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Question: Is there anyone left with a mind of his or her own at Toronto city council?

Much has been made over the last couple of days of the Ford clan's iron grip on Toronto city council, including their use of "recommended" voting strategy sheets and hand signals on the floor. Over at OpenFile, Jonathan Goldsbie obtained a copy of the hand-written memo the Fords distributed during last week's special council meeting at which they swept out the last four board members of the Toronto Community Housing Corp.

The most fascinating thing about the special meeting cheat sheet isn't what it recommended. (Spoiler alert: The mayor, his brother and their staff instructed their followers to vote "no to all" the motions penned by their arch-enemies Shelley Carroll, Gord Perks, Adam Vaughan, Joe Mihevc, Janet Davis and Paula Fletcher.) It's what the cheat sheet, coupled with the voting record, revealed about who broke ranks and on what issues. There are some independent minds left on city council, and both left and right are busy courting them.

Most of the rebels were rookies. A few were veteran mushy-middle dwellers. Some were bona-fide Ford allies. Why, Denzil Minnan-Wong even kissed off the Fords to vote with Adam Vaughan at one point! As far as I know, Mr. Minnan-Wong hasn't been ushered off a plank into the sarlaac pit with the TCHC board and Derek Ballantyne. Maybe the Fords haven't re-read the minutes yet?

Anyway, let's look at the most interesting successful amendment of the night.

Shelley Carroll, de facto leader of the left, moved a two-part motion that should have been right up the Fords' alley. The first recommended immediate online posting of expenses for TCHC board members and staff earning six figures or more. The second recommended the corporation's procurement policies be reviewed and, in the meantime, the board (now comprised temporarily of one man, Case Ootes) review every purchase over $1,000.

Despite a thumbs-down from the Fords, council voted 22 to 21 in favour of the amendment. (Scroll to the bottom of the link to read the votes on all the proposed amendments.) Through most of the voting, the Fords controlled 25 votes, the left 18. In the case of Ms. Carroll's motion, four councillors switched sides: Newbies Josh Colle, Mary-Margaret McMahon and Michelle Berardinetti (an at-large member of Ford's executive) along with veteran Gloria Lindsay Luby.

The Fords lost even more allies on one part of a motion moved by Mr. Vaughan, which required the TCHC to post to its website any meetings between the interim managing director and lobbyists. This time, seven councillors defied the Fords' orders: Mr. Colle, Ms. Berardinetti, Ms. McMahon and Ms. Lindsay Luby, plus Chin Lee, Denzil Minnan-Wong and Jaye Robinson, also a rookie and at-large member of the executive committee. The motion carried 25 to 18.

None of this necessarily means the Fords' grip is slipping. The councillors who broke ranks with the Fords did so to vote in favour of the quintessentially Fordian principles of transparency, accountability, and hatred of expensing anything pricier than a paperclip. If the Carroll and Vaughan motions hadn't had the names Carroll and Vaughan attached to them, the Fords probably would have given them a thumbs-up. Maybe some of the rebels pressed their green buttons thinking the Fords couldn't possibly be recommending against posting TCHC expenses online. Who knows?

Or maybe, there really are some city councillors who are beholden neither to left nor right. They'll be the ones to watch as the Fords tackle much tougher issues in the months and years ahead.

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