Ford Attempts Coup to Stall Debate on Transit City
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Ford Attempts Coup to Stall Debate on Transit City

TTC commissioners are now in open revolt against Chair Karen Stintz.

Karen Stintz at the preview of the TTC's new streetcar design, in November 2011.

In a bizarre political move at the TTC meeting today, Ford loyalists voted to gut staff recommendations [PDF] 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 6-3, with only TTC Chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) and commissioners Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre) and John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West) 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 it sees fit. How long Stintz 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: she argued that they should take the $5 million council added back to the TTC during its budget debate “to prevent service reductions” and allocate it not to regular bus service but to supplement Wheel-Trans budgets, to allow them to continue to serve dialysis patients. This is the same Commission that only months earlier effectively told these Wheel-Trans 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, in a feat of sophistry that deeply undermines her credibility, argued that “service cuts” was a generic term 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 $5 million was not intended to let Queen’s Park off 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 for Team Ford and sandbagged a big piece of council’s rescue motion by circumventing the intended use of that $5 million. However, her role as an 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 Metrolinx sent a letter to Mayor Ford and Chair Stintz saying, more or less, “get your crap together and decide what you really want us to build.” Metrolinx finally understands that the Memorandum of Understanding it signed with Mayor Ford last year is of little value without the approval council must provide: “Absent Council’s endorsement of the MoU, the City is not bound by the plan and it is increasingly difficult for Metrolinx to implement it.”

Council must now 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 that would lead to a 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.

Some councillors are now talking openly of calling a special meeting of council; they need a majority of councillors to agree in order to convene one, but the mayor’s approval is not required. The agenda for such a meeting would be set by those who call for it, not throttled by the mayor’s cronies at Executive Committee (who often keep items they don’t like off the agenda for regular council meetings). This would allow for a 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 committee and Executive Committee appointments. 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” based on his election victory, but forgets that councillors were all elected too—councillors who 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 on Team Ford bothered to think of such a nicety when they had a fighting chance of winning that vote, and now their inattention leaves an embarrassing reminder of details ignored.

Whether Karen Stintz will survive these events as TTC Chair or even as a Commission 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 ally of 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.

See also:

Legal Opinion: Rob Ford Did Not Have Authority to Cancel Transit City

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