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LRT for Sheppard, Fighting Words for Ford

Mayor doesn't back down after losing his most recent major transit battle—to put a subway instead of light rail on Sheppard.

“The election starts now.”

That was Rob Ford’s response this afternoon, when asked by reporters how he felt about today’s transit vote—a vote in which council overruled Ford’s wishes and opted for light rail rather than a subway for Sheppard. A vote that, by any realistic measure, was devastating for the mayor.

The mayor, in short, has not, will not be persuaded. What happened at council, he remains convinced, is overreaching by an unruly group of councillors who are actively subverting the will of Torontonians by ramming light rail down residents’ unwilling throats.

Never mind that no comprehensive poll shows that Torontonians both support subways and that they are willing to pay more to have them. Never mind that the councillors who voted in favour of light rail were elected, just as Ford was, by residents of this city who were choosing representatives to fight for their concerns and represent their interests at City Hall. Never mind that Ford hasn’t come up with a detailed funding plan for subways after 15 months in office. Never mind that the expert panel—one which, despite Rob Ford’s rhetoric, was stocked with people who have backgrounds that equip them to offer sound advice—said LRTs were preferable. Never mind that Ford ran on a campaign whose central plank had nothing to do with subways, and everything to do with gravy trains—who, if he has a mandate for anything, has a mandate to keep taxes and levies as low as possible and reduce spending wherever possible.

In recent months, Ford and his allies have floated, and then quickly retracted, ideas about any number of revenue-generating tools that would help pay for those subways. To the extent that we now seem to be over our collective childishness and are willing—left, right, centre, everyone—to discuss revenue tools without anyone threatening political death, our months-long transit debate has been a genuine advancement.

But Rob Ford was not elected with a mandate to impose new revenue tools to pay for transit. In fact, he campaigned on eliminating the last two revenue tools the City imposed under former mayor David Miller: the Vehicle Registration Tax and the Land Transfer Tax. So when Ford began to realize that he might need an actual financing proposal to pay for his subways, he couldn’t, much as he protested otherwise, just act as though he had the political backing to build those subways by any means necessary. He had to persuade his colleagues, one by one, that he had a plan worth supporting—precisely because he was venturing further afield than any mandate he might have won at the polls. In this he failed spectacularly.

One by one during debate today, Ford’s allies rose to defend subways, but also to lament the lack of leadership that has marked the battle for them. David Shiner, Peter Milczyn, Mike Del Grande, Michelle Berardinetti, Jaye Robinson, Michael Thompson: all serve on the mayor’s carefully selected Executive Committee, and all said openly they were disappointed in Ford’s failure to develop and champion a real plan for transit. When it came time to vote, they had before them only one proposal that included any kind of funding tool to pay for Rob Ford’s subway—only it didn’t come from Rob Ford, it came from budget chief Mike Del Grande. Ford himself didn’t have any proposal at all to build more than the two stops we can afford on the billion dollars the provincial and federal governments have promised us. And so even Ford’s allies had to proceed without him, to try and accomplish his goals with motions he wouldn’t put his name on. (Del Grande’s proposal failed, as it should have—you don’t pass a $100 million levy without so much as a staff report that lays out its implications.)

As a councillor, Rob Ford was always the lone wolf in City Hall—often quite literally a minority of one when it came to votes. As a mayor, he seems to be reverting to that position, with even his supporters and allies working around rather than with him. It isn’t because they haven’t tried. The mayor is increasingly isolated at City Hall, and it’s an isolation of his own making. Never one for policy details, he is trying to govern in platitudes, and increasingly, he is doing it alone.

CORRECTION: March 23, 11:55 AM We originally stated that the $1 billion funding available for Sheppard came from the province; it is actually a combination of provincial and federal funds.


  • Anonymous

    Alex 7 said it best on BlogTO: “the fundamental difference between Ford supporters and everyone else is that Ford supporters don’t use transit. They wanted a subway or nothing because both options are fine to them.”

    • Alexmeyers1

      Exactly! If that is the case why do they want the option that is most expensive and doesn’t make sense?

  • Michael DiFrancesco

    Mayor Ford is insistent on digging a tunnel through Scarborough – even if he has to do it himself, one ill-advised soundbite at a time.

  • Anonymous

    Starting to campaign for re-election on the heels of a long line of failures just shows how daft Ford is. He’s insisted – has it only been 15 months? – he was elected on a mandate to do one thing, and he’s failed to do it. That’s all anyone easily swayed needs to hear. I suggest we make sure they hear it often, before they’re given a chance to forget it.

    • Anonymous

      To be fair, the one and only thing he is good at is telling people what they want to hear. So a permanent election campaign plays to his strengths.

      • Josh Gould

        While that’s true, the fact that said campaign isn’t until Fall 2014 is rather problematic for him. What allies will he have in this?

  • SonjaRuth

    His isolation is problematic because it leaves him with only a mantra of division and resentment which he will grind into the bones of this city

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see Ford winning a second term, or even being returned to council. In light of his performance today (and taking into account numerous past antics), I ponder his capacity to serve out the rest of this one without suffering some kind of breakdown. Decco beckons, there’s a nice parachute. His allies could do far worse than gently point him in that direction.

    • Bush Hid The Facts

      the problem is that the people who typically vote for leaders like ford are ignorant of facts. they will vote for the guy they would “like to have a beer with” and tells them what they want to hear, regardless of his performance in the council chamber.

      • Anonymous

        He’s now got serial loser stamped indelibly all over his face.

        His former backers will be looking for someone new, without that corpse flower odor.

        • Cranberry

          He’s also got “I want what you want but those lefties/ elites/ downtown latte drinking whatever’s conspired to take it away from you!” cred.

          Some people who don’t pay much attention also love a martyr to their cause.

        • Anonymous

          They’ll also be looking for someone without direct ties to Ford, to avoid the taint of his failure.

          • Anonymous

            Damn. I was so looking forward to Acting Mayor Mammo…

      • Josh Gould

        I can say without reservation that I would never have a beer with Rob Ford. No one voted for him to wage a 2-and-a-half-year campaign for subways that he has no plan to pay for.

    • skinny dipper

      I will give a warning to Rob Ford’s opponents not to take Rob Ford for granted. He will likely make his campaign about “downtowners telling the suburbanites how to live their lives.” He will make a divisive cultural campaign. It will be the lazy downtown granola-crunchers vs. the hardworking taxpaying suburbanites. I hope you understand my points.

      • Anonymous

        Ford’s problem has been his allies take him for granted. He has consistently hung them out to dry, the Mike Del Grande parking tax proposal being just the latest example. He also let Dougie run roughshod over any chance he had to demonstrate leadership. Fatal error.

        If anything, his opponents gave him far too much credit, considering his abyssmal ten-year record as a councillor, and wasted a whole year bringing him to heel.

        There is still a core of support for Rob Ford, but it’s a small minority. He has proven he can’t campaign without blatant lies and broken promises. It’s out there in public, an indisputable fact. He also has a few legal hurdles left to face, that could see him further disgraced or even removed from office outright.

        • Geoff DeSouza

          “There is still a core of support for Rob Ford, but it’s a small minority.”

          There’s the problem – it’s a significant minority. As long as his job approval is in the 40s, and as long as there’s a multi-candidate mayoral race (well, multiple credible candidates), Ford wins a second term.

          Now, there wasn’t a sitting mayor last time around. And Ford’s easier targets (City Hall perks, etc.) aren’t viable issues this time around.

          But if he gets his same margins of victories in Etobicoke (guaranteed) and Scarborough (less likely, but still possible if he turns this into a resentment issue), he doesn’t have to do much in the Yonge / Spadina corridor to win a second term. It won’t be a landslide again, but that’s the thing about politicians who win with landslides – even screwing up a LOT doesn’t ruin their chances.

      • Anonymous

        I agree but I think Ford’ campaign issues are deeper then that.

        It is very easy to run as an outsider using a one track gravy train message against a former mayor who is not running and in doing so steamroll over 4 scattered and, frankly, incompetent, opponents.

        It is something else entirely to attempt to portray recent history involving yourself against 1 well funded and well prepared opponent who fits the hardworking taxpaying image.

        Ford will not find it as easy the next time, primarily because

        a) he now has a history

        b) his opponents will not take him lightly

        c) people are more engaged then they were 3 years ago

        The biggest mistake the left/centre/thinking right can make is to think Ford is doomed and attempt to find the “pure” opponent. Its time to find somebody good, and coalesce around them, even if they don’t agree with us all the time.

    • Alexmeyers1

      I’m waiting for him to have a heart attack. I can’t believe a guy that big and that angry hasn’t keeled over yet.

  • Anonymous

    Curious do lone wolfs like Rob Ford give up and run away? He has been like this the 10yrs he has been councilor, I gather he has always been a lone wolf. The difference i see being a mayor he has to try to come to consensus, something he incapable of.

  • skinny dipper

    I still think that the real debate was not about LRTs vs. subways, but public vs. private transit. I don’t think Rob Ford cares about subways or LRTs for Scarborough. He just wants to make public transit inefficient so that private operators can take over.

    • Geoff DeSouza

      I doubt that, since one of his bigger rallying cries (via Mammo) is that the province should just take over the TTC. I agree that he doesn’t want to deal with the TTC (frankly, I don’t blame the guy for that), but I don’t think he wants it sent directly to a private operator.

      • Anonymous

        His transit advisor stated only 2 years ago that it would be best just to stop funding transit and let the private sector pick up the pieces (and people who take buses can just take taxis).

  • Anonymous

    I heard Ford on the radio, saying the motion passed by only a few votes. So it’s not a done deal. I wonder if it was reversed, he would have declared it a landslide for his side? Pretty much everything else he said was a pack of mis truths. Which is pretty much his normal response to everything. From DUI’s in Florida, to it wasn’t me that abused that couple, I wasn’t at the game, to the people voted for me to build them subways in Scarborough. Lies, lies and more lies. Is he even capable of telling the truth?

    The one thing he has accomplished is to widen the divide between the boroughs and the core. A good mayor’s job is to bring us all together. A great mayor would help us all prosper. Ford will never be good or great, at best he’ll go down as the worst mayor the city’s history.

  • Anonymous

    I think Ford is very much alone now after leaving his allies high and dry; even they see that he does not have the intellectual rigor that the job demands. I hated Mike Harris but he had plans and you could debate them.I think you will see council come together to try to get stuff done and move on as it is clear that during Ford’s long absences from chambers he certainly is not doing any work. I suspect that Tipsy Mayor wont serve his full term. I just hope that Toronto can learn from this and stop electing people like Ford and Lastman, populist lightweights that waste valuable city building time.

  • Michael

    Worst mayor in history. Mel Lastman is smiling now.

  • Mark Ostler

    Minor issue: the article states “the two stops we can afford on the billion dollars the province has promised us.”

    It’s actually a combination of provincial and federal dollars. $333-million from the feds and a potential $650-million from the province, “potential” being the key word. The MOU Ford signed with the province gave the city $8.4-billion to build a buried Eglinton Crosstown LRT, with the caveat that if the project came in under the $8.4-billion budget, a maximum of $650-million would go to other Toronto transit projects. Unless I’m mistaken, the MOU meant that any surplus dollars beyond $650-million would go back to the province. But if I’m wrong, I eagerly await correction.

    • Anonymous

      No, you are 100% right, and I will correct momentarily.

    • Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

      I think that Ford was referring to the remaining funds of the $8.7 billion from the original deal not already committed to the current Crosstown and Finch West LRTs. Although it’s really hard to tell with him.

  • Anonymous

    The rant that Mr. Ford went on just before he lost that vote was something else. Every sentence had at least three utterances of “subways!”. He sounds like a bratty little six year old throwing a tantrum. He still insists on referring to LRT’s as “streetcars”, and claiming they are identical. Somebody, I don’t care who, needs to take Mr. Ford to an actual LRT. Bombardier makes the ones for Calgary if I’m not mistaken. They’re completely different vehicles. They look like a slightly squatter version of a single-storey GO train. They are far longer, and carry far more people, than a streetcar. The man is just refusing to deal with reality. It bothers me greatly that this imbecile is the mayor of my city, and even moreseo that even after the past several weeks of childish, ridiculous behavior, somebody out there will still vote for him.

    How is any of this “respect for taxpayers”?! Insisting on developing a hugely expensive subway expansion (with no plan at all to fund it) is almost literally the definition of the term “gravy train”, and Ford doesn’t even realize it.

  • Commonsense NE1

    Okay again it looks like I will have to post my comment here that I posted a few wks ago in response to someone else’s pointed opinion about those that disagree with Rob Ford’s position.
    For the record I don’t advocate most of Rob Ford’s rhetoric because I believe it is just that….rhetoric. My view is coming from personal experience as a person who actually lives in the Suburbs and has to commute to the downtown core via public transit. Info in square brackets are new comments I’ve added…
    Please see below….
    [This was in response to someone commenting that Scarborough residence wouldn't appreciate having to foot the bill for subways if council decided to tax according to region and distance from the main subway arteries. I attended one of recent meetings on the planning for the transit system on Sheppard]
    in actuality there are many who “live in the burbs” and rely heavily on public transit because they simply cannot afford a vehicle or are unable to travel by car (mobility issues, illness etc). However, [there are many who are] willing to take an increase in taxes, tolls whatever, if it means that the money will go towards improving the transit system [(not going to "gravy train" rumoured council perks like massages, trips around the world, free stationary, council kickbacks get my drift)].

    Also, the anger that many Scarborough transit riders have (I am one of them) stems from the fact that we pay taxes just like you, pay fees just like you, pay for services that you (if you live in the city centre/downtown core) have the pleasure of experiencing. Those in Scarborough simply don’t. When you have a region as large as Scarborough, with heavy development happening in certain parts because of major events like the Pan Am games…would it not make sense to look at ways to provide effective and efficient service to the area? Places like Malvern/Rouge River, the Bluffs and Scarborough East are some of the most underserviced areas in the city when it comes to public transit. It would make absolutely no sense to put the LRT at Sheppard East of Kennedy because there are two Overpasses dedicated to the GO and CN. [the Agincourt GO Stn overpass will be completed either by the end of this year or in 2013] What are they going to do, plow through the support beams and take down all the businesses along the route to make enough space for cars and the LRT vehicles? The LRT may seem like a great idea to some who are only looking at the here and now but what about the future?

    I’ve lived in Scarborough for most of my life and the idea that we are going to invest 8.4 billion dollars to build a LRT that will only reduce my commute time by 10 mins tops is absolutely ridiculous [this is what the "experts" said to myself and other Scarborough residents in attendance at the meeting.] It takes me anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours to get to work one way daily. A subway would reduce my commute time by 30-40 mins. And you think I would object to taking a slight hit to my pocket to see it happen?

    [Lastly, I wouldn't object to having the Scarborough RT developed and perhaps abandon the Sheppard Subway issue all together] Because there is money already allocated to revamping the RT it might make more sense to extend the Scarborough RT line to a further Northeastern stop (Morningside and Finch or Meadowvale and Sheppard) and provide express buses on Sheppard from Don Mills out to Meadowvale which might be lower in cost and easier to make detours in case of traffic problems occuring on Sheppard…again just a thought.]

    • Anonymous

      The VAST majority of people taking transit along Sheppard and in Scarborough do not go downtown. Somewhere between 19-21% go to Sheppard, Eglinton or Downtown.

      Wouldn’t it be better to spend money on getting better transit for the majority.

      And building a subway from STC up to the Go Station and then along Sheppard to Don Mills is not going to help either those who go internally, or those who want to go downtown.

  • Richard Evans

    I am a Ford supporter and I take the subway every day.

    LRT’s will cripple this city with traffic congestion. But the wealthy downtown core wants new streetcars to compliment their posh condos. And they will win, because they always win in this city.

    I want a subway or nothing because I am not a sheep to be herded onto a streetcar in the middle of the road, nor does transferring from a subway to above ground transit do anything to increase my travel time.

    • Anonymous

      If you take the subway every day, why do you “want a subway or nothing”? Are you planning on walking?

    • Anonymous

      Ummmm…….”The wealthy downtown core want new streetcars to compliment their posh condos”……

      You do know that the fully above ground LRT’s are going in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke, right?

      And if you take the subway now, how will LRT’s along Sheppard and Finch West inconvenience you?