His support on council crumbling, his promise of subways in tatters, a defiant Rob Ford has turned his sights to the next election campaign, raising questions about how the city will be governed for the more than two years left in his mandate.
The mayor faced a stinging defeat Thursday, with city council voting 24 to 19 to build a light-rail line on Sheppard Avenue East rather than back his bid to extend the existing subway first to Victoria Park and eventually to Scarborough Town Centre. The vote was the final piece required to revive the former Transit City plan, the light-rail network the mayor killed on his first day in office.
Council also opened the door to discussions on tolls and levies as a way to fund transit expansion.
Mr. Ford came out fighting in the face of defeat. “Obviously the campaign starts now and I’m willing to take anyone on, streetcars against subways in the next election. I can’t wait for that,” he told reporters.
Thursday’s vote unlocks $8.4-billion in provincial transit funding, and within hours, the province signalled in a statement from the Transportation Minister that it would follow council’s direction – even without the mayor on board.
TTC chair Karen Stintz, a Ford ally who left the fold to spearhead the push for light rail, had offered the mayor a compromise earlier this year to advance his subway plan, which he rejected. She was asked Thursday if Mr. Ford could have avoided his loss. “It has been a difficult year and a half,” she said. “That’s behind us now. We just need to move forward.”
The mayor and council have several pressing issues on their plate, including a looming strike deadline this weekend with the city’s largest union and a strike that has closed public libraries. But the transit debate has left several councillors who have stood beside Mr. Ford openly wondering how the city will move forward.
“I have worked very, very closely with three mayors and I have never seen anything like this. It is nothing short of remarkable, said Councillor Jaye Robinson, a former city staffer. “The bottom line is that clearly this is a very significant turning point.”
Ms. Robinson, part of the mayor’s executive who supported subways, pointed to a string of votes the mayor has lost and said it is unclear how he will govern. “I don’t think it looks good for the future of this administration. It simply doesn’t,” she said.
Councillor Peter Milczyn, a pro-subway fiscal conservative and a member of Mr. Ford’s executive, has begun to question his allegiance. Asked whether he’s still an ally of Mr. Ford, he sighed: “I’m not an enemy of the mayor.”
While he praised the mayor for racking up early accomplishments, Mr. Milczyn said Mr. Ford must turn to more difficult policy issues. “We’re into the long game of governing the city. It requires patience and vision and bringing council together,” he said. “I haven’t seen [Mr. Ford]try yet. If he tries and fails, that’s different. To date, he hasn’t really tried to bring council together.”
Mr. Milczyn expressed another common lament, noting Mr. Ford slashed his own office budget so deeply he doesn’t have enough resources to handle complex policy.
Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, also a member of the mayor’s executive and one of five Scarborough councillors who worked on a last-minute parking levy plan to fund transit, predicts it will be “virtually impossible” for Mr. Ford to set the agenda. “It’s definitely a challenge for all of us. We’re left operating on our own,” she said.
Councillor Denzil-Minnan Wong is more optimistic, saying Mr. Ford needs to turn his focus to his “sweet spot” of reducing the size and cost of government. “He has great success and support when he does those things,” he said.