Josh Colle's Coming Out Party
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Josh Colle’s Coming Out Party

Rookie councillor stops flying under the radar, proposes a raft of motions that would reverse many of Rob Ford's proposed budget cuts.

Since his election in 2010, Josh Colle has been something of an enigma. Though his campaign placed him on the centre-left, broadly speaking, he voted with the mayor a fair bit of the time (his Fordiness ranking is at 44%), and perhaps more significantly, he didn’t make much of a splash when it came to council debates. Unlike some of his rookie collegues, he certainly wasn’t aiming for the spotlight.

The running theory has been that Colle was worried about the fate of the planned massive revitalization of Lawrence Heights, a plan Colle supports but which faces some controversy locally and which the mayor had previously opposed. The sense has been that Colle was lying low, and sometimes backing the mayor, in an attempt to smooth the passage of the Lawrence Heights project rather than making it a target for the mayor’s office to aim at. And then on November 30, city council voted on the proposed “secondary plan” for Lawrence Heights—basically a more detailed outline of the planning, zoning, and redevelopment of the area. Rob and Doug Ford were the only two to vote against the plan; Ford’s allies either voted for it or abstained. Even with the mayor’s opposition during the vote itself, it was a sign that the mayor’s office had (perhaps grudgingly) allowed the plan to proceed. Though funding has not yet been secured for the plan, and there are sure to be more votes on it at council, to some extent at least, Colle may now be feeling free to take stronger stances on other issues.

He has, to put it mildly, come out swinging.

The final debate about the 2012 budget got underway this morning at City Hall. Just two hours into proceedings (the meeting is scheduled to run for three days) political observers watched in astonishment as Colle—not Gord Perks or Adam Vaughan or Kristyn Wong-Tam (recognized leaders of the left wing on council)—moved a set of proposals that would reverse many of the most severe budget cuts Rob Ford has been calling for. Colle’s motion, if passed, would save some TTC funding (and by extension, bus route service cuts), community grants that go to social service organizations, programming for youth at priority centres, school pools, and a host of other things. How to pay for this? With $15 million of the projected $154 million surplus. It was pretty much exactly what left-leaning councillors had been calling for (with one notable exception, namely library funding).

And it spells major trouble for the mayor.

Ford expected strong opposition from the left. He didn’t expect it from the centre. Soon after Colle finished speaking, Doug Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) jumped up to question him aggressively, and meeting chair Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) became noticeably more short-tempered in her management of everyone’s speeches. Both strong Ford allies, clearly they were taken aback, and clearly they were concerned. Colle’s motion wasn’t a grand compromise gesture, negotiated by all parties to mend fences after a very tense few months of budget discussions, a way for Ford to meet his critics halfway, or a peace offering from the left that would allow Ford to save face. (Such compromises were pipe dreams to begin with.) This was the mayor getting sidelined by someone who had never stood up to him before.

Motions at city council are almost never conceived in a vaccuum, or in solitude. There are meetings and informal alliances and agreements between councillors who support each other either on principle or out of a pragmatic wish to get things done. It’s too soon to tell who might, when push comes to shove, put their name behind Colle’s and vote for this motion. Councillors on the left can reasonably be expected to do so. The question is whether other centrist councillors like Colle will follow suit. It’s unlikely that he would have moved this motion today unless he had an indication that at least some of them were willing to do so.

UPDATE, JANUARY 18, 10:43 AM: We wrote this yesteday, in the midst of the debate. Last night, Colle’s motion passed by a vote of 23-21.