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(Peter Power/Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail)
(Peter Power/Peter Power/ The Globe and Mail)

Transit battle showdown looms Add to ...

In an attempt to repel a hostile political takeover of the TTC, Mayor Rob Ford is backing a plan to replace all councillors on the transit agency’s board with private citizens.

The proposal is the latest wrinkle in a transit battle that’s barrelling toward yet another showdown this week, with the mayor’s rivals plotting to toss Mr. Ford’s allies from the TTC in an attempt to consolidate political support for building above-ground light rail.

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The mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, used the second episode of their weekly radio show on Newstalk 1010 to slam any such move.

“The politicians that want to be there [on the TTC] they don’t have the business experience,” said Councillor Ford on air. “Personally, I wouldn’t trust them running my daughter’s lemonade stand.”

The radio program has quickly become the elusive mayor’s favoured soapbox, a forum where he can push his agenda for two hours free of the press scrums that appear with the mere whisper of a rare public appearance.

Both the Fords immediately endorsed an idea from a guest on the program, Councillor Michael Thompson, who said he would introduce a motion this week to replace all the councillors with seven to 11 civilians.

“What we have learned over the years is that as long as the politicians are involved, you’re not going to have a vision that provides real transit for this city,” said Mr. Thompson. “What we are seeing here is a world-class city with a medieval vision that doesn’t really incorporate a view for this city for the next 30, 40, 50 years.”

Council will meet Monday and Tuesday to consider an earlier proposal to overhaul the transit agency’s governing body, replacing the current nine-councillor board with a composition of five citizens and four councillors. Mayor Ford is all for the plan, arguing it would wrestle power away from politicians who lack business experience and put it in the hands of engineers, corporate executives and other civilian professionals.

But in a brash act of political judo, his opponents are planning to use the debate as a way of booting councillors loyal to Mr. Ford off the TTC and replacing them with councillors who oppose the mayor’s subway plan. TTC chair Karen Stintz told The Globe and Mail on Friday that she’ll push for a new board of seven councillors and four private citizens. The political members would be decided at council; citizen members would be appointed in June.

Councillors opposed to Mr. Ford’s plan of using all of an $8.4-billion windfall from the province to bury the Eglinton Crosstown worked furiously all weekend to come up with an alternate set of names for the council.

“You cannot have a TTC commission and a council that are out of sync,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc, who as former vice-chair of the TTC is expected to put his name up for the reconstituted commission. “And right now on the light-rail file, we do have a commission that is completely out of sync with the will of council.”

Mr. Mihevc wouldn’t comment on whether he’d like a seat on the commission, but his colleague, Councillor Shelly Carroll, was more forthcoming. “I understand there will be a motion for a free vote so that whoever is interested can be part of a ballot of some sort,” she said. “And if that’s the way we’re doing it, then I would be interested, yes. But I think you’ll probably find a good 20 or 25 people on council that would say the same thing.”

As for Mr. Thompson’s plan to wipe all councillors from the commission, both Mr. Mihevc and Ms. Carroll were on the same page.

“The last time we had strong citizen membership on the TTC was in the late 1980s, and they ended up buying an airline,” said Mr. Mihevc. “Do we want that again?”

In 1989, the TTC was forced to sell its intercity bus subsidiary Gray Coach, which had come under fire for holding a one-third stake in the charter airline Vacationair.

Both agreed the commission could use some citizen expertise, but pulling it entirely out of the political realm would make it less accountable – regardless of Councillor Ford’s lemonade-stand appraisal of his cohorts.

“If Councillor Ford has such contempt for this room that he’s supposed to be working in every day, maybe he wants to resign before mid-term and we’ll hold a by-election,” Ms. Carroll said. “It’s not helpful to speak that way about your colleagues.”

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