Colle Cocked

A remarkable day starring two, up until now, unremarkable councillors.

And I don’t use ‘unremarkable’ in a pejorative sense. Just not noteworthy. Bereft of distinction. Having made no real dent or splash yet. A kind of, who’s my councillor again kind of councillor.

Until budget day on Tuesday. In one swift motion (ha, ha), rookie councillor Josh Colle made his presence felt and established himself as a very real force to be contended with. Not only did he catch the mayor and his guard flat-footed with a move to reinstate some $15 million of the more controversial cuts back into the 2012 operating budget, he withstood a blustery, cantankerous line of questioning from a brigade of under-prepared Ford Teamsters in a polished and confident manner that suggested a much more veteran politician. He was politely aggressive with the baiting line of queries and also very funny. When a more friendly colleague, Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon rose to ask him her questions and accidentally referred to him as the other Josh, Matlow, Colle waited for the laughter to subside before responding, “Yes, Councillor Doucette?”

His performance and not unreasonable motion changed the tone of the day’s debate and paved the way for moves by other councillors to stave off another $4 million in cuts including the additional savings demanded of the Toronto Public Library. Councillor Colle nudged Mayor Ford from the driver’s seat, sending the administration into scramble mode in the hopes of beating back the motion and preserving the mayor’s budget.

In the end, they didn’t. The mayor suffered a string of defeats, close, close, close but inevitable defeats and as much credit as Councillor Colle deserves for that, so does Councillor James Pasternak. Arguably traversing much more political ground than Colle to wind up on the opposite side of the mayor – he had been pretty much a sure thing for Mayor Ford for most of the year+ he’s been councillor for Ward 10 – Pasternak wound up being the very unlikely swing vote that pushed Councillor Colle’s motion over the top.

Not for a lack of trying to keep him in the fold by the mayor’s forces. At one point during Tuesday’s meeting, both the mayor and his brother, Doug, made their way across the chamber floor in Councillor Pasternak’s direction. The mayor gestured like a grade school principal who’d just caught a child running in the hallway for the councillor to follow them to backroom. Councillor Pasternak willingly obeyed and the three of them disappeared from the room.

What was said and how, I couldn’t tell you. One would assume it took more dark, threatening tones because for the mayor to be offering up goodies in return for the councillor’s vote, well, that would just be antithetical to what we’ve been hearing from the mayor’s office for months now. The cupboard’s  bare, there’s no money for ‘pet projects’. So as important as the vote was, and we’re talking really, really important, like 4 new libraries, 3 new community centres and a subway right up to the councillor’s door important, it would be monstrously hypocritical for the mayor to be promising favours in return for votes.

Whatever was said, offered, threatened behind closed doors failed. Councillor Pasternak didn’t blink. He defied the mayor and voted for Councillor Colle’s motion.

As did another right of centre councillor, Chin Lee who continued his drift from the administration. And let’s not forget, Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, the only girl allowed in the Etobicoke Councillor Boys Club that includes the mayor’s brain trust, his brother and the Deputy Mayor, Doug Holyday, along with the hangers-on, Councillor Vincent Crisanti, Mark Grimes and Peter Milczyn. While her intentions might not have been the most noble (“Leaf collection, for me, was absolutely important”), she stood her ground, gleefully flashing her thumb in the opposite direction of the one Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti insisted on displaying despite its noticeable lack of efficacy.

Combined with the other members of the newbie mushy middle, Councillors Ana Bailão, Josh Matlow and Mary-Margaret McMahon, it was enough of a faction, along with the left of centre crowd of councillors, to best the mayor in every budget motion save two, I believe. It was a rebuke if not quite a repudiation of the direction Mayor Ford wanted to take the city. It put on the brakes but did not turn the car around.

The budget that passed remained chock full of highly questionable cuts. The mayor and his team can still rightly claim that they are spending less than they did last year which, to their way of thinking, means something significant. Before losing control of the budget meeting, Team Ford deftly managed to snip off any nascent move that may have been building to increase the property tax increase from 2.5%. Budget 2012 can still rightfully be called a Mayor Rob Ford budget.

But at what cost?

There’s now clearly disorder in the ranks. If they can lose an ally like Councillor Pasternak on such an important vote as a budget vote, who’s next? Fellow rookie councillors and Executive Committee members, Michelle Berardinetti and Jaye Robinson, must feel as if they were hung out to dry. They now have to wear things like their vote in favour of demanding a full 10% cut to the TPL and explain it to their constituents. For what? Where an unwavering allegiance to the Ford brand might’ve seemed like just good politics last year, six months ago, two weeks ago, it’s suddenly more like a millstone around their necks.

Ditto Councillor Crawford. Another Ford stalwart, Councillor Michael Thompson was awfully quiet during the budget meeting. He dutifully voted along with the mayor but certainly kept his head low while doing so. And how long will even Councillors Grimes and Milczyn – both of whom were targeted for defeat by the Ford campaign during the 2010 election – blindly follow him, realizing the mayor can’t even win over city council on important matters let alone orchestra a successful race against them in 2014 if they don’t now obey his every command?

Yes, Councillors Josh Colle and James Pasternak may’ve just skimmed a speck of dosh from the surplus stash the mayor tucked away on the capital side of the budget on Tuesday. A mere less than .2% of the operating budget, as Edward Keenan pointed out in his comprehensively excellent article yesterday. But there is every reason to suspect that they succeeded in blowing up the prevailing Ford era dynamic at City Hall where the mayor pronounces and it is so.

They’ve opened the floodgates. The Curtis Flood-gates, that is. Free agency has come to city council.

borasly submitted by Cityslikr

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