Old New Is Still Bad News

July 18, 2015

For anybody following along with the surreal and torturous Scarborough subway debate for the past 5 years, none of this comes as any sort of surprise. The ridership numbers, the cost estimates were all highly suspect, right from the outset.hardofhearing Then mayor Rob Ford was the prime pusher behind the idea for a new Scarborough subway. How could the numbers be anything but questionable?

“Should there have been an extensive due-diligence process before those numbers were quoted and used publicly? Yes,” Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat told the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro. “Was there? No.”

In the post-Gary Webster era at City Hall, it’s not hard to comprehend how staff did their upmost to tell their political masters what they wanted to hear especially when it came to public transit. The former TTC General Manager was forced to walk the plank when he publically expressed an opinion in support of building LRTs instead of subways. It clearly wasn’t safe for staff to be laying their cards on the table.

With the provincial transportation body, Metrolinx, demanding an almost immediate decision from city council on how to proceed with the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line (a decision the province itself had its own vested opinion about), city staff had been given a couple weeks to come up with a report, a report that many councillors were going to use by any means necessary to justify their support for a subway extension into Scarborough.

If the objective here is to parse the planning analysis that was on the floor of council as being problematic, I would like to suggest: Yes. We didn’t go through a fulsome process. We were not given the opportunity to go through a fulsome process. We were not expected to go through a fulsome process because it was a politically driven process.

“A politically driven process,” according to the chief planner, that wound up inflating ridership numbers to within the acceptable range for building a subway, 14,000 at peak hours. Where that number came from, nobody quite knows. Somewhere from within the planning department, it seems. fingerscrossedbehindbackA number not “necessarily documented”, according to the city director of transportation planning, Tim Laspa, but a number “discussed in meetings.”

Not that the numbers matter now. “Irrelevant” today, says Keesmaat. Not that they ever mattered during the debate. This story’s prime villain, Scarborough councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, says he supported the subway regardless of ridership numbers simply on a matter of “fairness”. “Scarborough should have equal access to transit with other areas.”

That’s nonsense, of course.

Scarborough would be better served, more fairly served by implementing the full LRT plan that was part of Transit City. That’s just a plain fact.

But as we’re learning more explicitly now, as many of us have known since 2010, facts have very little to do with this debate. City staff found the environment for reporting facts toxic to their careers. Facts proved to be inconvenient to mayoral ambitions and other political opportunism. notlisteningHell, facts didn’t even have to be factual.

Who knows if this news is coming in too late. Shovels are not yet in the ground but it still feels like the fix is in. What is obvious at this point, though, is it’s going to cost us a lot of money, a lot, a shit tonne of money, stretching out for decades, to go on ignoring the facts as they continue to come to light. An expensive ignoring of facts that won’t, in the end, make much more than a dent in our already woefully under-performing public transit system.

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Bloodied Cesar (I Just Had To)

April 7, 2014

I will give Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport) credit for this much. Talk about having the stones to bad-mouth a major piece of infrastructure that runs right through the heart of your own ward. citybuildingInfrastructure built under your watch.

That takes some nerve, it does. Stepping up and announcing to anyone listening, hey. Look at this mess I helped create. Vote Palacio!

But this is exactly the route the councillor took after signing on to Team Ford in 2010. Aside from maybe the mayor and his brother, and perhaps Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), nobody beat the drum about the St. Clair Disaster louder than Councillor Palacio. Never mind that most of the claims being made were untrue. Yes, the construction did not go smoothly. There were overruns in both time and money. Businesses along the strip suffered.

Don’t forget, however, Councillor Palacio was in office during all this. It’s not as if he inherited it. By yapping on about some perceived disaster, he’s basically announcing that he’s unfit for office. Almost like he’s daring voters not to support him.

Imagine being a resident up near St. Clair or a business along the strip, idareyou1and your local representative can’t seem to tell enough people about how bad things are there. I hear there’s a really good restaurant on St. Clair. Wanna go try it? I don’t know. I would but I hear it’s a nightmare up there. Or… or… You live near St. Clair? I hear it’s a real disaster. Who’d you hear that from? The guy you elected to represent you at City Hall.

Your councillor, Ward 17. Cesar Palacio. Advocating and fighting for your interests since 2003.

Councillor Palacio has been the closest thing downtown Toronto has to a bona fide member of Team Ford. He has accepted the role with particular relish, garnering himself a seat on the Executive Committee through his position as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. thumbsup3When Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s (Ward 7 York West) thumb fell out of favour or into disuse (was never sure which it was), Councillor Palacio, perched as he was directly behind the mayor, enthusiastically filled in, flashing his thumb to let folks know which way the mayor wanted them to vote.

Not that I’d imagine anyone followed his instructions. In fact, I’m not even sure the mayor was ever aware of what Councillor Palacio was doing. The gesture probably had more to do with the councillor signalling to everyone that he was behind Mayor Ford both literally and figuratively.

Despite the mayor’s recent woes, Councillor Palacio has remained a steadfast devotee although he did join the enemy’s list when he voted in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers. The councillor has been firm in his support of a Scarborough subway and against LRTs (because that’s what made St. Clair a disaster, don’t you know). He was part of the gang of 5 TTC commissioners who helped engineer the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster after he had the temerity to publicly suggest it best to stick with the LRT plan that was already in place and paid for by the provincial government. Councillor Palacio was, in turn, thumbsuprobfordunceremoniously dumped when then TTC chair Karen Stintz pulled off her own putsch (curiously however the councillor voted in favour of his own termination), booting those known as Ford loyalists from the board.

Ford loyalist.

I think that would be the most apt and probably only term I’d come up with if asked to describe the councillor’s time in office this term. What else can you say about Cesar Palacio? A Ford loyalist.

And like all Ford loyalists whose last name isn’t Ford, what did the councillor get in return for such fidelity and reliability?

Why just last week in these very virtual pages we reported how the councillor, in his capacity as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee, overseeing the food truck issue, seemed to have been blindsided by the mayor’s motion to eliminate the 50 linear metre from any restaurant rule the councillor was proposing. gotyourback1Councillor Palacio asked the mayor if he realized it was his motion that the mayor was seeking to amend. So obviously there had been no consultation between them. The councillor also wanted to know if the mayor knew just how long it had taken to bang out the sort of compromise he was now seeking to undermine with his off-the-cuff motion.

Mayor Ford appeared indifferent to the councillor’s plaintive tone. That’s just the way he rolls, yo. Loyalty’s a one way street with him, baby.

Still, Councillor Palacio hasn’t come away empty handed with his toadying to the mayor.

Only in a Rob Ford administration could an undistinguished councillor like Cesar Palacio rise to the rank of a standing committee chair, even a lowly regarded one like Municipal Licensing and Standards. But hey. If a Frank Di Giorgio can become budget chief, the sky’s the limit for mediocrity. Chances are Councillor Palacio’s star will never shine as brightly (such as it) as it has for the past 3+ years, although I did spot him at the official launch of John Tory’s mayoral campaign, so his time in the sun may not yet be done.droppedball

The bigger question is, what have Ward 17 residents got in return for their councillor’s brush with power? Used as a political cudgel to fight a transit war across the city in Scarborough. Check. The implementation of the Ford agenda. Check. Fighting to remove a methadone clinic. Check.

Ummm… after that, I’m kind of drawing a blank.

After 10 years in office, you’d think Councillor Palacio and the ward he represents would have a lot more to show for it than that.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


My Conservatism’s 4 Realz!

January 23, 2014

This one’s a long shot.

longshot

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East).

As divisive and stridently ideological as the mayor and his councillor-brother are and have been, in terms of divisiveness and hidebound anti-tax, small/anti-government sentiment, Councillor Minnan-Wong has matched them step for step. Set aside his new found abhorrence of the mayor’s personal behaviour over the past year or so — their ‘personal’ politics couldn’t be more different – when it comes to politics politics, Councillor Minnan-Wong and the Fords are soul mates.

Yes, the councillor called the mayor out on his cowardice yesterday at Executive Committee for failing to put the money where his mouth is especially when it came to the Scarborough subway. peasinapodHe is positioning himself as a more reasonable conservative than the mayor. Well, good for him. Who isn’t and still maintains the ability to walk upright?

But don’t be fooled by this attempt at political relativity. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is second to only one in his hatred of taxation and the attempts of government to have a positive effect in people’s lives. He was as anti-David Miller as they come, being part of the right wing Responsible Government Group established in opposition to the Miller administration. He lustily embraced the role of henchman for Mayor Ford during the early years, using his powerful position as chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to roll back a number of key initiatives the previous council enacted.

Jarvis bike lanes? Gone. Rebuilt a few intersections over along Sherbourne Street. texaschainsawmassacreThe environmental assessment in progress to study various options of what to do with the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway? Quietly shelved, work on it stopped. Hey. What’s going on in Kristyn Wong-Tam’s ward? Let’s fuck some of that shit up, shall we?

Councillor Minnan-Wong may tout himself as a devout fiscal conservative but what he really is is a destructive conservative. None of the actions in the previous paragraph saved the city any money. In fact, the delay caused by ignoring council’s request for the Gardiner EA will wind up costing the city more in the long run as we have to ad hoc patch and maintain parts of the expressway while waiting longer than we needed to for EA to be finished.

Respect and all that blah, blah, blah.

Even the councillor’s righteous indignation at the Scarborough subway Mayor Ford’s unwilling to pay for is, what would you call it? Rich? henchmanCouncillor Minnan-Wong was in the majority of TTC commissioners who engineered the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster at the mayor’s behest for having the temerity to oversee a report that recommended maintaining the course of LRT building rather than throwing money at a phantom subway. So, he sort of helped set fire to transit plans already in place and ushered us into the next phase of uncertainty and delay.

More respect!

Hold on, you might be saying at this point. Maybe we won’t have to worry about Denzil Minnan-Wong creating havoc as a councillor at City Hall for much longer. He’s rumoured to be looking at a run for mayor.

Well, maybe. I just don’t see it happening, though. For a couple reasons.

With the news this week of John Tory definitely maybe jumping into the race, joining Mayor Ford, David Soknacki and (soon) Karen Stintz, all to the right of centre, there’s precious little room left on that perch for Minnan-Wong. Unless he has something up his sleeve, the big back room guns and money will have already found a place elsewhere. And how exactly is he going to position himself? More conservative than the others, less outrageously unpredictable than the mayor. noroomIt’s the sound of the slicing and dicing of the centre-right vote into smaller and smaller bits.

Besides, ignoring political differences for the moment, Councillor Minnan-Wong just doesn’t strike me as an overly appealing candidate. Whatever the populist appeal is that Mayor Ford has (and I’m told he has it although it remains a mystery to me), Councillor Minnan-Wong ain’t got it. Watching him work council chambers, he seems ill at ease with anyone not wearing a suit and lobbying some issue or another. He’s like that guy we all know who isn’t nearly as clever or funny as he thinks he is.

It’s impossible to imagine him making much of a dent into the loyalist Ford base which leave him trying to capture the rest of the conservative vote as he’s certainly dead to anyone sitting centre-left. Just don’t see the numbers breaking his way.

So that leaves us with the prospect of another term of a Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

As entrenched an incumbent as he is, I mean, the guy’s been at City Hall, some city hall, since 1994 and he captured over 50% of the popular vote in 2010, there is a slight glimmer of opportunity. unimpressedIn the last 3 elections, the councillor’s share of the popular vote has declined each campaign from a high of over 70% in 2003 to 53% last time out. Perhaps the longer voters in Ward 34 see Councillor Minnan-Wong, the less they take to him.

And they have seen a lot of him in the past 3+ years, doing what he’s good at. Gutting the city from the inside out under the banner of faux fiscal conservatism. Responsible government? Hardly. A small-minded bean counter with little regard for healthy city building.

He’s kept your taxes low, Ward 34, but at what cost?

Somebody really should take a crack at forcing him to answer that question in 2014.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Roadies

April 12, 2013

Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.

Public works; private moments.publicworks

Apropos of nothing. Felt it had to be said. Movie tagline smooth.

Aside from the Budget Committee, Public Works and Infrastructure may be the most important committee at City Hall*. This is where big decisions about big stuff get made. Transportation and streetscapes. The delivery of water and the collection of waste. None of it necessarily pretty but all of it absolutely vital. Properly done, public works and infrastructure is the difference between a successful, well run city and one that is neither of those things.

“The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee’s primary focus is on infrastructure, with a mandate to monitor, and make recommendations on Toronto’s infrastructure needs and services.”

Public Works and Infrastructure offers up politicians and municipal civil servants the opportunity for greatness and lasting contributions to the city they serve long after they’re dead and gone. bloorstreetaquaductRead John Lorinc’s Globe and Mail article from last year about R.C. Harris, Toronto’s long serving Public Works Commissioner from 1912-45, and marvel at what can be done with some vision and fortitude. The R.C. Harris Water-Treatment Plant and Bloor Street Viaduct are the obvious example but as Lorinc points out:

Harris..left his civic fingerprints all over Toronto, building hundreds of kilometres of sidewalks, sewers, paved roads, streetcar tracks, public baths and washrooms, landmark bridges and even the precursor plans to the GO commuter rail network.

Of course, Harris wasn’t a politician and subject to the whims of the electorate. In fact, his contributions may’ve been the product of his time, impossible to duplicate outside of those particular circumstances. “…it’s unlikely a towering and outspoken figure like Mr. Harris…,” Lorinc quoting Professor Steven Mannell in his article, “would thrive in public service today, given years of political attacks on civil servants at all three levels of government.”

While I hardly mean to equate R.C. Harris with the ex-TTC CEO Gary Webster, it’s useful in underlining Professor Mannell’s point.  rcharriswtpMr. Webster expressed an opinion about transit options our mayor disagreed with, and Mr. Webster was ousted. In such a politically volatile environment – a toxic mix of ‘parsimonious politicians’ elected on ‘narrow mandates’ to paraphrase Professor Mannell , and our dimly held view of bureaucrats —  it’s hard to see how anything gets built, let alone anything on the grand scale that R.C. Harris imagined.

In fact, it could be argued that getting things built is the exact opposite goal of our current Public Works and Infrastructure big cheese, committee chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.  Unless it has something to do with road maintenance, he might be better referred to as Cap’n Tear Up. Jarvis bike lanes, gone, expensively re-replaced by that reversible 5th lane. Proposed Fort York pedestrian bridge scaled back for being too fancy. Scrambled intersections? I don’t know. hulksmashWe need to look at those just in case cars are having to wait too long at red lights.

And that Gardiner Expressway Environmental Assessment ordered up to examine the various options for the eastern portion of the roadway? Mysteriously disappeared upon the councillor’s appointment as PWIC chair, only to be revived last year when over half a billion dollars was budgeted for the Gardiner revitalization starting with its eastern portion. Wait? What did the EA recommend? What do you mean, what EA? Where the hell did the EA go? Den-ZILLLLL!

Like the administration it represents, the current Public Works and Infrastructure Committee reflects its mandate by doing the exact opposite of what it should be doing. Tearing down instead of building up (unless, of course, we’re referring to roads). Looking back instead looking forward. Status quo instead of adaptation.

Or as Rowan Caister so succinctly put it: …money that we could spend on public space and innovative infrastructure is being clawed back in order to dismantle inexpensive infrastructure (Jarvis) and keep expensive infrastructure on life support (Gardiner).

At Wednesday’s meeting the committee chair and one of the newest members, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, both indulged their colleagues by voting to receive the report update on the Gardiner EA while knowing full well what the outcome must/will be. There will/must not be any removal of any part of the Gardiner. sewersDrivers depend on it. Any alternative will result in chaos.

As it was and has been, so it shall always be.

It isn’t the motto a Public Works and Infrastructure committee should try to uphold. Cities flounder when they do. That’s just how important this committee is to our well-being. We need to treat with the respect and attention it deserves.

*  *  *

(*Not including the Executive Committee which is made up of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chairs of the 7 Standing Committees and 4 at-large members.)

diggingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Big Freeze

August 20, 2012

Good news, Toronto!

Looks like the city’s not going to face a what-the-hell-let’s-just-go-for-a 10% cut across the board in fiscal year 2013. Nope. Things are looking up. We’re just going to have to deal with a 0% budget freeze. So already put upon departments, services and programs will merely grind to a further halt through attrition and more sprung leaks rather than amputations and major blood loss.

Along with a spending freeze, the Globe and Mail reports that city manager Joe Pennachetti has also called for ‘a ban on new service initiatives’. So, it’s all stand pat and hope for the best. We just can’t be too sure how big our surplus is going to be next year.

It’s difficult to keep your head above fiscal choppy waters when you insist on swimming with only one arm. Mayor Ford’s proposed 1.75% property tax increase barely covers the rate of inflation, never mind any of the wage settlements various city workers are scheduled to receive. Instead of exploring other sources to generate more revenue, it’s all about further reducing services until…

Well, that’s the $123 billion infrastructure deficit question.

You see, fiscal conservatives on council will tell you that we need to reduce the $400+ million spent annually on paying down our debt principle and interest. When we get rid of that, well then, the sky’s the limit. We can start dishing out for all those nice-to-haves everybody loves so much but doesn’t really want to pay for.

Like a properly operating public transit system. Serviceable roads. Bridges that don’t fall down in chunks. Libraries with computers and books other than trade paperbacks.

Until such time when this city is debt free, we’ll all have to just get by. Make do with less. Show the kind of discipline the likes of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is so proud of when he votes to cut everything Mayor Ford says needs to be cut.

Discipline and courage.

“I am doing this for everybody’s future,” fiscal warrior and city budget chief, Mike Del Grande proclaimed. “Unfortunately, they want me to be the bad guy.”

No, that’s not true, councillor. What we really want you to be is a better budget chief. One who realizes that miserly penny-pinching and refusing to have a sensible discussion about the true costs of maintaining a healthy city now doesn’t in the least leave a prosperous future for the coming generations. It just leaves a mess that they have to clean up and you don’t have to pay for.

In reality, it’s kind of the exact opposite of courage and discipline.

I don’t know how much latitude senior bureaucrats like Mr. Pennachetti have with the elected official they deal with. Certainly the fate of Gary Webster must serve as a cautionary tale about dealing with the Ford administration. But this budget freeze/no new service initiatives mode he’s adopted for the upcoming year is at odds with the city manager I saw speak at the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance this spring about Toronto’s fiscal health. He boasted about our double-A credit rating. He suggested there was probably no more than $100 million still to find through efficiencies. Further cutting wasn’t going to solve any looming crisis that may be waiting up ahead for us.

And make no mistake, Mr. Pennachetti is now proposing further cuts to departments and agencies that he has already taken a knife to in the past couple years. Zero increases mean less money. Even our current budget chief can do the simple math from that.

As long as the city manager insists on making these kinds of austerity demands, he continues to play accomplice to those who aren’t really all that interested in being fiscally responsible. He offers cover to their claims of being brave and disciplined. He’s insisting on further hardship for those already hard hit by previous cutbacks for the sake of those operating under the faulty premise that they’re hard done by.

Our city manager’s already done much dirty work for Mayor Ford. It’s time he starts looking out for the best interests of those who’ve paid a hefty price for their collaboration.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr


TTC Capo

June 30, 2012

I often imagine what it was like behind the scenes back in the heady days of the fall of `10, just after Rob Ford’s surprise mayoral victory. Transitioning into power, drawing up their enemies candidates list for positions in the administration. The only absolute condition was a shared visceral antipathy toward the mayor-elect’s predecessor. Also, being yes men toadies a must.

“So, Stintzie wants to run the TTC. What do you think?”

“Ummm… Don’t know. Did she hate Miller as much as I did?”

“Nobody hated Miller as much as you, Robbie.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I fucking hated that guy. But you think she respects the taxpayers enough? Remember those voice lessons she paid for out of her office expenses?”

“As long as she votes with us to cut those expenses, we can let bygones be bygones. But I’ll tell you what. If she’s still thinking about ever running for mayor—”

“I will crush her. Ford Nation will tear her apart. Like LT snapping Theismann’s leg, Crrrr-acckkk!”

“That’s the thing, Robbie. You won’t have to. The shit we’re going to do to the TTC. Cuts… cuts… cuts–”

“You know who else I fucking hate, Dougie? Jerry Webster. Can we so fire that guy?”

“Why not. You’re the mayor now. You can do anything.”

“Yeah… sweet. Can we go home now?”

“It’s like 11 a.m. There’s still stuff to do.”

“Fine.”

“Stop pouting.”

“I’m not. You’re pouting.”

“The thing about being the TTC boss is that we’re going to so mess it up but it’ll be their face attached, you see what I’m saying?”

“… no… not really.”

“Doesn’t matter. Just trust me on this, OK? It’s a good move. We’re going to vote for Stintzie to be TTC Chair.”

“Hey. Whatever you say. You’re the boss.”

“And it’s also good, she’s a girl.”

“Is it?”

“… I think so, yeah. Why wouldn’t it be good?”

“Dunno. Why would it be?”

“… Yo, Adrienne! It’d be good to have a chick run the TTC, right?”

With that scene (or some reasonable facsimile thereof), Councillor Karen Stintz became TTC Chair Karen Stintz and dutifully fulfilled her role as a loyal Team Ford member, standing silently by as the mayor killed Transit City and obediently overseeing a 10% cut to the department’s budget when asked. She pretty much did what the mayor and almost everyone expected her to do.

And then, then she went rogue. No, check that. She went Michael Corleone on Team Ford’s asses.

I’m unprepared to attach motives to the about face. The better angel of my nature, that blackened, wizened, flightless better angel, likes to think she simply grew into her position. Listening to staff and other knowledgeable voices around her, she slowly realized Mayor Ford’s transit plan, such as it was, was unworkable. Way back last October, she raised a red flag of concern about how they were going to tunnel the Eglinton LRT across the Don Valley.

When then TTC General Manager Gary Webster backed her view that LRTs might be the smartest way forward, the mayor and his TTC commissioner boys iced him at the proverbial toll booth. If their goal was to intimidate the TTC Chair back into line, it failed spectacularly. In retaliation, she offs the mayor’s men on the TTC commission, emerging from the fracas in The Limey style.

Tell them I’m coming! I’m fucking coming.

(Yes, municipal politics came be this cinematic.)

It was all downhill for the mayor from that point. In short order, he was pushed, kicking and screaming Subways! Subways! Subways, to the sidelines. Transit City revived in all but name. And then this week, the TTC Chair and her Vice-Chair unveiled a much grander, 30 year transit plan called One City that lit up the switchboards for about 2 days before the province went out of its way to throw cold water on it. (That’s for another post entirely. Suffice to say, the premier and Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation might be well served noting how our TTC Chair dealt with the mayor when he crossed her.)

How One City grew to even see the light of day is, if nothing else, instructive as to how Toronto can actually govern itself in the absence of mayoral leadership. Take a moment to read John McGrath’s account of it at Open File, Don Peat’s in the Toronto Sun and David Rider’s in the Star. It is a microcosm of how council can and should be working together on vital initiatives for the city. A centre-right, centrist and two left wing councillors setting aside ideological differences in order to put forth a discussion paper on how to move forward on building a transit system Toronto so desperately needs. A discussion neither the mayor is capable of conducting and our dark overlords at Queen’s Park are unwilling to consider.

If nothing else, this latest transit saga has shown what is possible in a leadership vacuum when a politician sees that normal operating procedures don’t apply and decides to fill in the void constructively. Karen Stintz, arguably a councillor of little consequence during her first two terms in office, has seized the “opportunity” given her under this malignantly negligent administration and made a mark in a file not usually known for its generosity toward those toiling within its parameters. It’s a lesson others granted positions of power under Mayor Ford could well learn from and act upon.

auteurly submitted by Cityslikr


Enemy Of Your Enemy

March 14, 2012

Is it me or is TTC Chair Karen Stintz operating like Michael Corleone these days? And I mean, the good, baptism scene, killing his rivals to assume control and avenge his father’s attempted assassination Michael Corleone, not the hyper-paranoid, soulless murdering machine Michael Corleone who offed his own brother. Yeah, as a matter of fact, there is a difference. It’s all about knowing where to draw the line.

At this point, it’s hard to square the cool, confident Councillor Karen Stintz with the pipsqueak who took voice lessons while contemplating a run at former mayor David Miller back in 2006. But hey. Six years is a long time in politics. And maybe this time, she’s more comfortable with her opponent. A far right ideologue, putting his future electability before good governance, threatening to cause irreparable harm to even Ms. Stintz’s brand of moderate conservatism in the process.

The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Grant reported yesterday that the TTC Chair and her newly appointed commission will move to ice the Toronto Transit Infrastructure Limited corporation the mayor revived and drained of money and significance in his bid to come up with a viable Sheppard subway plan. Note how I wrote, ‘her newly appointed commission’ as last week she successfully rid the TTC commission of the five members who’d done the mayor’s bidding and fired then Chief General Manager Gary Webster in reaction to his public expression of support for LRTs. This, during a special council meeting Stintz and twenty-three other councillors called that eventually set aside the mayor’s self-proclaimed transit plans and re-established the more Transit City-like designs on Eglinton, Finch and the Scarborough RT.

It’s a transit file tit-for-tat that is increasingly marginalizing Mayor Ford. So emboldened is the TTC Chair that she walked into a wholly manufactured anti-LRT crowd last Thursday at the Scarborough Civic Centre and calmly, patiently stated her case in the face of shrill shrieking on all sides. Why? She had nothing to gain. There was no way she was going to win over that particular room filled as it was with antipathy rather than curiosity.

She took it on the chin, was heckled mercilessly by not only the audience but by fellow panel members. She got unsurprisingly bad, egregiously biased press coverage. But you know what? A week later, the TTC Chair is busy preparing to close down the last remnants of the mayor’s subway dreams while Mayor Ford… still has no viable plan to build a subway. A fact that Councillor Stintz made over and over again at the Scarborough transit townhall which, despite falling on largely deaf ears, doesn’t make it any less true.

So the councillor faces a hostile crowd as part of her job representing the entire city as TTC Chair while the mayor, in his capacity of city wide representation, retreats to the increasingly no-critics-allowed cocoon of AM talk radio.

This can hardly be the outcome Team Ford foresaw when they handed such a high profile position to someone they must’ve viewed as a mayoral rival in Councillor Stintz. In fact, allow me to hypothesize here for a moment, but this is the exact opposite outcome for them as they probably saw the TTC Chair position as a millstone to anyone’s political aspirations who took it on. Since public transit was not something Team Ford gave a rat’s ass about, if played just right they could fuck with it while taking out any potential suitor to the mayor’s job in 2014.

And up until about October last year, Councillor Stintz played the willing dupe, delivering up the requested 10% departmental budget cut the mayor asked for, the requisite service cuts er, ‘adjustments’ and minimal fare increase. She made the emptily strident call to maintain those service cuts during the budget debate this year in the face of Josh Colle’s motion to take them (along with other services) off the table. According to Ms. Grant’s article, the TTC Chair was even part of the group last year that revived  the TTIL to explore the Sheppard subway option. The TTIL she is now moving to finish off.

Playing along to get along or was the resulting tepid Chong report that emerged the breaking point?

Fissures had surfaced before that, certainly. The TTC Chair was on the vanguard last fall pointing out — what did she call it again? — ‘unresolved technical issues’ with burying the Eglinton crosstown LRT like the mayor wanted. “For one, the change of plans championed by Mayor Ford could trigger a new environmental assessment – a costly and time-consuming proposition,” Councillor Stintz said. “The Don Valley also is a problem. ‘You can’t tunnel there. It’s just not possible.’”

And it’s an issue that still hasn’t been fully addressed by underground fetishists and perhaps is one of the reasons for the TTC Chair’s break with the mayor on the transit file. She certainly gave him enough warning about her unease, raised a warning flag publicly that Team Ford either didn’t see or simply chose to ignore. No one can accuse her of operating by stealth here. She telegraphed this punch months ago. Maybe the mayor believed he couldn’t be knocked on his ass by a girl.

Now that he has been, Councillor Stintz seems determined not to let him back up on his feet. Having been rebuffed on numerous occasions at striking some sort of compromise with Mayor Ford on the Sheppard subway, it looks now as if she’s moving in for the kill come next Wednesday’s council meeting. If the vote goes her way there and LRTs are given the greenlight for Sheppard, she will have, in effect, run the transit table vote, relegated the mayor to the noisy peanut gallery and left the province with very little wiggle room in terms of the ‘will of council’.

It will also mean that Councillor Stintz fully owns the TTC file. Its successes will be hers as will the failures. The chances of the latter are greatly increased since there will be a mayor in office actively pursuing and magnifying her setbacks.

If this were her cunning political plan all along, her Machiavellian strategy to the mayor’s chair in 2014, well, I have to give her a nod, no, a bow of admiration. It is, perhaps, the most perilous route, the one most fraught with possible catastrophes imaginable. Surely to god there has to be an easier way.

But, stranger things have happened. I mean, there was that time just after World War II when nobody believed that war hero Michael would eventually succeed his dad as the Godfather. It was supposed to be Sonny, always Sonny.

admiringly submitted by Cityslikr