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Toronto city councillor Paul Ainslie reads a prepared statement on Oct. 15, 2013. Ainslie announced he will be filing a complaint with the city's integrity commissioner over mayor Rob Ford's conduct after Ainslie quit Ford's executive committee. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto city councillor Paul Ainslie reads a prepared statement on Oct. 15, 2013. Ainslie announced he will be filing a complaint with the city's integrity commissioner over mayor Rob Ford's conduct after Ainslie quit Ford's executive committee. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Councillor’s reaction to Mayor Ford’s robo-calls is over the top Add to ...

City councillor Paul Ainslie says he is outraged that Mayor Rob Ford denounced him in a robo-call message for opposing a new subway to Scarborough. Question for Mr. Ainslie: What did you think he would do?

The mayor is a noisy advocate for subways. He despises LRTs, the light-rail alternative. Mr. Ainslie was a member of his executive committee, the closest thing Mr. Ford has to a cabinet. Yet Mr. Ainslie stood in city council last week and led a move to block the subway project and build an LRT line in Scarborough instead. In effect, he put a finger in the mayor’s eye.

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And he is surprised Mr. Ford got mad? This was a close vote, eventually going 24-20 for the subway plan. It looked at one point as if Mr. Ainslie’s speech might turn the tide.

Taken aback, the mayor jumped up to tell him that he would have a hard time getting re-elected in Scarborough after favouring an LRT line over a subway. All that Mr. Ford did in the robo-call was spread the same message by telephone in a recorded message.

Robocall attacks are a blunt political tactic, but this one didn’t come close to deserving the label Mr. Ainslie gave it: “A blatant act of political thuggery the type of which has never been witnessed before” and “American-style assassin politics.”

Mr. Ford simply said that “it was extremely, extremely unfortunate that your councillor, Paul Ainslie, was the only Scarborough councillor who did not listen to his constituents and voted against the Scarborough subway.” Returning to the issue on his weekend radio show, he pointed out that Mr. Ainslie supported the subway plan when it came to city council this summer, then changed his mind. “For whatever reason, he jumped ship at the last minute.”

Mr. Ainslie tries to explain away that reversal by arguing it is not the subway he opposes, but the debt and taxes that will be needed to build it. But city staff made it clear from the start that residents would face a property-tax increase to finance the subway.

After at first arguing that the subway would require only a minimal tax hike, Mr. Ford has reluctantly and belatedly come around to the cold reality that subways can’t be had for cheap. That is a good thing. Yet Mr. Ainslie insists that “I’m right for calling him out on his tax-hike flip-flop.”

Some other city councillors who are normally critics of the mayor find Mr. Ainslie’s tirade bizarre. Mr. Ford often paints his critics as Enemies of the People and threatens to help beat them in the next election. It may be belligerent and it is often self-defeating – Mr. Ford has alienated many natural allies – but it is hardly shocking.

“What’s the big to-do?” asks councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who himself voted against the subway and has sometimes criticized the mayor.

There is nothing wrong with a mayor or anyone else reminding voters how a fellow politician voted. In fact, it has the positive effect of forcing a city councillor such as Mr. Ainslie to explain why he acted as he did – keeping politicians accountable in a system in which many residents never know how their representatives vote. Instead of running to the Integrity Commissioner with a complaint, says Mr. Minnan-Wong, “Shouldn’t he be standing up and saying, ‘Yes, this is why I did it?’”

For that matter, shouldn’t he have mentioned that he appeared at a recent campaign prelaunch for a rival to Mr. Ford in next year’s election for mayor? David Soknacki is a former city-council budget chief. Before Mr. Ainslie was a city councillor, he served as Mr. Soknacki’s executive assistant. If the mayor is playing hardball politics here, he is not the only one.

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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