You want efficiency? We’ve already got it

Doug Ford thinks Toronto’s city council is dysfunctional and unproductive because it’s too big. Thing is, they’re in the midst of a monthly meeting (it would’ve been finished, but they suddenly had to deal with his bombshell) that began with about 400 agenda items. First, 300 were released — which is council’s way of saying that, on second thought, the item doesn’t need to be debated after all. That’s called streamlining things. The other 100 were dealt with in five days. I doubt the provincial legislature makes that many decisions in that much time.

Maybe Ford thinks Toronto city council is unproductive because he made it so. His brother and his henchmen (Mark Towhey and Nick Kouvalis — note that the latter ran John Tory’s 2014 mayoral campaign and has been brought back to run his 2018 reelection campaign) managed to bully councillors, especially rookies, into believing it was their way or the highway.

And they enjoyed a remarkable run of success, eliminating the vehicle registration tax (costing the city upward of $60 million a year), stripping TTC workers of their legal right to strike, cancelling the Transit City program unilaterally without a vote at council, bullying the province into tunnelling the Eglinton Crosstown light rail for its entire length (somebody at Metrolinx was sharp enough to leave the agency an out), got budgets cut, and on and on.

And then came Doug Ford’s Ferris wheel. I get the impression that this barely sentient sac of leaking pus got it into his addled brain that he was the mayor of Toronto, not his brother. Doug took backroom meetings with an Australian developer who wanted to build a megamall on the waterfront. Because in the second decade of the twenty-first century, shopping malls are where it’s at (said no one ever). The “plan” was to include an ice rink at the old Hearn generating station and a giant Ferris wheel.

Doug Ford had installed an old high school football buddy as boss of the Toronto Port Lands Company, and he’d gone to the trouble of paying an architectural firm $55,000 to draw up plans. (Sole-source deal, even though the Fords were supposed to hate those.)

Next, the city manager sprung it on council that the Port Lands Company, which was basically moribund, should replace Waterfront Toronto as the primary driver of waterfront development. The pushback was remarkable. Even Ford family friend Jim Flaherty was against the nonsense Doug Ford was trying to pull off.

The councillors whose wards were affected by Ford’s dealing, Pam McConnell and Paula Fletcher, managed to get a motion through council that effectively kneecapped the mall plan and the elevation of Doug’s football buddy to waterfront czar.

The first indication that Rob Ford’s mayoralty was over came when his 2012 city budget was effectively defeated. By November 2013, after Rob Ford had finally admitted he was a crackhead, council voted to strip him of many of his duties, assigning them to deputy mayor and noted branded merchandise hawker Norm Kelly.

By many accounts, city council was more productive and more efficient after Rob Ford was politically neutered.

Ford & Tory can’t make friends and that means Toronto must pay

I’m reading a Twitter thread observing that Premier Doug Ford’s gripe with municipal government (and based on his recent statements, this more than applies to Mayor John Tory as well) is that it’s a forum where consensus must be built. It’s not adversarial.

That’s a useful insight. Ford is a thug who has always got his way through intimidation. You can do that in an adversarial system like the Ontario Legislature, because you have wingmen in the form of political parties. His performance in the Ledge has shown that he doesn’t even respect the quaint niceties of parliamentary procedure, like speaking through the Speaker.

(You’re supposed to say, “Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Member I have heard that the Honourable Member is an ignorant poo-poo head, but I don’t believe the reports. Even if true, would she only remove her head from her arse, she would see that the sun is shining, the grass is green, and all is right from the world, and will only be better once beer sells for a dollar.” Instead, Ford says, “You socialist poo-poo head. You and Wynne made this province a mess and I’m the only one who can clean it up. That’s why I’m tabling this bill to contract out the clean-up to a mob-owned waste-management company.”)

Tory doesn’t get it, either, because everybody‘s on the same side in the dressing room at the racquet club. The only serious debates he‘s ever taken part in involved whether the riesling or the sauvignon blanc pairs better with foie gras. (He’s so unaccustomed to fighting, he has to bring in someone to do his dirty work for him. I understand his campaign fixer, Nick Kouvalis, just came back early from a vacation.)

Rob Ford’s mayoralty began with an impressive run of legislative success. He eliminated a vehicle registration tax that brought in $64 million a year. Privatized garbage collection west of Yonge Street. Took the right to strike away from transit workers. Cancelled an existing transit plan in favour of an ill-considered subway extension.

That went pear-shaped remarkably quickly. Doug Ford, who had taken over Rob’s council seat, started talking up the “plan” he and his brother had cooked up (I always enclose the word plan in scare quotes where Doug Ford is concerned, because it’s so rarely apparent there actually is one) for the waterfront. A mega-mall, with a giant Ferris wheel and — we kid you not — a monorail.

Mayor Ford’s approval rating plunged, a spate of rookie councillors realized they no longer had to fear the threats of political and electoral retribution being issued by the mayor’s handlers, and he lost control of council. Ultimately, he was stripped of many of his powers as mayor.

It was possible because city councillors in Toronto don’t run as members of a political party; they’re independent. Under our system, a mayor has to advance their agenda by building coalitions of councillors, each and every time they have a motion on the table. If they fail repeatedly to build consensus, there’s nothing left for them to do but cut ribbons at openings of car dealerships.

Doug Ford watched that happen. And it galled him. He’ll be much happier as premier, in a forum where he’s got 75 supporters, guaranteed, no matter how misguided or counterproductive his government’s legislation and policies may be.

And I think, beyond the supposed money-saving aspects of reducing the number of councillors in Toronto (and, one assumes he thinks, the number of potential dissenting voices), he’ll lift the ban on political parties at City Hall. And I think Mayor Tory would endorse the idea, because although he’s been largely successful at larding down the city with dubious megaprojects like SmartTrack and the Gardiner Expressway rebuild, and has been able to starve the city of the revenue it needs to pay for the raft of unfunded programs council has approved, well, he’s just had to work so damned hard to get there. Whipped votes would make his job so much easier.

They may be coming at it from different angles, but both of these men are going to be responsible for making Toronto city government less effective, less efficient, less accountable and less approachable. All the while, insisting that the opposite is the case. And when it becomes undeniable that they’re wrong, they’ll find villains to blame — “obstructionist Liberals,” maybe, or ”the looney Left.” Or it’ll be “the bureaucracy” that’s bogging everything down. Because I’ve yet to hear Doug Ford or John Tory take responsibility for any failure that has occurred on their respective watches.