There’s no other way to say it: last night, Rob Ford lost. After two months of spinning his budget as a smart and reasonable approach to improving the city’s financial situation, council quickly and decisively voted to overrule the mayor on a variety of items, adding millions of dollars back into the operating budget to preserve services that were on the chopping block.
This result wasn’t driven by a few lucky motions, but rather by a coordinated approach by a majority of councillors working against the mayor’s agenda. The strategy included careful messaging designed to court middle-aligned councillors, who would end up leading the charge for preserving programs and services. For those involved, the result of yesterday’s meeting was a foregone conclusion.
In the end, what was supposed to be a fractious three-day debate on a contentious budget wrapped up in less than twelve hours. After losing a number of key votes, the mayor was left to give a subdued — and short — press conference, wherein he did his best to save face, claiming he had had a positive impact on the budget, even if the outcome wasn’t what he wanted.
These results are important not only because they stave off what would have been some pretty devastating cuts to city programs, but also because they put the city into unprecedented political territory. Council has now shown a willingness to ignore and overturn key mayoral directives. The question going forward isn’t whether Rob Ford will be a good mayor or a bad mayor, but whether Rob Ford will be relevant at all to the important day-to-day decisions that matter in Toronto.
The votes added, all of which were individual motions on item EX14.1 — the 2012 Capital and Operating Budgets:
- Motion 1, as moved by Councillor Josh Colle, was the centrepiece strategic move of the day. Colle moved to take about $15 million from the 2011 operating surplus — which stands at more than $150 million and will be higher when all is said and done — to preserve TTC service, restore daycare funding, prevent pool closures and retain a number other services. The full text of the motion is here. This motion was engineered so that it could receive enough support to pass, and it did, with votes from councillors Gloria Lindsay Luby, Chin Lee and James Pasternak making the difference. It passed 23-21, sinking any hope the mayor’s team had left of emerging from this process with their pride intact.
- Motion 5, moved by the aforementioned Lindsay Luby, killed what would have been a foolhardy plan to charge two bucks to use all public pools (indoor and outdoor) in Toronto — read all about it. The scheme would have required new staff to operate, and any revenues would have been tempered by the huge cost required to set up and maintain payment infrastructure. Still, this was another narrow vote.
- Motion 6 came from Mary-Margaret McMahon, who has fashioned herself as a staunch environmentalist. Her motion preserved three positions at the Toronto Environmental Office that were on the chopping block. It also asked that the city continue to implement its Climate Change Action Plan. (Full text.) Her motion won with support from executive committee members Michelle Berardinetti and Jaye Robinson.
- Motion 9 served as the motion that stopped the library board from having to make near-impossible cuts to its operating budget. As moved my Raymond Cho (full text), this vote saw 22 councillors recognize that, really, Toronto’s library system has been run really damn well for almost a decade now. (Of note: Pasternak abstained because of a conflict of interest.)
- Motion 21a revealed just how willing council was to tinker with Ford’s budget. Council voted 23-21 to maintain the Live Green Toronto Community Animators program (text), which sees people work within communities to create greenspace and promote environmental initiatives. Ford-ally Gary Crawford along with Robinson were the difference-makers on this item.
- Lastly, Motion 21b was Ford’s sole major victory — the mayor also lost numerous other minor votes, including a bid by Karen Stintz to kill the city’s partnership with TDSB for community pools — as Mihvec was unable to muster enough support to stave off consideration of contracting out custodial services at Facilities Management and Real Estate Services.
All told, Ford was on the losing end of five of six major votes related to his 2012 budget. Council grew the mayor’s operating budget by about $20 million.
As was inevitable, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon has fallen below the 30% threshold and is now in the “opposition” category.
James Pasternak and Jaye Robinson both saw their Ford Nation percentage decline. Because she’s on the executive committee, I expect Robinson to continually hover around her current level. Pasternak, on the other hand, is likely only a few votes away from statistically joining the ranks of the “mighty middle.”
And, yeah, the biggest trend coming out of yesterday’s meeting? Council’s middle earned that “mighty” label. There was nothing mushy about them.
The mayor hit a sad 17% yesterday on major votes. For this term overall, his success rate is just over 60%.