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29
Mar 12

On labour, the Ford administration proves quietly effective – so why doesn’t anyone care?

Early last week, Toronto’s library workers went on strike. Everyone assumed they would. The city and the library have been at each other’s throats for much of the last year – through budget cuts and branch closures and threats of service reductions. The animosity between the library union and the Ford administration never quite got to the point of outright profanities and name calling, but it got pretty damn close.

If you had asked me on the weekend, I would have predicted a long and drawn out work stoppage. Libraries are vitally important to the city – especially when it comes to youth, seniors and low-income people – but their absence is less likely to cause an emotional response than, for example, a lack of garbage pick-up or reduced EMS response times. The city’s negotiators had a lot of breathing room on this one.

Which is why this, as reported by the Toronto Star’s Liam Casey, comes as a bit of a surprise:

Toronto Public Library workers have reached a tentative deal with the library board, according to its union.

The workers went on strike March 19, closing all 98 branches.

CUPE spokesperson Cim Nunn said the two sides have been meeting since the strike began and reached a deal through “long, hard work.”

via Toronto library strike: Union and board reach tentative deal to end strike | Toronto Star.

And, lo and behold, it looks like the city has found common ground with much of Local 79, the city’s inside workers. Yes, there’s still work to be done with part of that union, but we’re worlds away from speculation last summer that said the mayor would jump straight to a lockout, damn the torpedoes.

Like with the out-of-nowhere deal signed with the outside workers at CUPE 416 last month, these seemingly quick resolutions have got to be seen as a victory for the Ford administration. Contrary to the expectations of a lot of people who claim to have their finger on the pulse of things down at City Hall – including, um, me – the mayor has done reasonably well with labour, wringing the kind of concessions he promised without declaring bloody war on the public sector.

The unions deserve credit too, of course. What we’re seeing now – speedy resolutions to labour issues, a willingness to concede on certain sticking points – is a tacit admission from union leadership in this city that they really screwed things up in 2009, when workers went on strike for 40 days before ultimately conceding and accepting a deal. The public sector seems to know that they need to rebuild political support. And so they’re being conciliatory — often preemptively so. As far as workable long-term strategies go, this is the best the unions have.

Still, if Ford’s been pretty smart on the labour file, he’s been totally inept at turning that intelligence to his political advantage. While Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and the negotiating team at City Hall have been knocking out deals with various Locals, Ford’s been tilting at transit windmills and repeating the word “subways” so often he’s probably broken an obscure Guinness record for word repetition.

With the subways/LRT debate taking all the headlines, Ford’s done little to attach himself to the negotiations. Instead of holding press conferences and giving interviews trumpeting his ability to wring cost-saving concessions from city workers and open the door for the kind of contracting-out he promised in his campaign, the mayor has been almost invisible in this process.

You could make the argument that the mayor’s invisibility has been a blessing for the city’s negotiating team. Ford’s not particularly well-liked by a lot of union members, and his comments – followed, inevitably, by his brother’s comments – could serve only to add fuel to fire. The Fords have an uncanny ability to make any situation worse just by talking about it.

The other side of the coin, however, says that the mayor is a politician who’s been taking a beating lately. He desperately needs some checkmarks in his “win” column. These labour negotiations could provide that. Yes, it makes sense to maintain some space between the mayor and labour negotiations, but there’s a fertile middle ground between invisibility and overbearing involvement that would still allow Ford’s star to shine in the wake of signed deals.

The only real explanation that makes sense to me is one that harkens back to an underlying theme through Ford’s mayoralty: the mayor is simply understaffed. He doesn’t have the resources in his office to effectively strategize on more than one issue at a time – they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. His advisors are hilariously ill-equipped to effectively manage policy and communication at the level demanded by Ford’s position. They’re obviously lousy at marshalling support at council and they don’t seem to have many cards to play with the media either, except for with a few names at the Toronto Sun and on the broadcast side. Even simple tasks like ordering business cards or keeping up with municipal conflict of interest law have led to major (and public) screw-ups.

But, hey, they are pretty good at getting back to constituents who have problems relating to sizeable piles of dirt.

Ford’s office has copped to the issue somewhat – there’s money for a new position in the mayor’s office in the 2012 budget. But that may be too little too late. Change needed to start soon after the Port Lands debacle. There have been at least a half-dozen debacles since then, with no sign of improvement. Meanwhile, Ford still lists slashing his own office budget as a major achievement.

But back to the labour issue: signed deals with all the city’s major unions would stand as an undeniable success for the Ford administration. But it doesn’t amount to much if his office isn’t able to effectively communicate that success – and if  it all gets drowned out by the noise and controversy of other things.


26
Mar 12

The week that was: Ford loses major transit vote as Sheppard gets LRT

Council Scorecard: Transit Votes

While I was out: Rob Ford experienced yet another spectacular defeat on the floor of council. True to form, the mayor refused to endorse any workable revenue plan for building his beloved Sheppard subway – even the one that came from his council allies. Instead, Ford stuck with what the political strategy that has sustained him since he was first elected councillor over a decade ago: yelling and losing.

Here’s how it happened.

SUNDAY

March 18, 2012

Rob Ford devotes much of the time on his crazy boring radio show toward the transit discussion. As recapped by OpenFile Toronto’s David Hains, the mayor and his co-host Councillor Paul Ainslie hit all the same notes you’d expect: people want subways; St. Clair’s a disaster; all glory to the private sector; and the power of repeating the word subways endlessly.

Notably, Ford and stalwart Ainslie agree that the Sheppard Subway should be funded with “creative financing because people don’t like taxes.” This attitude would continue throughout the week, and sink any remaining chance Ford had of winning the council vote.

MONDAY

March 19, 2012

With the special council meeting just two days away, subway advisor and noted dentist Gordon Chong again makes public his opinion that the mayor must support new tolls and taxes if he wants to see a subway extension on Sheppard Avenue. Ford continues to ignore the advice of the man he picked to make the case for subways in Toronto.

Meanwhile, many of the swing vote councillors begin to make their opinions known. Councillor Josh Colle tells reporters he’s just looking for some kind of indication of where the mayor will get the money to build subways. “A pie graph would be nice, just something that would show where the source of funding would come from.”

But the mayor’s “plan,” even presented as a pie chart, would prove unconvincing. It’d end up looking a lot like this:

Ford's Subway Plan: As A Pie Chart (Artist's Representation)

Ford's Subway Plan: As A Pie Chart (Artist's Representation)

TUESDAY

March 20, 2012

More mighty middle voices tip their hat toward the LRT plan. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon tells the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat that she’ll be supporting light rail because “Nothing has been concretely brought forward and I don’t see a [subway] plan.” Councillor Ana Bailão also hints that she’ll be a light rail vote.

In a bit of a surprise, Councillor Ron Moeser joins the group of councillors supporting the expert panel’s recommendation for LRT. Moeser has been battling an illness for several months that has caused him to miss virtually all council votes relating to transit. His support for the mayor had been widely assumed, but the mayor may have pushed things too far with the Scarborough councillor.

At this point, a majority of councillors have firmly pledged their support for light rail on Sheppard.

WEDNESDAY

March 21, 2012

Council begins its session by endorsing the use of Skype as a means for Professor Eric Miller to take questions from councillors. Miller was the lead on the expert panel that ultimately recommended the light rail plan. After much debate, Skype finds strong bipartisan support, though the mayor objects.

Soon after, battle lines are drawn. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker moves the motion that will support the panel’s recommendations. As a counter, budget chief and Scarborough Councillor Mike Del Grande proposes what we’ve all been waiting for: new revenue tools to fund transit.

Del Grande’s motion includes a levy on non-residential parking spaces, and seeks to raise $100 million per year for transit funding. The proposal is rightly criticized for being light on detail and short on scope. Those kinds of revenues would only fund about 300 metres of subway construction every year.

But, still, the motion is welcome news, acknowledging that even the most thrifty of suburban councillors have recognized the need to build public transit with public money. Del Grande finds support from most of council’s right-wing, but is stymied when the mayor — stubbornly, foolishly, inexplicably — refuses to lend his support to the plan.

Del Grande would end up attempting to withdraw the motion the next day. Without Rob Ford’s support, he knew it was doomed.

In another bit of procedural pettiness, Ford’s allies end the day with a good old-fashioned filibuster. The plan, which nobody expects to work, is to run out the clock and force a continuation to Thursday, with the hope that they can use the time to convince some councillors to support them.

THURSDAY

March 22, 2012

Having exhausted all his remaining options, Ford pulls out a would-be trump card: a loud and rambling speech in which he uses the word “subways” repeatedly. The point, buried in amongst the repetition, was to convince council to delay any decision until after the release of the federal and provincial budgets. The mayor appears to actually believe that those governments – both of whom are in full-on austerity mode – may announce billions of dollars in transit funding for Toronto.

As has become their custom, council mostly ignores the mayor.

The vote happens shortly after lunch, with the results breaking down mostly as expected. With 24 votes in favour, council supports the recommendations of the expert panel for light rail on Sheppard. Nineteen councillors stand opposed. Notably, Giorgio Mammoliti, who had promised on Wednesday that he would fight against the light rail plan on behalf of his constituents, ends up missing the vote on Thursday.

FRIDAY

March 23, 2012

The fallout from the vote comes quick and looks obvious. The mayor declares, yet again, that his election campaign begins today. The plan is to foster so much support for subways that he gets yet another strong mandate from voters in 2014. By Sunday – on his still-boring radio show – the mayor will even go as far as floating the idea of running a slate of Ford-supporting candidates in wards across the city, in the hopes of ridding council of those who oppose him.

This brings to mind two immediate questions:

  1. Would any legitimate candidate actually want to be part of a slate backed by a mayor with a terrible approval rating and a record of refusing to work with his allies to accomplish anything?
  2. If Ford’s going to be in full-on campaign mode for the next two years, then who the hell is running the city?

Ford’s stubbornness on this issue has made for even more alienation. Councillors like Jaye Robinson, Peter Milczyn and David Shiner went as far as to publicly question the mayor’s leadership on the transit file. Their comments were tinged with the kind of frustration that comes about when a mayor refuses to support a revenue tool that he recently championed in an editorial. It’s the same frustration that comes when someone ignores advice from everyone, even in the face of overwhelming reason and common sense.

It’s the kind of frustration that comes when the guy you’re trying to help ends up spitting in your face.

Despite protests from the mayor and his brother, this chapter of the Rob Ford mayoralty appears to be over. There’s little chance the province will re-open the subways debate and even less chance that more money materializes for subway construction. As was originally endorsed by Mayor David Miller and council, Toronto will see light rail transit built on Sheppard, Eglinton, Finch and the Scarborough RT corridor. Transit City lives again.


16
Mar 12

Rob Ford can’t win Sheppard vote without a realistic plan

Likely votes for the March 21 Sheppard transit vote. "Target" indicates a swing vote councillor that is being pressured by both sides.

Rob Ford is probably going to lose again at council next week.

The item council will be considering – an expert panel’s recommendation on transit options for Sheppard Avenue – doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. The panel’s report strongly endorses light rail as the preferred option for the corridor, and recommends construction begin as soon as possible. The panel has released a detailed collection of background documents, which include presentations and reports from Metrolinx, the TTC, City Planning and City Finance. All of their data points to the same conclusion the panelists reached.

Ford, of course, dismissed all this preemptively. He called the panel “biased.”

It’s known that Ford’s office is aggressively targeting swing councillors in an attempt to win them to his side on this issue. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll win much support of the remaining undecided or wavering councillors – at best, there’s seven of them – when he still doesn’t have a plan for building anything beyond a two kilometre stump of subway tunnel financed with provincial money.

This week, the mayor’s been dismissing the need for planning altogether. He told reporters yesterday that he just wanted to get “shovels in the ground” and start building. “There is too much talking going on,” he said. “and not enough doing. I’m a doer.”

Unless his team manages to produce a more detailed funding and construction plan next week, I can’t see Ford winning the support of many middle-aligned councillors. Spending a billion dollars of public money on a short subway extension without any plan to continue building anything beyond is bad policy. It’s a simple waste of money.

Without a realistic plan, the mayor’s subway promise dies next week.

The case for compromise

The mayor continues to be the architect of his own defeat. He’s ignored or rejected at least a half-dozen compromise solutions since this debate began in January. Had he simply worked with Karen Stintz, council likely would have found broad consensus on a transit plan that would have seen a small extension of the Sheppard subway. With that, the mayor could have moved on to other things and we wouldn’t be mired in an endless debate where people yell a lot and make ridiculous claims.

Still, even after all the procedural nastiness and name-calling, the mayor still has a workable compromise solution available to him: a two-stop extension of the Sheppard subway followed by light rail on the rest of the corridor.

Here’s how the expert panel lays out the financing for that option:

Panel report: Financing transit on Sheppard

The “hybrid” option – subway and LRT – requires between $500 million and $800 million in extra funding – an achievable amount if the city uses some of the revenue tools laid out in Gordon Chong’s report. The mayor could quite easily win some support on council if he backed this plan and presented a strategy to raise the missing funds.

This would be an outcome both sides could live with. The mayor gets to claim he’s fulfilled an election promise while the rest of council gets to deliver transit expansion on a large scale. Everyone goes home happy.

The mayor probably won’t go for it, however. He’s been offered this compromise before and rejected it out-of-hand.

Programming Note

Sadly, I’m going to be away all next week and so I’ll miss the meeting. For always-good City Hall coverage, keep tabs on OpenFile Toronto and Torontoist. I also recommend the Twitter-stylings of David Hains, Neville Park, Daren Foster, Jonathan Goldsbie, Don Peat and so many others.

I’ll be back next weekend with some thoughts on the meeting and its fallout.


14
Mar 12

FAQ: Should we build a Sheppard Subway extension?

Sensible Transit Planning: Ridership versus Capacity

Building any of the proposed Transit City routes as heavy rail subway would mean significant unused capacity. Click for bigger.

On March 21, City Council will — I hope — finally end the transit debate that’s been overshadowing every other municipal issue this year. At that meeting, they’ll decide whether to endorse the previously-approved plan for light rail on Sheppard East or shift to a subway-based plan as per the mayor’s wishes.

While various town hall events have been described as either pro-subway or pro-LRT, my experience has been that a good percentage of the people attending these meetings are mostly just confused. They’re hearing conflicting things, sometimes from the same people. Opinions seem to shift from week-to-week. Mob mentalities run rampant and, weirdly, two very similar types of transit technology have become associated with the eternal left-wing versus right-wing pissing match.

So let’s simplify. Straightforward answers to straightforward questions.

Should we build an extension of the Sheppard Subway?

No. The ridership just doesn’t exist in that corridor to justify full-scale subway construction. The existing Sheppard Subway would need to be at least three times busier during peak periods to even begin to approach efficient use of infrastructure.

Planners and engineers don’t need to agonize too much when choosing transit technology: ridership projections make the choice obvious.

But Scarborough is growing, right? Shouldn’t we plan for the long-term? I heard this story about the viaduct…

You often hear politicians and historians trot out the Bloor Viaduct as an example of prudent long-term planning because it was built to support a future rail crossing, but that analogy doesn’t hold when we’re talking about subways. Making the viaduct subway-ready increased capital costs, but it had minimal impact on operation and maintenance.

It doesn’t make sense to take on all the increased costs associated with running a subway just in case riders show up in 50 or 100 years.

To truly justify full-scale subways, Scarborough residents would need to accept significant change to their neighbourhoods, because ridership follows density. Written mathematically, the equation would look like this: more people + more jobs = more subways.

And so Scarborough would need to densify and get busier. That means a significant shift. Single family homes would need to give way to multi-unit residences. Low-rises would need to become high-rises. Parking lots would need to vanish under new development. Scarborough would need to change.

Are residents really willing to accept that?

Aren’t LRTs slow and unreliable? I don’t want a second-class kind of transit.

Where modern cities are building transit, they’re mostly building LRTs. Subway construction has become so enormously expensive on a per-kilometre basis that large-scale building requires significant federal investment. If LRT is second-class, than dozens of major world cities are building vast networks of high-ridership second-class transit.

Light rail vehicles are more than capable of providing fast, reliable service. They run well in the snow and vehicles can be coupled together into trains. Many of the factors that slow down our downtown streetcars won’t exist on the light rail routes: riders will board from all doors, the vehicles will be low-floor to ease boarding for people with disabilities or those with strollers, and all routes will run in an exclusive right-of-way, meaning LRVs will move quickly even if traffic is backed up.

That said, service speed and reliability is primarily a function of TTC management and funding – not transit technology. The city has always invested to ensure frequent service on the subway – even where other cities have reduced subway service in the evenings and on weekends –  which is why so many find it the most reliable way to travel.

Won’t LRTs tear up the road and cause businesses to fail? We don’t want another St. Clair disaster!

Here’s a picture of St. Clair Ave when it was under construction, via the Toronto Sun:

And here’s a shot of the Sheppard Subway, from when it was under construction, via VIVA Next:

You don’t get shiny new transit infrastructure without a period of pain-in-the-ass construction, unfortunately. Yes, subways are underground, but the stations need to come up to the surface which usually requires reconfiguration of utilities. No matter what you build, streets will need to be dug up, traffic will need to be diverted and everything will end up covering in a thick layer of dust and grime.

The only difference? Subway construction tends to take longer.

But Scarborough already has an LRT and it’s terrible! It breaks down constantly, offers a rough ride and already needs to be replaced!

A helpful infographic explaining the differences between the Scarborough RT and the proposed LRT lines the city is planning to build:

The SRT is NOT LRT

The Scarborough RT was the result of the provincial government deciding to use Scarborough residents as lab rats. They took an unproven technology – ICTS, a kind of proto-Skytrain – and forced it onto the TTC, in the hopes that everything would work out great and they could then sell the same technology to other cities for a tidy profit.

It didn’t work. The experiment was a failure. Today, Bombardier is the exclusive supplier of the vehicles used on the SRT. As a result, parts, maintenance and replacement vehicles come at a high price premium.

The light rail planned for Toronto is the same technology being built in cities across the globe. Numerous suppliers can provide vehicles and parts. This isn’t a repeat of past planning mistakes – it’s a correction. If the province hadn’t forced the city’s hand in the 1980s, Scarborough would have gotten a true LRT line decades ago.

What about a compromise? Isn’t there some way we can get some of subway extension?

“I support new taxes and tolls.” That’s what Rob Ford needs to say if he wants to start an honest debate about extending the Sheppard subway.

If he won’t face that reality with clear eyes and a full heart, compromise is impossible. Council is left with only two choices: two or three kilometres of subway that will improve transit for a very small number of residents or 14 kilometres of light rail providing significant benefit to Scarborough transit riders.

And that’s not a hard choice.

Enough with all this talk of planning – why can’t we just build a kilometre or two of subway every year?

Even under the most optimistic estimates, two kilometres of subway construction costs between $400 and $600 million. The city doesn’t have that kind of cash laying around. Which brings us back to the question of taxes and tolls.

And even then: you can’t just send a crew out to start digging holes and pay them until you run out of money. That’s not the way major infrastructure projects work.

If council had an endorsed, unchanging and funded long-term plan for transit in this city – a plan that would have to include light rail, buses and, yes, subways –  we’d probably see a couple of kilometres of new track built every year until that plan was complete.

So, yes, we can be a city that continuously builds transit. But we need a realistic, sensible and affordable plan first.

Council’s meeting next week is another step forward.


9
Mar 12

Forget building transit, let’s just talk endlessly and yell at each other

All Fired Up In the Big Smoke’s Daren Foster, who attended a transit town hall put on by the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition  in Scarborough last night:

Nearly two and a half hours later, we were pretty much right back where we started. People wanted subways. People were owed subways. World class cities have subways. Scarborough demanded their piece of that transit dream.

But there was no one there to tell them how that could happen. It was all vague notions, untested theories and a whole lot pie in the sky projections. I’d be plenty pissed too. I just think the crowd turned their ire on the wrong target.

Which wasn’t their fault in the least. The real target wasn’t in the room. He’d skipped the meeting, encouraging the anger while sidestepping any responsibility for it.

via Seething In Scarborough « All Fired Up In The Big Smoke.

For OpenFile Toronto, David Hains covers more of the details. The short version: unrealistic promises and mostly fact-free rhetoric has whipped up some Scarborough residents into a frenzy. The prospect of light rail transit is the hated villain, while Rob Ford’s subway dream stands as the hero.

After the meeting, Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy — adding credibility to the proceedings by serving as a panelist — summed up the mood with a tweet: “Scarborough residents would prefer NOTHING, NADA, over light rail transit.”

There seems to be an unconscious desire from some in this debate to return to the transit planning status quo that existed prior to 2007 and the announcement of Transit City and MoveOntario 2020. During that time, the TTC continuously drew and redrew subway lines on various maps. They bounced through Network 2011 and RTES and other plans that promised a whole lot of subway construction. Sometimes politicians would make election-time promises that they would build pieces of whatever plan was on the books at the time.

But even though the city stuck with this subways-to-the-suburbs strategy for decades, very little happened.

It was only through Mel Lastman’s relentless enthusiasm for North York that we got a 5.5 kilometre subway line on Sheppard Ave, and that’s proven to have had a net negative impact on TTC operations. The city will be subsidizing it for decades.

The city did come close to getting an Eglinton subway, but Premier Mike Harris infamously filled in the already-dug hole, scuttling the line as a budget-saving measure. And while that was undoubtedly a mistake, it’s worth noting that, by the time Eglinton got canned, the only part of the plan funded was a stubby five-station line running from Eglinton West station to York Civic Centre.

Had Harris not stopped construction, the mourned Eglinton subway could have made for a similar story as what we’ve seen on Sheppard: a too-short, under-utilized line requiring huge annual subsidy. With no money to pay for an extension.

The city had to shift its focus away from subways and toward LRTs not because of some ill-defined ideology but because the subways-first strategy was a complete and utter failure. It was all talk and no action.

And now, in Scarborough and other parts of the city, we’re seeing what looks like angry demands to return to that. Despite the raucous demand for subways coming out of last night’s meeting, the prospect of new taxes or revenue tools were roundly shot down. For subways, there’s talking – and yelling! – but no plan. No action. No money.

Save our Gordon Chongs

Speaking of things for which there is no plan and no money, it turns out the mayor isn’t going to pay Dr. Gordon Chong and the other consultants who worked on his Sheppard Subway report.

The Toronto Star’s Royson James:

First, they didn’t take Gordon Chong’s advice on how to pay for the Sheppard Subway. Now they won’t pay him.

And consultants the ex-city councillor hired to make the case for Mayor Rob Ford’s subway dreams are owed $80,000 they may never collect.

That’s the bankrupt state of the TTC subsidiary Mayor Ford created to promote his subway plan.

via TTC subway study ran out of money, Gordon Chong and consultants still owed more than $100,000 | Toronto Star.

Sometimes analogies are too obvious.


8
Mar 12

Playing the long-game: can Rob Ford win reelection in 2014?

The Globe & Mail’s Marcus Gee:

The mayor, never very engaged in the first place, shows signs of checking out. Always more comfortable campaigning from the outside than running the city from within, he is shifting into campaign mode.

Lined up against Mr. Ford, we have a power-drunk left-wing opposition so full of themselves that they are leaping to humiliate the mayor at every turn – an over-reaching that could come back to sting them at the next election in 2014.

via Messy political fighting plunges City Hall into chaos – The Globe and Mail.

Council’s newfound habit of overruling the mayor has got a lot of people thinking about the 2014 municipal race. Terms like ‘over-reaching’ and ‘power-drunk’ don’t make for a pretty picture.

Let’s take a look at how things might go from here.

The Pessimistic View: Rob Ford may be lousy at governing, but he’s amazing at campaigning. By over-reaching on the transit file and sneaking out wins in the chamber, council’s left has thrust the mayor into the role he was born to play: the underdog.

The mayor’s team is now well-positioned to spend the next two-and-a-half years stomping their feet and ranting about all the good they could do, if not for those meddling socialists. In the eyes of the public, council is a natural villain – they’re an amorphous blob of politics-as-usual, whereas Ford is the guy you want to have a beer with. He’s the guy who understands you.

So there’s the story: Ford gets to play the outsider who can’t get his way because of those council bullies and downtown elites that want to screw over the suburbs. Meanwhile, villainous council gets to wear responsibility for all the day-to-day decisions of government. Couple that with some heavy duty transit construction that should kick off around election season, tearing up roads and hurting business owners, and Toronto looks poised to give Ford-label populism another go. They may even take down several left-leaning councillors in the process.

Plus, he’s the incumbent. That’s the municipal politics equivalent of a massive head-start.

The Optimistic View: For a populist, Rob Ford is incredibly unpopular. His poll numbers are terrible. David Miller didn’t sink to an approval rating this low until there were literal piles of garbage strewn about the city.

Less than two years in, Ford’s got a huge knock against him: he’s shown the public that he’s not able to keep his promises and get things done. He’s shown that he’s an ineffective leader.

This is a big issue for Canadian voters. In last spring’s federal election, Stephen Harper was ushered into majority territory with campaign rhetoric built on words like “strong” and “stable.” Dalton McGuinty co-opted the same language in the fall, pulling out an unlikely victory.

Ford’s style of government is the opposite of strength and stability. His City Hall always feels like it’s on the brink of outright chaos and, worse, he’s developed a nasty habit of over-promising and under-delivering. Gravy? Not found. Subways? No plan. His guarantee of no service cuts? Worthless.

And the opposition is ready. Ford has inadvertently sparked a level of engagement with civic issues like this city has never seen before. People are going to be on the ground en masse in 2014. And council, assuming they can continue to find common cause on the important issues, will be poised to make a strong case to the electorate that someone from their ranks is the person that can provide the strong and stable leadership that Toronto needs.

Maybe that someone will come from a peanut-shaped ward in North York.

The Realist View: 2014 is really far away. Do you have any idea how many crazy, totally unpredictable things are going to happen between then and now? Think of all the out-of-nowhere scandals and surprise page-one issues that stuck to the mayor in 2011.

And remember: if you had asked political-watchers in 2007 to predict the 2010 race they probably would have put forward candidates like David Miller, Adam Giambrone, John Tory, Karen Stintz and Michael Bryant. No one would have guessed Rob Ford.

We’re still an eternity away from being able to make conclusive statements about the next municipal election.

There is, of course, a need for strategy. Council’s new majority needs to continue to move forward on an issue-by-issue basis, receiving the mayor’s agenda items with fair consideration. They need to keep in mind that they’re running, at best, a centrist government. This isn’t a time for wild progressive gambits.

Ford, on the other hand, just needs to focus. On every file except transit, he’s still got close to 23 votes in his favour. He can maintain and strengthen that support if he and his allies stop with the petty personal attacks and outright threats. Telling a right-leaning Etobicoke councillor that you will execute her is not a good plan. Ford is far more electable if he can prove himself to be effective, even if that means toning down some of his ambition and finding compromise.

But, right, we’re being realists here, so let’s make it clear: the mayor probably won’t do that. He’s Rob Ford. He doesn’t compromise. He can’t change.


6
Mar 12

An organized opposition versus a disorganized mayor: a look at the TTC ballot votes

Commission votes: ballot results for the election of a new TTC board

In addition to today’s City Council Scorecard update, here’s a snapshot look at the results of yesterday’s vote to elect a new TTC board.

The balloting process was a bit muddled and confusing, but essentially — after a quick nomination process — each councillor had to fill out a ballot listing their seven choices for the TTC board. Nominees needed to achieve majority support (23 votes) in order to be named to the board.

Fourteen councillors were nominated but three — Shelley Carroll, Gord Perks and Mary-Margaret McMahon — declined to serve. That mean there were eleven nominees standing for seven open spots.

The thing to note is how organized things look on the bottom half of the chart. From Gloria Lindsay Luby on down, the opposition mostly stuck to an agreed-upon slate of candidates, all of whom ended up winning spots on the board on the first ballot.

The mayor had a slate of his own, of course. It included one councillor who dropped out — Caroll — and six others, a couple of whom were also on the opposition’s list. (Speculation is that Carroll’s nomination was designed to split the vote and/or allow the mayor to stick a presumed mayoral candidate with responsibility for a difficult file.)

But contrary to the discipline shown by the left, Ford’s allies were all over the map with their votes. Many of them didn’t even fill out a complete ballot. Yes, they may have done the math and realized they couldn’t win, but the lack of coordination between the mayor and his councillor supporters is worth noting.

You can view the above chart in google docs as part of this month’s council scorecard.


6
Mar 12

City Council Scorecard: Rob Ford loses control of the TTC

Toronto Council Scorecard

March 6, 2012: Google Docs (Best View) – Download (PDF)  – Download (PNG)

Last night, the mayor of Toronto lost control of the city’s biggest budget item. He no longer wields influence over the Toronto Transit Commission.

The new TTC board remains much of the same as the old one: the four councillors who voted not to fire Gary Webster remain in place. Karen Stintz is still chair and Peter Milczyn is likely to be Interim Vice Chair. Joining them will be Josh Colle, Glenn De Baeremaeker and Raymond Cho.

While some will buy into the narrative this happened because of a council opposition that’s drunk with power and bears a personal dislike for the mayor, I have to see it differently: what we saw yesterday was a necessary shift following a series of rejected compromises and aborted deals. A majority of council would have preferred to work within the status quo to achieve the transit direction set out and approved by council in February, but a combination of stubbornness and spite made that impossible.

In addition to being a political body that democratically makes decisions, Council is also responsible for ensuring that those decisions are carried out. To that end, dissolving the existing TTC board and replacing it with one more in tune with council’s approved direction was the only responsible move.

The New Vote

TOCouncil Scorecard March 6 2012- New Votes

The Vote Added:

The existence of EX16.8 was a stroke of luck for council’s opposition. Had the item not coincidentally appeared on the Executive Committee’s agenda a few weeks ago, Stintz would have been forced to call yet another special council meeting in order to get an item relating to the composition of the TTC board on the agenda. Since this item — it originally was just supposed to add some citizen members to the board — was already due to come before council, councillors were able to piggyback their plans on top of it.

The process worked very similarly to what we saw with the TCHC board a year ago. With a majority vote of 29-15, council dissolved the existing board and kicked off a process to appoint seven councillors onto a replacement board. They also voted to add four citizen members at a later date.

The mayor was ill-prepared to counter this motion. Never has his team looked so disorganized and out-of-their-depth on the council floor. Michael Thompson was chosen as the guy who would move a counter-motion, suggesting that the TTC instead be made up of all citizen members with no representation from councillors. Thompson spoke at length about how this would de-politicize transit planning and provide new expertise to the operations of the TTC.

This lame strategy never had a chance of getting anywhere near majority support. To further complicate matters, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and Councillor David Shiner — both Ford-allies — moved their own conflicting motions.

The alternative motions were ultimately irrelevant, as Stintz’s motion to dissolve came before council first and passed by a huge margin. Even stalwarts like Cesar Palacio and Gary Crawford supported it. Giorgio Mammoliti’s thumb barely made an appearance all day. The mayor, it seemed, had given up.

Trend Watch

With her full-term voting percentage dropping below 70%, Councillor Jaye Robinson is now firmly in “mighty middle” territory. She should feel more at home there.

The mayor needs to start finding some common ground with middle-of-the-road stalwarts Josh Matlow and Josh Colle — their voting records lately are looking more lefty and less middle.

It’s important to note that the new TTC board is still heavy with councillors with very Ford-friendly voting records. Despite her recent characterization as a tool of the left, Karen Stintz has voted with Ford 87% of the time. John Parker is a 92% stalwart. Peter Milczyn beats them both at 95%. Of the other four, Josh Colle and Raymond Cho are hardly flag-waving leftists. Under any other circumstance, this would be considered a very balanced board.

Hell, I can prove it mathematically. Average out the full-term Ford Nation scores of the seven councillors on the new TTC board and here’s what you get: 50.3%.

Questions

Questions about the Council Scorecard? Read my notes on methodology. Also, you can email me.


5
Mar 12

After Ford rejects compromise, Karen Stintz moves to dissolve TTC board

The Globe & Mail’s Kelly Grant, on the issue that’s going to keep this week’s council meeting from being boring:

The embattled Toronto Transit Commission is about to undergo a major shakeup with chair Karen Stintz and her allies moving to dissolve the Ford-friendly board and replace it with councillors who support light-rail transit and private citizens.

Ms. Stintz will be putting her own job on the line Monday when she moves a motion to fire all nine current commissioners.

via Stintz readies motion to fire Ford-friendly transit commission | Globe & Mail.

This is shaping up to be yet another significant loss for Rob Ford. By a combination of law and custom, he’s supposed to be the one who sets the composition of boards and committees. Should council have the votes to do this – and every indication is that they do – the mayor of Toronto will have lost influence over the city’s biggest budget item. Major transit decisions will go forward without input from his office.

Some will attempt to spin this as the actions of a bitter and spiteful council that seeks to undermine the mandate of a democratically elected mayor. But that’s crap. What we’ll see this week is no less than Karen Stintz’s last resort after attempts at compromise were roundly rejected or undermined by the mayor and his friends.

There have been at least two major compromise attempts between Stintz and the mayor’s office since this whole transit battle took hold back in January. Both could have seen an outcome where Ford walked away looking like the winner. Instead, he rejected everything.

The First Compromise

The first major compromise is the more obvious one, since it played out in public. With this olive branch, Ford could have agreed to bring the eastern section of the Eglinton LRT above ground, build a two-stop extension of his beloved Sheppard Subway and deliver improved transit to Finch with a new busway project.

Ford probably could have played hardball with this deal, asking for further guarantee that the surface LRT wouldn’t impact traffic. During talks with the province after he took office, Ford was given an offer that would have seen Eglinton widened to ensure traffic flow wasn’t impeded.

This would have been an easy thing to spin as a victory. Ford gets his subway, along with a trumped up guarantee that the surface LRT wouldn’t impact traffic. And Finch gets some fancy buses. Everybody wins. Mostly.

The mayor could then spend the next several months talking up Gordon Chong’s report as the magic key that will allow for further construction on Sheppard.

But that’s not what happened, despite Stintz getting an initial assurance from Doug Ford that the mayor was open to the deal. Instead, the mayor flatly rejected the offer, sat through an awkward council meeting where he was overruled – he called it irrelevant – and then proceeded to call his hand-picked TTC chair a back-stabber.

The Second Compromise

This one is murkier, with most of it happening outside of the media.

Shortly after the TTC board fired Gary Webster, the impression I was given by several people is that council would quickly move to remove Ford-allied councillors from the TTC and replace them with people more amenable to council’s approved direction on transit. Also: there was a desire to ensure that the TTC board wouldn’t continue to fire long-time employees for spiteful and/or vindictive reasons.

But things soon changed. As of the middle of last week, stories started to emerge that Stintz and Ford had reached a compromise on the composition of the board. Having already agreed to allow for citizen representation, the two agreed that they would support a board of six councillors and five citizens, with the chair being chosen from the councillors. More importantly, the deal seemed to imply that the current TTC board would stay in place until June.

That was the deal on Wednesday. And still on Thursday. But on Friday, things changed: Stintz announced that she would be making a motion at this week’s council meeting that would call for an immediate change to the make-up of the board, removing all existing members and seeking replacements. Seven councillors will join the board immediately, with four citizens to join later on this summer following an appointment process.

What happened between Wednesday and Friday is anyone’s guess, but a late night Twitter posting by Stintz sheds some light on the situation: “My attempts at compromise with the Mayor were again undermined by Doug Ford & Nick Kouvalis,” she wrote. “The situation became untenable.”

The details of the announcement also point to this being a snap decision following some sort of renewed strife between the mayor and Stintz. Initially, Councillor Josh Matlow told the Globe that there would be a predetermined slate of councillors chosen to replace Ford’s allies on the TTC board. But Stintz quickly backed away from that story, and said it would be an open nomination process. (In the confusion, Matlow was unfairly criticized for what looked like a premature leak – it seems clear now that things were just happening really fast.)

The obvious speculation is that Stintz was hoping to find common ground with the mayor that would have seen him cease his efforts to invalidate council’s February decision on LRT. A compromise may have even included broad support for a Sheppard Subway extension, contingent on the mayor actually presenting a viable plan to pay for it.

Coincidentally, late on Thursday, Doug Ford took part in an extended media scrum in which he rejected the idea of all taxes and tolls as a way to pay for new transit. He called them evil. He also accused Ontario Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli of being biased toward LRT and made further claims that the Eglinton LRT plan was similar to the right-of-way project on St. Clair Ave.

What no compromise means

There’s lots to worry about going into this week’s meeting. Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan cautions against a worst-case scenario in which half of council puts their name forward for a seat on the new TTC board, leading to a procedural circus and dozens of votes. I’m hopeful that there’s more organization in the works and that there is a chosen bloc of councillors with broad support ready to step in as commissioners.

But even if not, this is the only play Stintz has left. With every compromise rejected, a recomposition of the TTC board is imperative. Without it, the city goes forward with a situation where the guys controlling the majority votes on the TTC are actively against the council-approved plans for transit expansion. Given the sheer number of items related to these plans that are set to become before the commission, it’d be way too easy for the mayor to use his influence to alter or delay progress, creating procedural snags that would continually require council’s intervention.

That’s no way to build a railroad.


2
Mar 12

Shocker: budget cuts can negatively impact services

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, member of Rob Ford’s executive committee and the city budget committee, in her December 2011 newsletter to constituents:

Taxpayers want City Hall to reduce expenses and for the first time ever, we will spend less next year than we did this year. It is a balanced budget that will help rebuild our fiscal foundation. There is a rate of inflation property- tax increase of 2.5% which will be approximately $5 a month for the aver- age tax payer. There are inflationary increases which the city cannot avoid addressing, and we have kept the property tax increase down to the level of inflation.

Through the Core Service Review, service efficiencies and modest service level adjustments we found $355 million in savings. Some of the services being cut were identified as outside of the city’s function.

via Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s Newsletter – December 2011.

The centrepiece of that budget, of course, was a 10% cut across all city departments — including the TTC. Ford’s move to cut the transit subsidy despite record and ever-growing ridership forced the TTC to make several cuts to bus service, most of which took effect in February.

Which brings us back to Berardinetti’s newsletter. From the March 2012 edition:

I have written a letter to TTC Chair, Karen Stintz, to voice my opposition to the impacts of all bus route schedule adjustments. Residents in my ward have reported to me that signs have been posted at the Warden subway station with respect to a reduction in service specifically affecting the Warden 69 bus route. A large number of people rely upon this route for travel to work and school and the proposed reduction in the frequency of service will significantly and negatively impact their commuting time.

In the context of the considerable 2012 Budget surplus allocations of $139 million made to the T.T.C. for the purpose of purchasing new surface vehicles and the significant nature of the impact reductions on this route will have on the constituents of Ward 35, I am requesting that this decision be reviewed and that the service reduction be cancelled.

via Councillor Michelle Berardinetti’s Newsletter – March 2012.

During the budget debate, Councillor Josh Colle moved a motion that sought to reverse many of the route cuts on the table. Berardinetti opposed it.

This looks like a sign of things to come. Many councillors supported the 10% reduction target as an abstract budget-busting measure, but now that the impacts to services are starting to emerge, how many of them are going to change their tune?

Another example: 311 announced recently that, in order to meet their reduced budget, they would eliminate email service at their support centres. They’re going to force anyone with a question about city services to call in and listen to their hold music. This prompted Mike Layton to ask “What decade are we in? I wonder if they’ll accept faxes.”

Layton, backing a motion by Kristyn Wong-Tam, will attempt to reverse this cut to customer service at council next week. They should have the support of at least one Ford ally — and enthusiastic supporter of the mayor’s 10% cut — in Paul Ainslie, who told the Toronto Star that he was “certainly going to push for putting [email service] back in.”

It’s easy to support budget cuts. It’s hard to support service cuts. Councillors may want to consider that there’s a link between the two.