triple-P deal attractive to investors;
  • Failing to engage the city’s senior bureaucracy to prepare options for a realistic funding plan in advance of the council debate, opting instead of outsource the policy analysis and then do the work on the cheap;
  • Lobbing transparently partisan threats at Premier Dalton McGuinty, the man with the cash, in the faint hope that a rump group of Scarborough Liberals will over-ride the rest of the cabinet;
  • Refusing to build a broad-based public consensus about new funding tools, opting instead to pursue the politics of division (a few thousand names on a petition in a city of 2.5 million isn’t evidence of a public opinion movement);
  • Disregarding a wide range of factual evidence about transit technology, choosing instead to cherry pick de-contextualized statistics.
  • Dismissing opposing points of view as mere partisan misinformation.

So now what?

Seems to me the mayor has two choices facing him.

Option A: He could view this loss as the unofficial launch of his 2014 re-election campaign. Until a rival formally registers on January 1, 2014, he’ll use some combined caricature of Stintz/Lindsay Luby/Cho/Augimeri as a proxy opponent. This medusa, Ford will tell us, is responsible for visiting the boundless horror of mulish trams on the long-suffering folk of Scarborough and North York.

Thus positioned, Ford gets himself back to his preferred stance as the principled truth-teller and the quintessential council outsider. Moreover, when he tries to press ahead with the balance of his mandate – cutting council in half; eliminating the land transfer tax, etc. – he can again claim victory in defeat. The Stintz coalition, I’m guessing, will put the brakes on these measures, and the Fords, in permanent campaign mode, will continue tilting at windmills with impunity.

Option B: If he makes a herculean effort to move beyond his normal mode, Ford could find the learning to be had in this fiasco and attempt to recast his mayoralty to respond to pointed accusations from his own supporters (e.g. Jaye Robinson) that he’s failed to lead. This realization would mean firing his senior staff and replacing them with seasoned advisors who don’t view the world – which is to say council and the city’s residents — in purely Manichean terms. And it would entail recasting his cabinet to include not just obedient allies (an ever diminishing cast of characters) but also councillors from elsewhere on the political spectrum.

Ford might even establish a small working group – again, local politicians representing a range of views – to develop some kind of high-level agenda for the balance of this term. They could begin with a few broadly supported goals – e.g., the development of a long-term transit funding strategy — that could serve to bring down the temperature and re-establish the crazy notion that people of opposing viewpoints can actually work together to solve problems.

It’s an open question whether the centre-left would participate in such an exercise, but councillors like Peter Milczyn, Josh Colle, Mary-Margaret McMahon and Kristyn Wong-Tam have demonstrated an ability to straddle council divisions.

I think we can pretty much predict which route the mayor and his brother will pursue. After all, Option B requires not just a measure of introspection, but also the ability to listen to those voices on the right who are quietly aghast by the disgraceful way the Bros. Ford have squandered the mayor’s considerable mandate.

But the point can’t be made often enough: Rob Ford is uniquely unqualified for the position he holds. He is a spectacular example of the Peter Principle at work. There’s nothing in his past to suggest he’s going to grow into this job anytime soon.

Addendum (4:20pm): At a scrum in front of his office after council broke up, Ford did indeed say the council decision marks the beginning of the next election campaign. “We’re going to fight streetcars against subways in the next election,” he said. “I can’t wait for that.”


  1. As a non-Torontonian, I am fascinated by watching this unfold. I live in Oak Bay, a wealthy suburb of Victoria, and we just had a mayor who retired who was very much the opposite of Ford. He managed to cajole and talk his way into getting nearly the entire council to support divisive issues.But hey, at least this failure of a mayor isn’t able to stand in the way of transit progress.

  2. I expect it’s likely that Ford will be facing mandatory retirement well before the next election, either for legal reasons (Ruby’s conflict of interest case) or health. The man’s a walking cardiac failure, except for the walking part.

    Either means we’re likely to see Doug Ford run for Mayor.

    Richard Florida, please consider running!

  3. With a bit of luck Hizzoner will be looking for a new job tomorrow anyway. Nothing he says now matters until that little item is resolved.

  4. Mayor Ford, post council vote loss, states that this will be an election issue.  That means that, typically for Toronto, nothing will be happening on the transit front for years to come.  Where is the rational leadership for Toronto?

  5. It’s obvious that he seems to be choosing Option A so far, going on John Tory’s show, repeating his 2nd speech to council – toned down one – people want subways LRT=St Clair =Disaster. It wasn’t just Robinson calling him out on lack of leadership but Shriner, Milczyn and others. A deal was possible at least to Vic Park on Shepard but Ford and his staff did not have the political acumen to make it. It was telling that Ford did not speak at all yesterday and never spoke to Del Grande’s ‘Hail Mary’ attempt and even had him withdraw it this morning. Craziness.

    What remains to be seen is wether he will try and order city bureaucrats to try to obstruct and halt/slow LRT construction. It helps pro LRT TTC commission is in place but what of planning dept, transportation dept etc.

    If he pulled those kind of tricks could pro LRT councillors then get 2/3 majority to end the shenanigans and make him a true lame duck?

    Feels like their are some conservatives on Ford’s side that would not relish that kind of obstructionism on the part of Mayor now that a decision has been made.

  6. They really should complete the Sheppard line incrementally, though the debate has sadly been polarized as full build to Scarborough Centre versus LRT on Sheppard. It won’t make for good transit. I can’t see who’d want that extra transfer, and the Sheppard line has proven popular in spite of its stubway status. As for the rest of Transit City, it can’t come soon enough. Several suburban bus routes are no longer serving transit riders adequately.

  7. Mayor Ford – The first-step to Recovery it to accept and admit that you have a problem…

  8. “None so blind as those that will not see.” Mayor Ford is so set in his own mind that he will not see the benefit of LRT over subway. There is NOTHING wrong with the St.Clair streetcar line just as there is nothing wrong with Spadina. Both operate on their own right of way without interfering with vehicles. The same cannot be said for automobiles that routinely interfear with streetcars on shared street routes. Yet both Spadina  and St.Clair brought cries of doom that never came. 

  9. Next election platform? He’s already the mayor. What makes him think he can build subways his next term if he can’t build them while he’s currently in office. Clearly he’s not interested in ways to build subways but ways to get re-elected. I can’t imagine wanting to run for another term with all the punches he’s taking. 

  10. @ Mark G. While the city manager reports to the mayor, he is obliged to implement council’s decisions, which, in this case, means commencing negoitations with Metrolinx to proceed with the LRTs. In theory, Ford could try to pull a Webster on him, so to speak, but I predict that would precipitate yet another special meeting, etc. 

  11. I was relieved by this LRT/subway distraction. Now I fear the BroFo’s will turn their rage back on all the bicyclists who are getting in their way. Having been beaten by the beast, they can go back to shooting fish in a barrel.

  12. Hi John,

    I have a few questions and I’ve been scouring news sites looking for them with no avail.

    Any idea on when shovels will hit the ground again on Shepard?

    Will the city still have to pay fines for the delayed construction?

    Since Ford clearly didn’t have the authority to stop construction, but it was stopped anyway because he wanted it, who is ultimately responsible for this boondoggle?

    P.S: I really don’t think he’ll be taking option B. Like you said, option B requires “not just a measure of introspection, but also the ability to listen to those voices on the right who are quietly aghast by the disgraceful way the Bros. Ford have squandered the mayor’s considerable mandate”. To that I’d add a level of wisdom and intelligence that the Fords clearly lack. He (they are?) is truly unqualified for the job.

  13. Thomas, I think I can answer some of your questions:

    Any idea on when shovels will hit the ground again on Sheppard?
    The EA of the LRT has to be first re-activated and funds need to be released by Metrolinx. Could be in 2013.

    Will the city still have to pay fines for the delayed construction?
    No. Essentially, the City/TTC gets to keep $65 million towards these projects

    Since Ford clearly didn’t have the authority to stop construction, but it was stopped anyway because he wanted it, who is ultimately responsible for this boondoggle?
    You can argue it is mostly Ford, but the provincial Liberals decided to placate Ford as they were heading to their own election. The cynic in me says they knew Ford would mess it up and kept their options open. But a lot of this could have been avoided if Ford had the capacity to compromise and/or show some leadership.

  14. it’s always a good idea to listen to your inner cynic.

  15. Surely the spirit of “anonymous” on the internent calls out to launch a campaign for “Mayor Notford: Toronto 2014.”

    Let him argue with the man in the paper-bag mask for two years, and let Ford be the ballot question.

    “Vote Mayor Notford 2014: We should have winning sports teams in Toronto!”

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