In the hours, days, weeks and months prior to 7:04 pm on January 17th, 2012, Rob Ford held control of Toronto City Council. At this point, it's difficult to remember what that was like. The Ford juggernaut was no more polished or organized than it has been at any time since, but just the fact of Ford being a very juggernaut-y boy was enough to help his administration coast ably for over a year. There had been some retreats and defeats, yes, most notably with regard to Doug Ford's waterfront fantasy. But that was easily blamed on a rogue brother, from whom the mayor could distance himself when convenient.
On everything else big and important, Rob Ford and his office held sway. Through sheer force of repetition, he had drilled in the message that the City of Toronto's 2012 operating budget would be an apocalyptic nightmare demanding desperate measures (i.e., cuts) to overcome a virtually insurmountable $774 million "deficit" (actually an opening shortfall, and one that was in line with what the City had faced in previous years). Much of 2011 was devoted to making the case for the forthcoming 2012 budget, and it was a transparent example of crisis fabrication: the ultimate goal was the shrinking of government for its own sake.
On that January 17th, however, Council rose up. The planning and organizing had begun much earlier, of course, and the extent to which the left and centre had their shit together took everyone by surprise. The consciously leaderless coalition had been having their own regular meetings, and their caucus had slowly grown with each one. And so on the day that City Council debated the 2012 budget, Ford's opposition had a specific strategy in place, and just enough votes to get their motions through.
The most important piece was given to Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence), in no small part for the symbolic value: he was a right-leaning centrist who until then had frequently supported Ford. And when he moved his motion, the play became clear - it was a kind of omnibus package of cut reversals, to be funded from the previous year's larger-than-expected surplus. (City staff always budget very conservatively, and so larger-than-expected surpluses have in truth become rather expected.) By lumping together the salvation of various councillors' particular interests (child care, ice rinks, shelters, etc.), they were able to acquire more support for the bunch than they would have for each by itself. Councillor Gloria Linday Luby's (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre) support, for example, was obtained through the inclusion of Etobicoke's mechanical leaf collection in the list of services to be saved.
At around 7:00 that evening, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), then still the mayor's right-hand thumb, asked for each part of the motion to be voted on separately. Colle, on the other hand, demanded it be considered as a parcel. Speaker Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), a staunch Ford ally, sided with Mammoliti. Colle challenged her ruling, which was then put to Council: 21 councillors voted to uphold her decision, and 23 councillors voted to reject it. A few minutes later, Council adopted Colle's motion in its entirety - also by a 23-21 split - and that was the beginning of the end for Rob Ford. He had lost control of City Council on this most pivotal matter; it was basically a non-confidence vote.
One after another, other motions to redeem services were voted on, and most were adopted with the same or similar margins. Ford Nation was collapsing.
Outside City Hall's front doors, anti-cuts protesters were clashing with police. The tweets echoing up from the ground floor to the Council Chambers painted a frightening and chaotic picture. For once, the City's budget battle felt just as apocalyptic as Ford had made it sound.
"It's really charming and novel watching a protest crowd suddenly faced with the problem of having gotten everything it wanted," tweeted Anthony Oliveira, a grad student whose research focuses on eschatology.
And that is essentially the predicament that Council's left finds itself in this year. While there is no doubt that the 2013 operating budget leaves much to be desired (cuts to the Shelter, Support & Housing Administration are particularly concerning), it doesn't evoke the same sort of anger and fear. Ford's opponents may be marshalling themselves behind the scenes to push through adjustments, but there doesn't appear to be any sort of broad-based revolution in the works.
At the meeting of his Executive Committee on Thursday, January 10th, Mayor Rob Ford moved his own omnibus motion, sprinkling money in the direction of several things that were set to be cut. These included some paramedic jobs, library materials, and, yes, mechanical leaf collection.
This likely had as much to do with the prospect of an upcoming by-election (or campaign for re-appointment) as it did with anything else. But still. As Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) told the Toronto Sun, Ford is "afraid to bring a Ford budget to council because he knows he'd get beaten like he did last year."
Instead of casting his budget as the last hope for humanity, Ford has taken to framing it as a something-for-everyone triumph.
"You seem to have changed," CP24's Stephen LeDrew said to Ford on Monday the 14th. "Not in your direction, and not in your goals, but you know there's a different Rob Ford sitting here than before. Have you learned some lessons after this? You've won a big court case on that litigation, with the restaurant on the beach. This has caused you some problems, no question. Has it changed your outlook or how you're going to be dealing with things?
Despite this being very much a softball, Ford managed to swing and miss. "I don't say I would change," he protested. "I am who I am. I'm very fiscally responsible, with a social conscience."
"The way you do things," LeDrew interrupted, helping him out. "Everybody knows you have your goals, and your goals are staying the same because that's what you are."
"I'm Rob Ford," he reiterated. "It's gonna be pretty hard to change."
The next morning, Ford effectively voted against his own budget, in favour of an unexpected property tax freeze put forward by Mammoliti.
The motion lost 4-40. Even Doug was opposed.
Correction (1/17/2013, 1:45 PM): An earlier version of this article referred to comments Stephen LeDrew made to Rob Ford on "Monday the 15th." Monday was actually the 14th. We regret the error.