what a break for mayor mel. just when he was losing his political potency and appeared to be drifting -- unable or unwilling to focus -- along came OCAP to offer the perfect cover. Tuesday's demo created the ideal distraction to take the heat off the mayor, who was being trashed by local pundits for dissing city planner Paul Bedford's waterfront plan.
It's unfortunate, because in this post-September 11 world, amidst all the chaos and fear, we need a measured leader who will stand up for the city and its dreams and not allow them to slip away.
Mel could easily have applauded Bedford's ambitious vision to develop and reconnect the waterfront to the city. And he could have chosen to quietly resolve any problems he had with it internally. But he didn't.
After delaying the release of Bedford's recommendations, Mel finally missed the press conference (apparently for personal reasons) and later that day snubbed the plan because of its lack of financial details on how to pay for the proposed dismantling of the Gardiner Expressway.
It's telling that even his staunch supporter Toronto Star City Hall columnist Royson James felt the need to give the mayor a front-page slap. Mel "has lost his bearings and, maybe, his stomach for the job as leader of Canada's largest city," James scolded.
We can only speculate about why the mayor would begin to turn on his own potential lasting legacy. One thought is that Mel is stalling to allow time for his corporate buddies to come up with a plan for the division of the waterfront. Or, perhaps preserving the land for the next Olympic bid? It's not out of the question.
"At the root of all of this is money -- you figure out who's getting rich, and that tells you why the mayor's acting the way he is," says one City Hall insider. "Otherwise, what he's done makes no sense. It's inexplicable. It's just a complete abdication of the role of mayor."
However, councillor and chair of the city's waterfront reference group Joe Pantalone says it could have just been the mayor's anxiety talking.
"If he made an error, it was maybe in thinking out loud and maybe letting his fears come through that you can't take down the Gardiner unless there's significant funding from the two levels of government."
Indeed, while Jean Chretien, Mike Harris and Mel were all smiles and commitments on the waterfront in the run-up to the International Olympic Committee's pick for the 2008 Summer Games locale, since July that relationship has disintegrated.
The provincial Tories have yet to incorporate the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation, which, under the leadership of Robert Fung, is supposed to steward the money and the project's plan. And the federally mandated Toronto Port Authority has launched a legal action against the city for the return of 600 acres of waterfront land the Authority claims were "improperly transferred" to the city.
Since Bedford is the city planner, some insiders have been asking why Mel expected him to come up with a financial plan.
Isn't that Mel's department? After all, didn't Mel sell the billion-dollar Sheppard subway expansion on the promise of development charges?
"People have different opinions of that," admits deputy mayor Case Ootes. "Bedford's the planner and he doesn't concern himself with the financial aspects of it. Whether that's right or wrong, I don't know."
Whether the city will tear down the Gardiner and make a move toward a more environmentally sustainable future will be debated by council later this winter. Keep your eyes on the interests lining up around the mayor. They may fill in the blanks in the story of Mel's strange behaviour.
MEL'S GARDINER FLIP-FLOPS
"It's time we reunited our city with the waterfront.... We could lift the concrete curtain between our city and our harbour and lakefront.... Best of all, half the cost... would be picked up by people outside of Toronto.... Right now the Gardiner is a free driveway for the 905 at the 416's expense."
"Staff have shown me that (burying the Gardiner) is not going to do anything except cost money. Unless people have some good reasons why it should go ahead, it's dead."
"This is a waterfront development concept (recommending the "gradual removal of the Gardiner') that is breathtaking in scope and imminently attainable in reality."
"I think we have to take down the Gardiner. The Gardiner is costing us a fortune now, between $15 million and $25 million a year. Why keep repairing it?"
"It would be nice to take it down. But I'm not going to pay that kind of money for a pretty picture."