Is this round three or four – or is it five? Whatever the exact number, Mayor Rob Ford is once again going toe to toe with Karen Stintz, chair of the Toronto Transit Commission.
It started on Tuesday night, when the mayor's executive committee voted to defer considering a report from city staff on transit taxes. By putting the matter off till May 28, one day after a meeting of the Metrolinx board on the tax proposals, Mr. Ford was robbing city council of its right to comment on an issue that will affect Toronto profoundly. Ms. Stintz, considered a possible candidate for mayor in the 2014 election, accused Mr. Ford of "abdicating his responsibility" to lead.
On Thursday, Mr. Ford hit back. He said he regretted ever appointing her. "I made a big mistake, and now I have to live with it," he told radio host Bill Carroll on AM640. He said that, in Kathleen Wynne, "we have a Premier that just wants to tax, tax, tax," and "the chair of the TTC is just following her, too."
That does a disservice to Ms. Stintz, a fiscal conservative who has vocally supported Mr. Ford's efforts to cut waste at City Hall and bring more discipline to the city budget. Under her, the TTC has met the mayor's targets for budget cuts and contracted out cleaning to save money. But, like many councillors, she sees the need to invest in expanding transit in the long term and wants at least to have a say in the debate over possible new taxes and levies to cover the cost. That hardly makes her a "tax, tax, tax" spendthrift.
Still, Mr. Ford insists she has betrayed him. It is Ms. Stintz, he claimed on AM640, who is responsible for his failure to build subways, as he promised he would during his 2010 election campaign.
"When I ran, we had a billion dollars committed from the province and the feds. And unfortunately, the chair of the TTC – lying might be a strong word but, you know [she] promised me up and down, 'Make me the chair and, you know, I'll make sure those subways go through.'"
Really? Is that what happened? Ms. Stintz told me on Friday that she never had a conversation about subways with the mayor before becoming TTC chair. In fact, she says she never talked with him at all. She dealt with his chief of staff.
She likes subways as much as anyone, but she came to disagree with Mr. Ford over his plan to extend the Sheppard subway to Scarborough. It became clear early on that the mayor had no credible plan to pay for it.
Far from knifing the mayor, Ms. Stintz threw him a lifeline by suggesting that he save money by altering a plan to bury most of the proposed Eglinton Crosstown light-rail line. Bringing much of the line above ground, as originally planned, would save up to $1.5-billion – money that could be used for Sheppard. When Mr. Ford refused, city council revolted, declined to go ahead with the unfunded Sheppard extension and went back to the Transit City project championed by former mayor David Miller. Mr. Ford was clearly furious at Ms. Stintz, and has never forgiven her. "They just kiboshed my plan," he said on the radio on Thursday.
No, they stood up for common sense. Ms. Stintz was in the lead, as she is again this month. And now he has to live with it.