A growing resistance movement, willing to challenge Ford Nation, is blossoming on Toronto City Council. While it’s no Jasmine Revolution signalling the overthrow of a noxious regime, its rise is an encouraging sign that Mayor Rob Ford won’t be able to adopt slash-and-burn cost-cutting without some healthy push back.
With Toronto facing a budget shortfall in excess of $700 million, much depends on how city council chooses to proceed. Recently, moderate and progressive councillors have been combining to resist the administration’s conservative program. At last week’s city council meeting, several controversial Ford initiatives failed to carry in their original form.
The most important was Ford’s drive to contract out garbage collection. Initially he tried to bully councillors into submission, declaring that those voting against him would stand exposed as “tax-and-spend socialists.” But that didn’t stop councillors from slapping several new conditions onto Ford’s plan. And in a surprising display of vulnerability, the administration itself erased a key aspect of the outsourcing proposal.
Arguing he could save more than $3 million by having staff quickly sign a final privatization deal, Ford originally wanted to rush the proposal forward so that city council would never get to vote on it again. To their credit, a large number of councillors refused to abdicate their oversight role. The administration soon backed off and now city council will get its chance to review the final contract before signing off on it.
Councillors also imposed other welcome changes. A motion from Councillor Josh Matlow barred a company from bidding on the garbage contract because it recently hired away a top city bureaucrat. And a motion from Councillor Ana Bailão required an independent review of Toronto’s trash collection costs and the best private bid.
The push back didn’t end there. A master plan to develop Downsview Park has been delayed after area councillors resisted locating 20,000 new residents there. And Councillor Gord Perks led a successful drive to replace chemical treatment of sewage at the Ashbridge’s Bay plant with a system using ultraviolet light. The aboriginal affairs committee survived an administration effort to eliminate 21 citizen-dominated advisory panels. And a new report was ordered on the wisdom of axing the rest.
There’s room for reasoned debate on the merits of all these issues — everything Ford proposes isn’t necessarily wrong. But city residents can take comfort in knowing that progressive and centrist councillors aren’t prepared to be rubber stamps. They are speaking out and taking stands. That can only be galling to an administration so sensitive about keeping council in line that it was in the habit of issuing “cheat sheets” telling sympathetic councillors how to vote on even picayune issues.
This growing presence of independent municipal leaders — willing to speak their mind, and vote their consciences — bodes well for the future. They won’t win every battle, but it’s a hopeful sign that Ford’s effort to polarize council into two warring, ideological camps won’t hold. That should be welcomed by all who value unfettered debate and principled decision-making at city hall.
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