Photo by STEVE RUSSELL / Getty Images
We've got to be thankful at this point that we don't have a U.S.-style strong mayor system - or we'd be in really deep trouble right about now.
As it is, because the powers of the chief magistrate are limited, the current crisis is confined to Rob Ford's own office, and the main consequences are his rapidly declining credibility and the embarrassment we're feeling as the world feasts on the drama.
So despite all the craziness coming from Ford headquarters these days and all the hand-wringing about City Hall not working, staff continue to initiate reports based on their professional experience, and council and its committees continue to transact business. The truth is that most of the 300-plus items considered each month are staff-driven and arrive regardless of who is or isn't sitting in the mayor's chair.
Since mid-May, when the crack video furor erupted, several important issues have made their way through the system. The very day the scandal broke, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee directed staff to start negotiations with Enwave Energy Corporation for a major expansion of the Deep Lake Water Cooling System, already one of the continent's largest projects aimed at cooling large downtown towers.
This, by any account, is a major step forward in Toronto's plan to reduce the burden on the electrical network and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Little, though, was reported on this breakthrough, naturally.
In other matters, if Ford were focusing on policy, he'd no doubt be gratified by one of the reports passed by the Community Development and Recreation Committee, which approved several motions to enact the recommendations of the Service Efficiency Study For Hostel Services. These call for REOIs (Requests for Expression of Interest) for provision of private food and facility services at city shelters and for operating the Fort York Residence (a shelter for men). These are essentially privatization moves, but current distractions mean few observers have clued in.
And for a man obsessed with reducing taxes, Ford should have been somewhat interested in the settlement of the bank towers tax assessment appeal involving tens of millions of dollars that left the city with more cash then expected. The executive last week allocated the leftovers.
The May council cycle also weighed a report from the Board of Health on how to help medically uninsured Toronto residents, and the executive committee considered how to improve collection of unpaid provincial fines for non-criminal acts like vehicle infractions, trespassing and liquor licensing violations.
The executive also passed a motion to retain a consultant to report on options for changing ward boundaries, including a reduction in the number of wards - a critical item destined to be hugely controversial.
City business grinds along. The next round of committee meetings in July, the last before the August break, will be more packed than ever.
This isn't to say the process is working perfectly, and perhaps we should be glad it isn't. The mayor, once he began to lose control of council, has initiated very few items. And fortunately, he doesn't operate efficiently on other levels.
For example, a mayor can set an agenda by using his/her authority to ask for briefings from staff in order to push for completion of critical projects in a timely manner and influence, not dictate, report contents. David Miller worked with project leaders at the city and TTC to get construction started on the Sheppard LRT less than two and half years after it was announced - a record for a transit project. He accomplished this by frequent meetings.
A mayor's aids, if they're experienced, can help by consulting with city staff in the mayor's name. Ford doesn't seem to understand this and rarely meets with staff. As well, he goes through his own staff quickly - the last few weeks have broken records on that front - so none of his hires get to develop know-how.
With only about six months before the election year starts, there's still a lot of city business ahead - quite apart from whether Ford is or isn't taken down by the surfacing of a notorious video. So keep an eye on the normal, less dramatic stuff that will have long-term consequences.