Getting all messed up on TCHC: a ten-point guide

Okay. Let’s start with the easy stuff. There’s a local scandal gripping the news at the moment involving the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. You’ve heard about it. I wrote a bunch of things related to it. In sum: you should be mad about it. A lot of bad things happened. We need to make this better.

Today at Council, a series of things happened spinning out of this. Many of them involve some of the more esoteric rules of council. All of them involve weird political gamesmanship that only sort of make sense. The major claim is that this is about accountability. The accusation is that it’s about privatizing public housing. The truth? It’s lost somewhere in there.

Let’s walk through it together.

  1. Soon after starting for the day, council opts to consider MM5.7, a motion that would dissolve the TCHC Board of Directors and replace them indefinitely with a Managing Director, widely expected to be former councillor Case Ootes. Ootes has, in the past, shown some interest in exploring selling off TCHC properties.
  2. Before anything can happen, council needs to vote, with a two-thirds majority of present councillors, to consider the motion.
  3. Councillors vote, and a two-thirds majority is not achieved. With right-leaning councillors Michelle Beradinetti, Mark Grimes and Ron Moeser absent, 28 votes were required. They got 26. (Even if the three absentee councillors had been there to vote, it’s unlikely they would have achieved the two-thirds majority. Of the dissenting councillors, their best hope was Raymond Cho. And he broke ranks with Team Ford very publicly during the budget debates.)
  4. Everyone assumes the thing they just voted for was a motion to ‘Waive Referral,’ which would send the item to the Executive Committee. It wasn’t. It’s a motion to ‘Waive Notice.’ This becomes important later.
  5. People opposed to the mayor are happy. The Star describes the vote as the mayor’s “first significant defeat.” Which is a bit sad, because, pre-election, who would have thought Rob Ford coming close to commanding two-thirds of city council was even a remote possibility? The mayor is less happy. The person who controls his Twitter accounts sends out this: “It’s unfortunate some councillors don’t want to discuss accountability at the TCHC.” (One could point out that they do want to discuss it — in the framework of the established process. Immediately dissolving the board and replacing them with Case Ootes is kind of the opposite of discussion.)
  6. Because everyone assumes they’ve just voted to refer the motion to the Executive Committee, that committee opts to hold a special meeting at lunchtime tomorrow, during which they will quickly approve the item, then put it on the agenda for another meeting.
  7. As meetings of the executive committee allow deputations — something that doesn’t happen at council meetings — many people sign up to speak at tomorrow’s meetings. There is speculation that the left-leaning councillors might filibuster the meeting, delaying things further.
  8. But wait! Some digging causes someone to realize that the item they voted on earlier was, in fact, a Notice of Motion. All this does is delay the item to a future council meeting. And with that, the executive committee meeting — along with all the deputations, which presumably would have come from TCHC residents in large part — was cancelled. In its place, there will be a “special” Council Meeting immediately following the scheduled meeting tomorrow, in which this item will be discussed.
  9. Left-leaning councillors think this is ridiculous. Pam McConnell calls it “reprehensible.” Gord Perks, apparently, storms off in a huff. Council’s right plays innocent, asking why their counterparts wouldn’t want to discuss the issue now? It’s a scandal! We need accountability! Accountability that can only be realized, I guess, by kicking off two members of the board who were elected by tenants and two councillors who have only been in their positions since December.
  10. Speaking at the end of council today, Mayor Ford rises and asks if it might be possible to move the “special” council meeting, currently set for 5:30 p.m., up a few hours.

So here we are. After all the confusion and maneuvering, we’re left with essentially, the original motion to replace the remaining members of the TCHC board — the tenant reps, Raymond Cho and Maria Augimeri — with Managing Director Case Ootes. It will probably pass.

The question, of course, is what the hell is the big rush? What’s so wrong with letting the city’s audit committee deal with this? With working with the remaining board members to determine a path going forward that makes sense for tenants?

The smell coming off of this is that the mayor sees an opportunity to use the auditor general’s report as a smokescreen to usher in structural changes to TCHC governance that will open the door to privatization. Some will call that a conspiracy theory, but given the haste with which Team Ford is acting on this and the mayor’s public admission that he would “absolutely” privatize TCHC, is it really that crazy a thought?

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