In a very public affirmation of awkward relations between the province and its largest municipality, Premier Dalton McGuinty has denied Rob Ford’s claim that the province will proceed with the mayor’s transit plan despite a momentous city council rejection.
The Premier’s Transportation Minister bolstered his leader and offered an inside peek at the complicated relationship, revealing that he invited Mr. Ford and his brother, Doug Ford, a rookie councillor with no executive post, to talk transit over dinner a month ago. “I have not received a response,” Bob Chiarelli said.
Both Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Chiarelli felt compelled to speak publicly on Thursday after hearing the mayor say that the province would ignore council and proceed with his $8.4-billion subways-or-bust plan for a line running beneath Eglinton Avenue.
“It’s a provincial project, and I’m quite confident that the Premier is going to continue building subways,” Mr. Ford said after council’s Wednesday night vote to restore a transit plan championed by Mr. Ford’s nemesis, former mayor David Miller. “He’s starting with subways and he’ll end with subways.”
The council scheme put forth by Mr. Ford’s own TTC chair, Karen Stintz, carves $2-billion from the Eglinton line by building the Scarborough portion above ground and diverts the savings toward constructing light rail lines on Finch Avenue West and Sheppard Avenue.
While Mr. Ford called the vote “irrelevant,” the Premier said he told the mayor just the opposite during a phone conversation last week.
“I confirmed once again that I needed the approval of the council,” Mr. McGuinty said of the phone call. “Should he receive that, great, we’re off to the races. Should he not receive that and council decides they want to pursue another decision, that is something I feel obligated to consider.”
Mr. Chiarelli was more blunt.
“I don’t know where mayor Ford got the sense that the Premier was advocating, or the partnership advocated, for subways,” Mr. Chiarelli said. “It’s not a decision for the mayor; it’s a decision for council. We have no choice but to abide by the decision of council on that type of issue.”
The scenario makes a mess of relations between the two political bodies. By law, the mayor is council’s point man on intergovernmental relations. Also by law, the mayor must yield to council. So how does the province broker with a mayor who clashes so severely with the political body he’s supposed to represent?
Mr. Chiarelli, a former mayor himself, advised Mr. Ford to “look at the traditional power dynamic in any major city in Ontario, and that is council rules supreme unless it delegates to senior management or any other committee to make a decision.”
He added that the province tried to “urge and encourage and maybe cajole” that the matter to go to council because legal staff had said Metrolinx, the agency that oversees transit planning, couldn’t move ahead without council consent.
In the end it was a group of 24 councillors, not the mayor, who called a special council meeting to decide the matter.
In inviting the mayor’s brother to dinner, Mr. Chiarelli made it clear that the province is murky on who it should talk to about city business. A spokesman for the minister said the councillor was “invited in his capacity as city councillor and confidante to his brother the mayor.”
With a report from Elizabeth Church