Ford Attempts Coup to Stall Debate on Transit City

In a bizarre political move at the TTC meeting today (January 31), Ford loyalists voted to gut staff recommendations on working with Metrolinx to finalize a framework for construction of the Eglinton project.  The effect was that staff were not instructed to continue working with Metrolinx, and in theory detailed information about alternatives for the Eglinton project won’t come forward to the TTC or Council.

The votes carried with only Chair Karen Stintz and Commissioners Maria Augimeri and John Parker voting against them.  Stintz has now effectively lost control of the Commission, and the true-blue Ford team has decided to run the show as they see fit.  How long she will stay as chair remains to be seen given the procedural manoeuvres required to unseat her.

The situation is even more ironic because earlier at the same meeting, Stintz had fought the good Ford fight by championing using Council’s recent allocation of $5-million to supplement Wheel-Trans budgets and continue to service to dialysis patients.  This is the same Commission that only months earlier effectively told these riders that theirs was not a core service of the City, and they would have to find cabs.  This didn’t wash politically, and service was restored for six months pending availability of new funding.

However, the City’s money was not intended for Wheel-Trans.  Stintz, by a feat of sophistry that deeply undermines her credibility, argued that “service cuts” were generic and the money could be used for either regular bus service or for Wheel-Trans.  The Commission smiled sweetly,  but voted to ignore Council, cut service and spend the money on a motherhood issue.

Lest readers think I am a heartless bastard, I’m not suggesting Wheel-Trans shouldn’t be properly funded, but its problems are much bigger, and the $5m was not intended to let Queen’s Park off of the hook for what is really a health services cost, not transit.  Even bringing the dialysis folks into the discussion shows how unprincipled the Ford camp (then including Stintz) might be in trying to bypass their loss of control on Council.

Stintz did her bit and sandbagged a big piece of Council’s rescue motion by scoffing the $5m.  However, her role as a Team Ford insider was short-lived when it became clear that by advocating an Eglinton alternative, she was now consigned to Ford’s trash heap and the truly loyal boys would run the show.

All this happened on the same day as a letter from Metrolinx to Mayor Ford and Chair Stintz said, briefly, “get your crap together and decide what you really want us to build”.  Metrolinx finally understands that the Memorandum of Understanding signed with Mayor Ford last year is of little value without the Council approval essential to committing the City.  “Absent Council’s endorsement of the MoU, the City is not bound by the plan and itis increasingly difficult for Metrolinx to implement it.”

Council now must seize the initiative.  Everyone has been trying to be oh-so-conciliatory, saying things they hoped Mayor Ford and his team would take as overtures for compromise, but Ford wants none of it.  It’s subways all the way.

By his actions, Ford has shown he only knows how to fight for turf, and that’s a disappearing quantity.  Ford Nation is becoming Ford Island.

Councillors now talk openly of calling a special meeting using a procedure that requires only a simple majority to invoke.  The agenda is set by the call for the meeting, not throttled by the mayor’s cronies at Executive Committee.  This will allow discussion of transit alternatives, disposition of the MoU, and many other actions such as reconstituting the TTC with a better balanced group of Councillors.  Council could even amend its own bylaws to strip Ford of his power to control Standing Committees and the Executive.  These are powers Council granted, and Council can take them away.

In 40 years of Council watching, I have never seen such open contempt for Council as that shown by Mayor Ford.  He claims a “mandate”, but forgets that Council was elected too, and they answer to voters and their distress at Mayor Ford’s agenda.

One final note:  Like City Council, the TTC has never rescinded its approval of Transit City.  We may debate just what exactly constitutes “approval” at the City, but at the TTC it’s quite clear.  On March 21, 2007, the TTC endorsed Transit City as the centrepiece of its planning, and they have never voted for anything else.  Nobody bothered to think of such a nicety when they had a fighting chance of winning the vote, and now their inattention leaves an embarrassing reminder of details ignored.

Whether Karen Stintz will survive these events as Chair or even as a TTC member is hard to say.  She’s no longer one of Ford’s boys, but by trying to play both sides of the street, she’s not exactly a prime candidate for Ford’s opponents.  She will have to prove her new position, if it is new, with actions that benefit transit and the city, not just the Mayor.

One way or another, we will have a new transit policy probably by the end of March.