Room To Grow

One of the advantages of this thing I do to while away the hours between when its socially acceptable to drink is that I can not only riff on ideas put forth by others in order to fill up the blank pages – like a jazz musician putting his own notes on a established theme – but I’m allowed to take my ideas and run with them for a subsequent post. Acting as my own source. The ultimate insider ball.

Like say, just this past Thursday. In bemoaning the mayor’s abdication of responsibility… no, not bemoaning, exactly. More pointing it out and realizing that there’s an upside to it, I suggested that in the empty space provided, a handful of first term councillors have taken the opportunity to start exhibiting a little moxy, some chutzpah, a long cool drink of independent mindedness. They’ve thrown themselves a debutante ball.

In retrospect, being elected to City Hall for the first time in 2010 must’ve been like winning the lottery and immediately being held up at knifepoint and told to hand the cheque over. Wait… but I haven’t even cashed it yet.

The 14 newcomers were thrown into what could only be described as a bear pit. Some found their footing fairly quickly and not in the least bit unsurprisingly. There was the mayor’s brother, touting the purest form of Team Ford DNA. Others like councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton were destined to be on the other side, owing to pedigree in Layton’s case and both being elected to represent wards as anti-Ford as they came.

But for the other 11, it has been a strange, strained, tumultuous, uncharted trip.

At the start, Mayor Ford was a force to be reckoned with. Defy him at your peril, mere council mortals. Fear the wrath of Ford Nation!

Sensibly, many neophyte councillors ducked for cover, quietly taking sides and hoping not to be noticed. Councillors Sarah Doucette and Mary Fragedakis usually leaning to the left, Executive Committee members Michelle Berardinetti and Jaye Robinson along with councillors Gary Crawford, Vincent Crisanti and James Pasternak lining up behind the mayor. John Tory endorsed Mary-Margaret McMahon, councillors Ana Bailão and Josh Colle made up what was soon termed (mostly derogatorily) the ‘mushy middle’, voting with Mayor Ford as often as not in the early going.

The 14th newbie, Councillor Josh Matlow broke from the pack earliest, trying to stake out a highly visible non-partisan man in a neither black nor white shade of grey suit. His timing was off, however, not to mention coming across as more than a little self serving. For the first year or so of the Ford administration, compromise and negotiation were simply not part of the equation. It was all about His Worship’s way or the highway.

Pressure was applied to play along. Projects were threatened without consultation. It was tough to learn the ropes when you were always coming under assault. Discretion, for many, was the better part of valour at this juncture. Keep heads low until the storm passes.

It started to break late last year. With Councillor Ford’s ill-advised land grab of the Portlands, the pushback began. Soft spoken Councillor Jaye Robinson took a very public stand against the move which, coming from a member of the mayor’s Executive Committee, signalled that dissent was now possible. Mayor Ford backed down on that, forging a rare council consensus that saved some face but his ironclad grip on the majority of rookie councillors had been broken.

Councillor Robinson didn’t jump ship entirely, remaining a reliable mayoral ally or, at least, not a vocal critic of him. That is, until she announced recently that at the end of the year she’ll be leaving her position on the Executive Committee. It seems she’s looking to spend the second half of her first term a little less affiliated with Mayor Ford.

Fellow ExComm member Berardinetti is travelling a similar but slightly rockier path. While maintaining a closer adherence to the Ford agenda than Robinson, Councillor Berardinetti has already bailed out of her position as a member of the Budget Committee, citing a desire to concentrate more on her constituency work as the reason. It probably also had something to do with her not being as down with the cutting and slashing especially in the face of an increased surplus since the original budget showdown in January.

Now she’s in the middle of a tussle with the mayor over the fate of the 5 cent plastic bag fee. He wants to kill it outright. Councillor Berardinetti wants to try and find a way to redirect the money to the tree canopy fund.

“I don’t know how it is going to happen,” Mayor Ford said. “I can’t support that.” I don’t get it. I don’t like it. End of discussion.

“I’m not sure if he fully understands what we’re trying to achieve here,” the councillor said, “and quite possibly he hasn’t read the full report.” Ouch. I’d call that a serious lack of deference now being shown to the mayor by a member of his very own Executive Committee.

“Berardinetti told the Sun she wasn’t surprised by Ford’s position,” Don Peat writes, “but she stressed he won’t be able to get council to scrap the bag fee.”

Yeah, that thing the mayor wants to do? He can huff and puff all he wants. It’s not going to happen.

Just like not reversing the $15 million or so of cuts in the 2012 budget. Another new councillor, Josh Colle, served as the face of that mayoral rebuff. It didn’t need to be a big setback as it was a miniscule fraction of the overall budget but Mayor Ford’s unwillingness to bend even in the slightest turned it into a major PR bomb. Emboldened, council, along with a solid majority of new members, turned its sites on the transit file in March and assumed complete control of it, sidelining the mayor to a state of almost insignificance.

How much so? Take a look at Councillor James Pasternak. A strong Ford loyalist from the get-go he’s now drifted notably from the Ford fold, rankling under the continual pressure to follow marching orders. He broke decisively during the budget debate despite the mayoral squeeze. “I would say it [pressure] was intense. Very intense,” he told the National Post. “I was looking for an opportunity to speak during the [budget] debate, but every time I’d try and get on the speakers’ list, I would be called away for another mini-caucus in the members’ lounge or in the back room.”

Perhaps in order to keep a closer eye on him or to lure him back with a plum post, Mayor Ford put him on the Budget Committee to replace the outgoing Councillor Berardinetti. So far the move hasn’t exactly brought him back into line. With an even bigger surplus than expected announced a couple weeks ago, Councillor Pasternak wants more of the cuts in this year’s budget reversed. Voted down at his inaugural budget committee meeting, the councillor was not deterred.

“There’s going to be a floor fight on council on this item,” he told the Globe and Mail. “We’re going to move it straight up there and that way all 44 councillors and the mayor have a say in what’s important to Torontonians. I think the most important thing is we have to cut through a lot of the histrionics of financial despair that were plaguing the budgetary process into the fall and early 2012.”

In the space of less than a year, one of city council’s most intimidated new councillors has not only abandoned Mayor Ford but done so openly and loudly. Labelling the mayor’s handling of the budget process histrionic and vowing a ‘floor fight’ at council in response to the budget committee’s refusal to defy the mayor, Councillor Pasternak has staked his position and, perhaps, his political future in the wide open political territory of moderation. By clinging so stubbornly to his far right comfort zone, Mayor Ford has inadvertently given plenty of room for the newcomers to stretch their wings and find their own place on the spectrum, free of coercion or bullying from an administration that, with one self-inflicted wound after another, has diminished its power to wield that sort of clout.

submitted by Cityslikr

3 Responses to Room To Grow

  1. It’s beautiful, seeing RoFo totally irrelevant.

  2. Astrida says:

    beautiful!!

  3. Sonny says:

    We’ll see if the Fords get rid of the 5 cent bags. When I already have a reusable bag plus places like No Frills was also charging for it well before the 2009 change!

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