LRT for Sheppard, Fighting Words for Ford
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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.