Could anyone scanning the municipal horizon a year ago have imagined how eventful 2012 would turn out to be?
As the year progressed, City Hall fell deeper and deeper into a funk caused by the mayor's inability to compromise. Though council responded admirably, there was a sense of growing dysfunction, a lot of nastiness all around and little true discussion. Will 2013 be the start of improvements in our civic culture - or more of the same?
Early in the new year we'll know the fate of Mayor Rob Ford, and if, as I suspect, the ruling removing him from office is upheld, council will have to make difficult decisions about how to deal with the vacancy.
It's likely councillors will choose a by-election, in which case most of council's attention in the first half of the year will be on the mayoral showdown, despite the fact that intense debates on the future of the Gardiner and the possibility of a local casino are pending.
One thing is clear, though: Ford's legal problems, regardless of the outcome of his conflict-of-interest appeal, will be complicated. Sometime this month the results of the compliance audit of his election campaign will be released. Then we'll know if the mayor seriously violated the campaign rules laid out in the Municipal Act by accepting illegal contributions, illegally borrowing money from his family business and under-reporting expenditures. If only some of these allegations are true, he will face his greatest legal challenge to date.
Despite a potential by-election, council will have to pass a budget, and it remains uncertain whether councillors will support the mayor's agenda of cuts to emergency services like fire, EMS and police, which many argue would occasion layoffs and endanger critical services.
Other departments are also feeling the squeeze of frozen budgets and growing populations needing more of existing services, and it appears council is beginning to realize that this is an untenable situation.
Besides the budget, transit will continue to take up a lot of the civic discourse. No new lines are set to open for at least another three years (the Spadina Extension debuts in 2016), but the appearance of new low-floor streetcars in 2013 will offer hope that transit is improving.
The LRT/subway discussion is still a heated topic; expect a lot more debate about it, especially in the event of a mayoral by-election.
But capable transit management means more than expansion. With ridership growing at 4 to 5 per cent annually and little money for more service, there will likely be more squeezes despite the 5¢ fare increase. While efforts to improve TTC customer service are praiseworthy, this will be cold comfort when riders increasingly have trouble boarding crowded vehicles. It'll be even more frustrating for Wheel-Trans users as budget cuts tighten eligibility for that service and vehicles become less available for needed trips.
A large part of city financing, particularly for large files like transit expansion and affordable housing, comes from the province - and much depends on who's holding the reins at Queen's Park. We'll find out who replaces Premier Dalton McGuinty in January, and likely soon after that we'll get a sense of whether he or she understands municipal issues and is willing to help.
Of course, the new Liberal leader or the opposition parties may force an election as early as spring. And the outcome of that election will have a big effect locally because municipal revenue generation tools and new regulatory powers require changes to provincial laws - not items this Liberal minority government cared about.
An NDP government could be elected for the first time in two decades, which might lead to a very pro-cities agenda. Equally likely is a Tim Hudak Conservative victory, which, owing to the PCs' base in rural and suburban areas, wouldn't be in sync with T.O.'s needs.
Finally, the world financial situation could play a big role in determining whether Toronto has a good 2013. The conflict in the U.S. between Republicans and Democrats over how to rein in the budget could lead to large cuts and tax increases that could seriously hurt Canada's economy.
Combine this with economic uncertainly in Europe and the new year could see the world slipping back into recession. While Canada has avoided the bulk of economic troubles to date, the city is vulnerable to global pressures.
Besides the potential for local residents to lose their jobs, the condo boom transforming the landscape could also be affected. If tax revenue falls, serious budget cuts will again be on the table, which could further threaten local services. Provincial loss of revenue due to the economic situation would certainly diminish the chances of further investment, too.
A lot of ifs are on the horizon for the year ahead, plus the possibility of elections dominated by lofty talk but little change. Still, we could shake off conservative control of the city. That's something to look forward to.