Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford v TTC Chair Karen Stintz

You know, this whole Mayor Rob Ford debacle began before the election when the media, led by the Toronto Star, rumoured and drummed out all mayoralty candidates but George Smitherman and Rob Ford. We voters were given a choice between the man who brought on the eHealth spending scandal, brought in LHINs, and oversaw the suspect ORNGE moves and Ford. So it ticks me off when people opine contemptuously that those who voted for Ford must be kicking themselves now as if the only other choice we had was better.

I go for dumb over bombastic-put-our-health-care-on-the-line any day. If the media hadn’t been so hot to trot to get rid of everyone but Smitherman for Mayor and succeeded at it, then maybe the snarky would have a point.

But the media gave us this Sophie’s Choice, and unfortunately we must live with the consequences.

However, if Mayor Rob Ford had accepted quickly that he was Mayor with all that position’s attendant responsibilities, sacrifices, and requirements, this week’s events mayn’t have happened. From having his brother run with him as a Councillor, to letting the media drive the story that Doug was the smarter one, to refusing to put normal Mayoralty duties ahead of his family’s holidays (and yes, I understand family is paramount but certain jobs require sacrifice and Mayor of Toronto is one of them, which begs the question, how did he not know this? But I digress), to not learning to listen and compromise so as to keep people on side, to not immediately taking that TTC expansion memorandum of understanding between him and the Premier to Council, he has shown he was woefully unprepared for the job.

His brother Doug is a big reason for his failure, I believe. Allowing Doug to speak for him undermines his authority as Mayor. Perhaps he allowed it because it meant he could stay in the background. But the Mayor needs to be dominant. Perhaps he allowed it so that Doug could float bad ideas and then when swatted back, Rob could stay above the fray. But Doug is as tied to him as a baby to apron strings, and so all bad ideas tainted him as much as Doug. Or perhaps he allowed it because Doug is too domineering a personality for him to have any influence.

But Doug isn’t his only reason for his colossal TTC failure. Mayor Ford is not a Council newbie, so I’m perplexed at how he did not see the way former Mayors David Miller and Mel Lastman operated and got things through Council. He did copy Miller’s coterie idea (bad idea as it perpetuated the distasteful us-them atmosphere), but on a Council as fractious as Toronto’s that would never be enough to retain total control, and since he’d been part of that fractiousness as a Councillor, you’d have thunk he’d know how to suade people like him to his side. Yet even lacking the desire and skill to massage Councillors to his view, he could’ve succeeded if only he had acted promptly.

But apparently Ford has not heard of the saying “strike while the iron is hot.” The best time to have gotten Council on board his subway plans was last year when the election was fresh in everyone’s memories and like-minded Councillors held the majority vote. I gather he thought his coterie was solid and as Mayor he could do what he wanted when he wanted.

And so this confluence of events and attitudes landed us a City Hall coup this week led by a smart, decisive woman: Councillor and TTC Chair Karen Stintz. Whether or not I agree with her TTC capital expansion plans, I admire her sharp strategizing. She saw Mayor Ford’s weaknesses – listening too much to his brother, behaving as if Council just had to do what he said, unable to persuade people to his ideas for the TTC, delaying action – heard the rumblings in the electorate (probably because of being on Twitter and then participating in Undercover Boss), bided her time, and pounced.

Nicely played.

But this leads Toronto where? I don’t recall this city ever having a Mayor who had less clout and less authority than a Councillor. But that’s where we are today. Stintz is clearly the leader on the TTC file. And given how huge the file is and how much the TTC affects all our lives, it won’t be long before she expands her authority. For Mayor Ford, this is bad. For us too, especially for Scarberians, as we will once again not get the subways we badly need. It isn’t acceptable to require people to endure unnecessary transfer points on the Sheppard subway or end of the Bloor-Danforth line and the resulting longer commutes just because of anti-subway ideology. But that’s an argument for another day. In the meantime, the Mayor had better learn some lessons fast. If I was him, I’d tell Doug to shut up, start compromising with Stintz, open up my mind to new ways of funding the TTC, start accepting that people in Etobicoke and Scarborough travel downtown too and need the Downtown Relief Line as much as those who live on Queen do, and most of all launch now a very public discussion about how best to fund new subways. Consult with the people – because that is Mayor Ford’s strength without doubt – but ensure the public understands the choice he’s giving them isn’t whether or not, but which taxes/tolls/surcharges are best. By doing that, he’ll take back control.

And on a side note, may I just say it’s inspiring to see a woman play excellent politics without any of the bullying or insulting or bombastic tactics we see so often.

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