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CITY HALL

THE STORY THAT MATTERED:

Rob Ford's hunt for gravy

Ending waste was Job One for the city's cost-cutting mayor, a constant backdrop to all things at the clamshell this year. Mayor Ford scored some major victories, such as contracting out curbside garbage pickup west of Yonge Street, and symbolic wins like freezing politicians' salaries and putting the kibosh on free snacks at council. The search for savings generated plenty of drama, including two around-the-clock meetings in which tearful citizens pleaded to keep libraries open and save Riverdale Farm, while the mayor and his followers slugged Red Bull in a bid to stay conscious. In the end, the summer's "core service review" generated $28-million in initial savings with the mayor's office promising more would follow. Proposals in the 2012 budget to eliminate 2,300 city jobs will be the next shoe to drop in this push for smaller government.

THE STORY TO WATCH:

The labour faceoff

Nothing can derail a mayor's well-laid plans like a showdown with the city's unionized workers – just ask former mayor David Miller. Labour strife – and how Rob Ford's administration handles it – is likely to be the defining story of the mayor's second year. Contracts with the city's largest unions expire at the end of 2011 and both sides are preparing for the worst, with the head of the outside workers union warning of a possible lockout even before talks started, and managers training to drive Zambonis so rinks can stay open. The mayor's office is determined to resolve the matter one way or another before the summer months when a work stoppage would lead to the smelly piles of garbage that so outraged residents in the last labour go-round. Get ready for a rumble.

Elizabeth Church

DEVELOPMENT

THE STORY THAT MATTERED:

The Fords' waterfront intervention

Councillor Doug Ford made fixing up the Port Lands sound easy. Sell the property to developers, build a monorail and – presto! – the Big Smoke would have a "world class" tourist destination, complete with Ferris wheel and megamall.

Problem is, Waterfront Toronto already has plans to construct mixed-use, transit-oriented neighbourhoods there.

Planners and developers rallied against Mr. Ford. He had to back off his vision, but got one concession: the city will hold consultations on speeding up Port Lands development.

THE STORY TO WATCH:

The waterfront in the limelight

The public consultation process will continue for five months. It could end with a fire sale on Port Lands property and big changes to Waterfront Toronto's carefully crafted plans.

Despite this, the tripartite agency's strategy for other parts of the lakeshore is proceeding apace. George Brown College will open a new campus at the foot of Jarvis Street next fall. By the end of the year, the first tenants will move into River City, a condominium complex in the West Don Lands.

Adrian Morrow

MUSIC

THE STORY THAT MATTERED:

Lights, camera … music!

The Toronto International Film Festival unrolled its red carpets to rock stars in 2011, with its feature placement of films involving Pearl Jam, U2 and Neil Young. North America's biggest film extravaganza got tougher, sexier and bigger, and the convergence of music and movies is something we'll see more of in the future. The sound and vision reached its apex when Mr. Young walked on stage during a Pearl Jam encore at Air Canada Centre. It was there that Toronto rocked awesomely in the free word, in the same year that G20 summit security and protest issues flared here like tear-gas canisters.

THE STORY TO WATCH:

Will we get Satisfaction?

Though two concerts by Coldplay at ACC in July are booked, the bigger bang for 2012 might involve the Rolling Stones, who are mulling over a 50th-anniversary tour. Remember that the rockers have used Toronto as a rehearsal city before, and that the band's promoters (LiveNation) are based here. Toronto might not get what it needs, but it might get what it wants.

Brad Wheeler

SPORTS

THE STORY THAT MATTERED:

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment takeover

As marriages go, the pairing of Rogers and Bell hardly looks like William and Kate stuff, but the big day came with almost as much fanfare as any Westminster Abbey shindig. The telecom giants rocked the sports world on Dec. 9 by announcing they had jointly purchased 75 per cent of MLSE for $1.32-billion, but the transaction threw up almost as many questions as it answered – mainly over how the long-time rivals would divvy up the crown jewel: Toronto Maple Leafs' broadcast rights. Indeed, the only outright winner seemed to be MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum, who received another 5 per cent of the shares simply for allowing the deal to go ahead.

THE STORY TO WATCH:

The takeover's effect

At the press conference to announce the deal, Rogers president and chief executive officer Nadir Mohamed repeatedly used the word "content" to emphasize the benefits that would emerge from the transaction. Now, that may be true when you're trying to peddle cellphones, tablets and cable packages, but to die-hard fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays et al., the only content to be concerned with is that of the teams' trophy cabinets, and it remains to be seen if the takeover will add anything other than another layer of dust in 2012.

Paul Attfield

THE 905

THE STORY THAT MATTERED:

Hazel McCallion gets admonished by a judicial inquiry

The Mississauga mayor, once treated as a demi-god, endured an unusual spate of bad publicity after commissioner Douglas Cunningham criticized her for flogging a land deal that stood to make her son millions.

Among other things, the inquiry recommended beefing up municipal ethics legislation and making it easier for citizens to start legal proceedings against politicians.

The changes will have major ramifications for the Hurricane's successors: They will likely now be too busy avoiding conflicts of interest to attain deification.

THE STORY TO WATCH:

The suburbs are growing up

Mississauga is going into debt. Municipalities across the region are planning pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods with actual streetscapes (!). Public transit is improving.

The big changes on the suburbs' increasingly condo-dotted horizon will have the region looking more and more, well, urban.

Brampton is planning a major downtown development. Vaughan and Markham want to build city cores from scratch. Mississauga is creating a dedicated transit corridor.

That all-day GO service Dalton McGuinty keeps talking about won't hurt, either.

Adrian Morrow

THEATRE

THE STORY THAT MATTERED:

Toronto exorcises the ghost of Garth Drabinsky

After an exhausting decade of delays, appeals and attempted comebacks, Garth Drabinsky – of Livent fame and shame – finally went to jail to begin serving five years for fraud in September. But who needs him? Toronto's doing fine as "Broadway North" without him – at least five productions that opened in 2011 on Broadway had entertained (and worked out their kinks in front of) Toronto audiences first: Priscilla: Queen of the Desert; John Leguizamo's Ghetto Klown; An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin; Private Lives starring Paul Gross and Kim Cattrall; and, currently the hardest ticket to get in New York, Hugh Jackman's one-man show. Dancap and Mirvish have more in the works for 2012.

THE STORY TO WATCH

Whither (wither?) Toronto's civic theatres

A mayor's task force recently reported back with sensible recommendations on what to do with three city-owned theatres: the Sony Centre, the Toronto Centre for the Arts and the St. Lawrence Centre. If followed, the recommendations could result in a win-win situation where the city saves money and local performing artists are better served. Are we dreaming? Fingers crossed.

J. Kelly Nestruck

TRANSIT

THE STORY THAT MATTERED:

Rob Ford kills Transit City and buries the Eglinton LRT

The mayor was quick to nix David Miller's vision for a series of light transit lines, but it took months for the city to hammer out a new deal with Queen's Park. The compromise, announced at the end of March, has the province picking up the entire tab to build just one line – the planned Eglinton crosstown – and bury sections in the east and west ends that were originally to be above ground. In return, Toronto was left holding the bag on the mayor's promised Sheppard subway extension. The cost to Toronto taxpayers for cancelling the light rail plan is still being worked out by Metrolinx, the province's transit agency, but TTC head Gary Webster expects it to be in the neighbourhood of $65-million.

THE STORY TO WATCH:

The Sheppard subway extension

Rob Ford is vowing to get cracking on the expansion this year or next, but where he expects to find the cash remains a mystery. Gordon Chong, the former politician hand-picked by the mayor to develop a plan, estimates the private sector might cover between 10 and 30 per cent of the $4.2-billion venture. Mayor Ford likes to talk about federal and provincial funding, but has yet to get a cheque. Indeed, the province, in picking up responsibility for the Eglinton line, seemed to be washing its hands of the entire Sheppard project. Dr. Chong – who says it will take another year and as much as $10-million to get the subway plan ready for bids – is expected to deliver a report early in the new year.

Elizabeth Church

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