Stubborn mayor paying price


Digging in his heels, hunkering down, entrenching his position – call it what you want, as council headed into a special session aimed at overturning his transit plans Wednesday (February 8), Rob Ford gave every indication he’s not backing down.

Even for a pol known for stubbornness, the mayor’s refusal to compromise on transit is remarkable. It was one thing for him to ignore inconvenient truths when he promised on the campaign trail to deliver subways, but by refusing to acknowledge dissent on council, he has crossed the line into ignoring political reality.

The unprecedented special council vote, called by TTC chair Karen Stintz with the backing of 23 other councillors, was a crisis of Ford’s own making. Two weeks ago, Stintz and others floated a compromise plan that would have brought the Eglinton LRT above ground in the suburbs, against Ford’s wishes, but also acquiesced to his demand to start work on the Sheppard subway extension.

Although it was clear then that opposition was mounting, Ford rejected the offer, betting there was still enough support for his underground plan. There wasn’t.

“Karen Stintz made a very earnest effort to find a compromise. Many of us were prepared to support the mayor if he was willing to work with us,” said Councillor Josh Matlow. “The mayor chose not to.”

This isn’t the first time Ford has spurned a face-saving compromise. Centrists who blocked many of his budget cuts last month say he refused their olive branch on the eve of that vote.

The result is that he is increasingly divorced from council. His close ally Councillor Norm Kelly echoed what seems to be the mayor’s relationship with the elected representatives this week when he said he would reject the vote if a majority of council approved a return to Transit City.

“Would I respect it? No, because I think it’s the wrong decision,” said Kelly, who sits on the TTC board. “Councillors who support the surface plan are ignoring the will of the residents of Toronto as expressed in the last election.”

This garrison-mentality response to the changing situation raises troubling questions about how the city will proceed with transit planning.

While Ford has only one vote on council, he does have enough power to throw a wrench in the works. The TTC board is stacked with loyal appointees. Fordists like Giorgio Mammoliti have called for the current TTC manager to be fired, and it’s rumoured that Stintz will be deposed as TTC chair. Such moves could make carrying out a non-Ford-approved transit plan difficult.

Worse, the province could take any disagreement between the mayor and council as an excuse to make its own transit plan, or to take back some of the $8.4 billion it’s offered.

“There’s a lot he can do to subvert council’s will. Obviously, the mayor has a big stick that he can use,” says Councillor Joe Mihevc, a former TTC commissioner who opposes Ford’s underground plan.

And transit isn’t the only thing at stake. Perhaps that’s why, as the mayor’s power wanes, some councillors on the left aren’t as jubilant as you might expect.

“The problem we’re all facing for the next two and a half years is that we have no centre of gravity as a political organization. It’s uncharted,” says Councillor Gord Perks, a long-time opponent of the mayor. “I think it’s going to hurt everything we’re trying to do.”



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