Councillor Josh Matlow

National Post: Middle of the hall: Group stakes out centre ground at City Hall

More than three months into Rob Ford’s mayoralty, left and right factions at City Hall have staked out their positions, so clearly, in fact, that a small corps of independent thinkers is making a stand in the middle.

Members of the so-called “mighty” or “mushy” middle say they’re not out to form a third caucus, or even to act as a voting block.

Doing so would make them guilty of the same ideologically entrenched thinking they believe has no place at City Hall. But they recognize the power they hold and influence they could wield on Mayor Ford’s conservative agenda — or the pendulum swing in the other direction.



“A lot of people expect more than just two voting camps,” said Councillor Josh Colle who, along with Mary-Margaret McMahon and Ana Bailao, is among the most vocal of this contingent of rookies. He estimated it could count anywhere from two to five other elected officials.

So far, the middle has sided largely with Mayor Ford on big issues, like ousting the board of Toronto Community Housing last week. But they also helped the centre-left win three votes, such as posting online the expenses of senior TCHC executives and its board and disclosing all meetings between the managing director and lobbyists.

Mayor Ford and most of his allies opposed those motions.

“I think because the numbers are so tight, if either the left or the right wanted a number of votes, and there was enough in the middle to sway it, it would force them to actually have to collaborate instead of begging, lobbying, pushing for a vote,” said Councillor Colle, who represents Ward 15 (Eglinton-Lawrence). He envisions the middle flexing its might in an informal way, crafting policies that are “more palatable” to more councillors.

Councillor McMahon, who bested Sandra Bussin to represent Ward 32 (Beaches-East York), hopes the approach can bypass the “baggage” that seems to prevent one side from seeing merit in the other’s ideas.

“You saw that with some of the voting for transparency and accountability that the hard right didn’t vote for because the left had brought it forward. And if Mayor Ford offered free bicycles to people, I don’t even know if that would be welcome by the left,” she said.

Added Ms. Bailao (Davenport): “We didn’t come in here to be a barking dog against everything the Mayor said, but we don’t want to be pigeon-holed. We’re here to work, we want

[the administration] to succeed, because if they don’t succeed, it’s the city that doesn’t succeed.”

Naturally, even independents resist being labelled. “I would always want to work with everyone, from Gord Perks to Rob Ford. There’s nothing exclusive,” said Councillor Josh Matlow (St. Paul’s).

Other councillors showed at last week’s special council meeting that their votes can swing: veteran centrist or centre-right councillors Chin Lee (Scarborough-Rouge River), Frank Di Giorgio (York-South Weston) and Gloria Lindsay-Luby (Etobicoke Centre) voted with the Mayor, but not exclusively. Councillor Michelle Berardinetti (Scarborough Southwest), a member of the mayor’s executive, voted for the left’s three winning motions, and sided with the Mayor on 12 others, while Councillor Jaye Robinson (Don Valley West), also on the executive, voted all but once with the Mayor.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said, “there is always room for new ideas but I still think there’s an objective here” and as far as he can tell, public opinion is on the Mayor’s side. “It’s hard to play the middle of the road,” he said and councillors who break with public opinion do so at their own peril. “Sometimes you can’t mediate something. Sometimes it’s one way or another, that’s just a fact of life in politics.”

Mr. Holyday played down the clout of the middle councillors, but downtown Councillor Adam Vaughan suggested the group can have an impact.

“If they come forward with well thought-out and smart compromises, they’ll get my vote, without a doubt,” said Mr. Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina). “I think we could use less ideological, less simplistic approaches to some of the very complex problems that are coming out.”

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