There exists a funny notion outside Toronto that Mayor Rob Ford is somehow in charge of the city. It’s a reasonable misunderstanding, what with the word “mayor,” the chains of office and the legal expectation that he lead the city and whatnot. Occasionally though he uses his last shreds of power to grab an agenda item and toddle off, though it never lasts long.
Take, for instance, his obstruction on the subject of paying to build public transportation. After decades of gridlocked inaction, Toronto and the municipalities that surround it are teetering on the brink of joining the 21st century, though not if Rob Ford can help it.
The province has wisely seized control of the process, through Metrolinx, its regional transit agency. But individual municipalities still need to buy in, and the time to do so is now. The province intends to impose levies on the gridlocked region to pay for it, and it’s expecting feedback from its cities next month.
Toronto is just one municipality among many, but it sits like a gorilla at the centre of the region, and it’s hard to do anything without it. The city has been trying to buy in — it really has. Its bureaucracy has run in-person and online consultations, up and down town. Its city councillors have been broadly supportive, even as they squabble about which subway line to build where.
Everyone except Rob Ford, the Knight Who Says No.
What has Rob Ford said? Well, last month he was asked about transit taxes and, by way of critique, made retching sounds. This week, he pronounced, “Guaranteed, hell will freeze over before I support any new taxes.”
With that, he took a stab at scuttling the region’s transit plans. At a meeting of his handpicked inner circle – only a handful of whom will still follow him – he dredged up the six votes needed to defer the debate of these taxes for a month. That happens to be just long enough to blow the province’s deadline for hearing from cities, derailing the process for 5 million people.
Now, one could reasonably ask if the Metrolinx plan is best. One could ask if it’s too ambitious, or – more likely – not ambitious enough; whether these taxes tax the right people and raise money the right way; whether it will pay for operating the transit once it’s built; whether building transit alone will reshape the region. Rob Ford made retching noises and tried to sabotage the whole thing.
So once again, the adult supervision on council is heaving a sigh, and going to retrieve this issue from the mayor who’s wandered off. Already, Gary Crawford, yet another staunch ally in Ford’s inner circle, announced he regretted his (deciding) vote to defer the debate. It looks like city council will use a supermajority to override that decision and hold the debate on revenue tools, sidelining Ford yet again and putting things back on track.
Bully for Ford, I suppose: He was elected on a Tea Party platform of opposing taxation for the sake of opposing taxation. He has remained remarkably oblivious to the evidence that neither the majority of citizens nor politicians are on board with this; a resilience that has cost him his power and his allies. It is no longer uncommon for him to lose votes by a margin of 40-1, as he did last month when he stood up against opening more shelter beds for the homeless. He’s gone from an unstoppable force, to the leader of a rump faction, to a one-man resistance movement against the government he’s supposed to be leading.
Ford and his advisers are openly relishing this opportunity to take a futile anti-tax stand before the electorate. Election-time is coming, and this is how it will be fought. Three years ago, disenfranchised citizens got mad as hell and sent a disenfranchised councillor to the mayor’s office, from which he promptly disenfranchised himself, too. What a remarkable form of government! The leader of government leads the opposition, kicking and screaming as governance happens all around him, a voice in the wilderness of the mayor’s office, saying no.