Ontario to Ford: Council is Supreme
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Ontario to Ford: Council is Supreme

In a press conference this afternoon, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli encouraged Rob Ford to work as a partner with the council and the province.

Yesterday, after city council voted to overturn Rob Ford’s decree and reinstate a previously agreed-upon plan for light rail lines with the province, the mayor dismissed the decision entirely. Speaking to reporters a few minutes after voting, he said he was “very confident” the province would continue building subways. And then he went on: “Technically, the entire meeting was irrelevant,” to audible gasps from media and councillors. (He was hustled away by staff immediately after making that statement.)

Rob Ford is destined to disappointment, it seems. In the first place, the province never had a plan to build subways—whether it goes below or above ground, what they are building on Eglinton is an LRT. If Ford manages to pull together funding for a Sheppard subway, it will not be a provincially-driven project. And in the second place, Dalton McGuinty and Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli have moved quickly to disabuse Ford of any notion that council can be sidelined with one evening press conference.

In a press conference held this afternoon, Chiarelli made it clear that was the furthest thing from the truth.

As a former mayor, he began, “I’ve always respected the role of council as a whole to exercise their authority.” He went on to say that any transit project was of necessity a partnership, and that all parties—the TTC, council, the mayor, and the province—needed to work together to get Toronto’s transit projects past the blueprint stage and into construction. The debate Toronto has been engaged in over recent weeks is healthy, Chiarelli said, but shovels in the ground are good too. He described the plan approved by council yesterday as “very much a work in progress,” pending a report by a blue-ribbon panel that is tasked with recommending the best transit option for Sheppard. (That report must come before city council by March 21.) As for Ford’s role in helping or hindering transit plans in Toronto, Chiarelli pointed out that he had asked to meet with the mayor and his brother Doug three or four weeks ago, and that he had never received a reply. “Leave your politics at the door,” he said today, addressing everyone involved: council, Ford, and the TTC. “Further prolonged debate borders on being irresponsible.”

The phrasing was measured (diplomatic if you are feeling charitable, waffling if not), and certainly it wasn’t as strong as some had hoped for. But Chiarelli is hampered by the very practical problem that the mayor is the city’s official representative: legislatively, the mayor is responsible for intergovernmental affairs. And right now, he doesn’t seem interested in sitting down at the table with anyone whose transit goals differ from his own. Legally, council may be supreme, and the province can confirm that all it wants, but there are a limited number of options for Queen’s Park if the mayor keeps trying to throw sand in the gears. Procedurally, there are dozens of ways the municipal administration could still try to slow things down.

All of which leaves us with this: council made a decision yesterday, and while that decision was clear, the path to implementing is still anything but.