The mayor's office sent out an email to his supporters a few weeks back, as it does almost every Friday. As usual, the message was a collection of routine news concluding with a plug for his radio show.
But one paragraph did stick out.
"You have probably seen and heard a great deal of public discussion about transportation," it said.
"In the next few months, we will start to pull these various threads together and begin the process of developing a long-term transportation strategy for Toronto's future."
The surprising thing about that statement is the word "we," because it implies that Mayor Rob Ford intends to take a leading role in designing transit plans.
Since council voted down his Sheppard subway proposal last March, discussions about expanding transit, and more importantly how to pay for it, have gained powerful momentum. In February, the city launched the Feeling Congested consultation, which will gauge public support for revenue tools like road tolls, parking fees and payroll taxes. Meanwhile, Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, is gearing up to unveil its own funding plan in May, which is expected to include its own suite of revenue tools to pay for transit across the GTA.
Presumably, these are the "various threads" Ford is planning to "pull together." (His press secretary didn't respond to a request for comment). And that's curious, because so far he's shown no sign of supporting either of them. He has attended none of the five Feeling Congested public events, nor has he signalled his support for Metrolinx's plans.
In fact, many of his recent statements appear to be aimed squarely at undermining efforts undertaken by his own bureaucracy, Metrolinx and the TTC.
In the past two months, he's reiterated several times his promise to reject any new tolls or taxes because he believes the private sector will pay for transit, a message he reportedly took to a recent meeting of regional politicians.
And not only does he stand against the mainstream plans for Toronto's transit future, but he's also no fan of what's being done right now to relieve gridlock. Last week, with the TTC already taking delivery of 204 new streetcars priced at $1.2 billion, he told the Sun News Network he wants to phase out streetcars altogether and replace them with buses.
Faced with such vocal opposition, bureaucrats in charge of transit planning have found different ways to cope.
Some, like chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, try to ignore Ford's obstruction. "I don't speak on behalf of the mayor," was all Keesmaat would say in January when she launched the Feeling Congested campaign.
Others, like TTC CEO Andy Byford, acknowledge Ford's dissent but suggest it's harmless, as though it were coming from any bozo riding the subway instead of the most powerful office at City Hall. "Everyone's got views on streetcars," Byford said dismissively of the mayor's implausible plan to scrap surface rail last Thursday, February 28.
The disconnect between Ford's office and the bureaucracy appears so complete that the mayor's preferred transit funding option, a public-private partnership (or P3), was left off the list of tools on the Feeling Congested survey, despite Ford's passing a motion at executive committee directing that it be included.
City manager Joe Pennachetti has made it clear that P3s can't pay for transit construction, and it appears staff quietly decided to omit the option from the consultation.
Ford's antagonism toward new revenue tools may be distressing to the growing number of people who see them as the only way to pay for badly needed new lines. But the question is, can he derail the current push to expand Toronto's system?
TTC chair Karen Stintz is concerned enough to have suggested that Ford's message needs to be actively countered. "That's why it's so important that we have these public consultations, so we can clear up the misconception that private money is going to build us subways," she said in January.
But many council members think Ford lacks the clout to sabotage the approval of new revenue tools. "I don't think he has the gravitas. Frankly, around here he's not seen as the leader," says Councillor Joe Mihevc.
Councillor Michael Thompson, an ally of Ford's who chairs the Economic Development Committee, believes most councillors support new transit charges. He predicts they'll be adopted with or without the mayor's assent.
"The mayor's been consistent with respect to his views, and we respect that," says Thompson. "At the end of the day, council will make a decision. If we don't impose [revenue tools], that would then mean we're not serious about transit expansion."
Barring an unexpected about-face by the mayor, we can expect his opposition to any new taxes or tolls to get louder in the coming months as the October 2014 election approaches.
Keesmaat expects council to vote on potential funding tools by November 2013. If they're approved, and Ford's stance doesn't change, Toronto could be treated to the bizarre scenario of a sitting mayor campaigning for re-election on a promise to scrap a plan passed on his watch.
At Rob Ford's City Hall, stranger things have happened.