Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Political Implications for Ford's Sinking Port Lands Vision

For better or worse, you likely won't see this on the Port Lands

In advance of Wednesday's City Council vote a 'consensus' has been reached on the motion to hand over control of the Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto to the Toronto Port Lands Company to be sold to developers. 

The Toronto Star's David Rider has more reporting here and CodeBlueTO co-founder Laurence Lui has a brief summary here

The consensus promises an 'accelerated' timeline with Waterfront Toronto in the lead and 'more co-operation' with TPLC. I put 'accelerated' and 'more co-operation' in quotes because it remains to be seen what concrete actions these refer to and how they will be enforced. 

Apparently a range of councillors from opposition to centrists to Ford allies worked on the consensus and must be pretty tired after yesterday's 19 hour meeting. Which councillors took the lead in developing the motion will likely come out in due time and they'll get some hard-earned political points. 

While details about the consensus (note, not a 'compromise') are sparse, it's never to early to speculate on the political ramifications. 

Ford loses here and loses big. When details emerge it will be interesting to hear the level of involvement the mayor's office had in building the consensus although my guess is that it's low to negligible. 

Both Rob and Doug shot themselves in the foot on this item and shot themselves many times. They made this a flashy, high visibility issue which drew attention to themselves and the lack of transparency that brought them to this point. The megamall-monorail-ferris wheel plan alternately looked like a flight of fancy on the back of a napkin or a series of backroom, opaque steps. Either way confirmed the worst public suspicions of their governance style. 

Moreover, as Goldsbie said on Josh Matlow's radio show The City, the Fords have seemed to lose control of the narrative. Even after the disastrous launch of the Ford Waterfront Vision, they had a series of miscues in trying to sell their pitch. 

The Mayor had his absurd Fordian line that trees may be nice but they don't employ people. His office also slammed Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell for rather harmlessly explaining why he doesn't have private developers line up, that his organization legally, "cannot do deals behind closed doors". There was an official complaint about Doug Ford meeting with Westfield without it going in the lobbyist registry. Then there was Doug cancelling on Matlow's show- allegedly to get Matlow's vote on the issue- and then calling in to, among other things, dismiss noted planner Ken Greenberg for being married to Adam Vaughan's executive assistant (he's not) and complain that Janet Davis bullies him.

The 'consensus-builders' look all the better by contrast. From the vocal left to centrists like Matlow, who took an early and forceful stand on the issue, they come out on the winning end of history. It's particularly good for individuals like Jaye Robinson, Michelle Berardinetti and Karen Stintz, Ford allies who showed a willingness to say no. 

More than any individual political capital won from this issue- and yes, this article ignores the huge benefit of keeping the better Waterfront Toronto plan- is the demonstration that a broad coalition of councillors is workable at City Hall. 

The breadth of this consensus will likely not be a regular occurrence, but at the very least it indicates there's a willingness to work beyond the mayor when needed on key issues. This should embolden all councillors to say no and force the mayor's office to either consult more broadly and openly with council or risk having the mayor further marginalized. 

While it's a nice victory- one that will probably be remembered next election when people say, 'Hey, remember that crazy monorail-megamall thing?'- it's not over yet. According to Marcus Gee, Doug Ford has expressed an interest in a Board of Directors seat with Waterfront Toronto. It's conceivable they'll try this again in a different way. 

The lesson to be learned from all of this is that skepticism of the administration is good, the governance style of the mayor's office is publicly and internally seen as bad and in the absence of change a broad coalition is an achievable better way. 

1 comment:

  1. OMG, we're all a twitter about a dumb idea being shot down. What a sad indictment on us all.

    We should be worried about K W_T's idea of killing the OMB without serious public debate and discussion about what would replace it.

    Imagine if Doug Ford had boxed smarter and got his way - where would we have gone then?