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Mayor Rob Ford speaks to the news media at city hall on March 22, 2012, after councillors voted 24-19 in favour of light rail transit for Sheppard Avenue East (Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail/Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail)
Mayor Rob Ford speaks to the news media at city hall on March 22, 2012, after councillors voted 24-19 in favour of light rail transit for Sheppard Avenue East (Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail/Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail)

Marcus Gee

Ford's leadership failure killed his own subway dream Add to ...

The Brothers Ford were spitting mad after suffering yet another big defeat over transit on Thursday, their third in a matter of weeks.

“This is social engineering. This is a nanny state,” said Councillor Doug Ford on the vote for LRTs, dismissing city council as a “hokey-pokey, mom-and-pop shop” and declaring himself “embarrassed to be down here.” Oh, and he called Karen Stintz, the Toronto Transit Commission chair who engineered their first loss, a “backstabber.”

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Mayor Rob Ford, for his part, rose in city council to deliver a rant the likes of which has not been seen since he was a blustering Etobicoke councillor. “People want subways, folks. Subways, subways.” he said, his voice rising to a shout. “They don’t want these damn streetcars blocking up our city.”

Yet it is the mayor who must bear the blame for his own defeats. For weeks, councillors of various stripes have been urging – almost begging – him to come forward with a coherent plan to pay for the subways he vows to build. He refused.

Councillors who might have gone with the mayor on subways over LRTs if they had seen a convincing business case waited – and waited – for some sign from the mayor that his campaign contained something more than Honk 4 Subways placards and “people want subways” sound bites.

Instead of brokering a compromise with councillors or sitting down with his staff to work out a credible funding plan, the mayor appeared at a pro-subways meeting in Scarborough earlier this week to rant that “you’re either with us or against us” and to denounce transit-building taxes, road tolls and “all this other stuff.”

At council’s marathon session Wednesday, he left it to his budget chief, Mike Del Grande, to twist in the wind before skeptical councillors with a back-of-the-napkin, last-minute proposal for a parking levy to fund transit. Though the mayor himself first floated the idea in a Globe and Mail opinion piece, he said nothing and was absent from the council chamber for much of the day.

When he finally stood to speak on Thursday, all he could muster in place of argument was a plea to hold off on the vote until the cash-strapped provincial and federal governments deliver budgets later this month, in the faint hope they might cough up billions for subways.

It was a comprehensive failure of leadership from Mr. Ford. Toronto is saddled with a disengaged, half-there mayor who seems to have no real interest in the process of governing. He can spout a slogan or read a speech or handle a walkabout, but appears entirely unable to master the facts, put together a plan of action, make a cogent case or persuade others on city council to go along with him.

Even members of the mayor’s own team are despairing. “What’s unfortunate is the lack of leadership that’s led up to today’s debate,” said Councillor Peter Milczyn, who sits on the mayor’s key budget and executive committees. Another executive member, the level-headed Jaye Robinson, said that “the mayor has dropped the ball” by failing to work with council on a subways plan.

If Mr. Ford had set out deliberately to undermine his support on council, he could not have done a better job of it. First he alienated the mushy middle: centrist councillors like Josh Matlow. Then he alienated moderate conservatives like Ms. Stintz, Mr. Milczyn and John Parker. Now even Ford-friendly suburban councillors like David Shiner and Michelle Berardinetti are questioning his leadership skills. Who does he have left? A rump of sycophants and loyal conservatives who number perhaps a dozen.

Unless the mayor can find a better way to lead, his losses on transit will not be his last.

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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