(On a lazy Sunday, we post our piece from this week’s Torontoist. Think of it as the director’s cut.)
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Mayor Ford emerged from his waterfront cash grab gambit (or maybe it belonged to his renegade councillor sibling – Sorry, bro. Did I get any on you?) with his brand new consensus suit a little ill-fitting. On Monday after last week’s fiasco, he stood before council at a special Core Services Review meeting more than a little feisty. Spit and vinegarish even
Clearly over the weekend he and his advisors, with the first real debacle of his mayoralty in place and favourability numbers dropping precipitously, decided that the taxpayers of Toronto preferred candidate for mayor Rob Ford to the actual Mayor Rob Ford. So he reverted back to campaign mode, all vitriolic rhetoric and new pithy catch phrases. In introducing the Core Services Review items to kick off the proceedings, he stood and called out the ‘loonie left’ councillors who dared to defy his wishes. Stay The Course was a brand new mantra, chanted over and over again. Under questioning, he blustered, rambled, frequently contradicted himself within a single sentence. Just like the glory days out on the hustings in 2010.
The mayor even cited some new, unofficial polling data. According to people he met everywhere, 90% told him, begged him, exhorted him to Stay The Course. Suck on that, Ipsos Reid. Maybe you need to take your random samplings from the line ups at Tim Horton’s.
But for all the chest beating, name calling and bully boy posturing, the tone at council had shifted noticeably. While never exactly orderly, Team Ford had been able to deliver a rough hewn obedience, always managing to wrangle a majority of councillors into its corner on important issues. This week? A sense of disarray descended. Tried and true allies tested the waters of independence. Items and amendments came fast furious, some from very unexpected corners. I’m sorry, was that Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday introducing an item on road tolls? Yes, yes. I get that it was nothing more than an attempted poke in the eye of Councillor Josh Matlow who had put forth his own motions asking for a review of a road toll idea but it put the mayor on the defensive, having to explain (idiotically, IMHO) his opposition to the concept of generating revenue through this particular type of user fee.
The biggest eye-opener, however, was Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby. A fellow Etobicokian and self-proclaimed right of centre suburban politician, she openly stood up and questioned the mayor about the entire process they were being asked to undertake. “Flying blind”, she called it, having to make consequential choices without any numbers in front of them, sounding almost Perksian at times. She didn’t wilt under the withering but ineffectual show me the money line of questioning from the budget chief. When it came time to push through the items she had introduced, Councillor Lindsay Luby gleefully flashed a thumbs up, sitting right next to Team Ford QB-clown, Giorgio Mammoliti and his downturned thumb of mayoral disapproval.
That said, Mayor Ford suffered no devastating setbacks during the two day meeting. There was no knockout blow, as the pundits like to say. Yes, the cuts he was hoping to inflict in the process fell woefully short of the intended mark. The $28 million or so he did get doesn’t even rate as a drop in the bucket. And in my darker moments, I might view the fact the Voluntary Separation Program – a “coerced” retirement offering to city staff as Councillor Gord Perks suggested in an unfriendly environment with a threatened 10% across the board reduction to all departments hanging in the air — moved on relatively unscathed gave the mayor a jump on the budget process, initiating cuts by stealth under the guise of attrition rather than layoffs or firings.
Still, as the mayor insisted somewhat disingenuously to quell fears of the slashing and burning taking place no decisions were being made at this point. It was all about reviews and studies. In other words, he remained in place, knocking down the easy to reach, low flying fruit. But now, Team Ford was bleeding support and the tough choices remain to be made.
Not only were stalwarts like Councillor Lindsay Luby drifting, so were Executive Committee members Councillors Berardinetti and Robinson. The mushy middle stopped being cowed. As Adam Chaleff-Freudenthaler pointed out to me, even more worrisome for Mayor Ford, the already soft but principled conservative Chin Lee representing heavy, heavy Ford friendly Ward 41 in Scarborough quietly but decisively voted against the mayor on a surprisingly large number of items over the last couple days.
Support jumping overboard even before the ship hits really choppy waters. An already tenuous majority grown skittish. A summer of discontent turned to an autumn of disregard. All the ingredients for a disastrous budget process and a severe blow to the tattered mandate flag Mayor Ford keeps trying to hold high.
– resubmitted by Cityslikr