Have the Ford Wars just begun? Council’s left is ready to fight for Transit City

Have the Ford Wars just begun? Council’s left is ready to fight for Transit City

With Rob Ford’s announcement today that “Transit City is over, ladies and gentlemen,” it looks like the first big battle of his mayoralty started precisely an hour after he walked into the building this morning.  The councillors who want to preserve Transit City—largely the allies of David Miller—are reeling from the point-blank and presumptuous announcement, yet some don’t seem sure what the next step is.

Joe Mihevc (Ward 21), the former vice-chair of the TTC, describes Ford’s announcement as a “blitzkrieg.”  “During the interregnum, I hoped we’d see the Mel Lastman approach”—that is, a fiscal conservative who could nevertheless build bridges with his rivals on council. “Instead, the early indication is that Mayor Ford wants a fight… He wants to pillage the city, and we can’t let him.”

An emphatic Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38) says Ford’s move is a colossal mistake: “This will put public transit back a decade for some people, and for others it will be a lifetime. For Scarborough east of Kennedy, people will be riding buses forever.” At a post-announcement scrum, Janet Davis (Ward 31) was asked if the council’s left wing was ready for a fight on this and said “Of course!”

The problem, for the moment, is that nobody seems to know how, exactly, this battle royale is going to play out. Miller’s last budget chief, Shelley Carroll (Ward 33), says the TTC, as an arm’s-length agency of the city, has a lot of room to manoeuvre within its budget. “There’s a lot of grey here. Once we’ve approved a budget, they can go a long way in changing it. They have in the past, whether we like it or not.” But the commission has never been asked to change something this monumental after it’s already been approved by council.

Killing Transit City (even if it’s replaced by Ford’s cutely named Transportation City Plan) is going to be expensive, though, and council is going to need to approve those expenses—and the much more expensive operating costs for the subways. Carroll says, “By asking the TTC to build subways, the mayor is effectively asking council to agree to raise the taxes needed to run the subways, because nobody, including Dalton McGuinty, is guaranteeing us any operating subsidy—and the city’s choking on operating costs as it is.” In a conference call this afternoon, TTC GM Gary Webster said repeatedly he doesn’t know what kind of costs they’re looking at for Ford’s plan. One thing is an easy guess—it won’t be free.

That may be where the Transit City forces make their stand.  They may be shut out of things like the commission itself (that remains to be seen, but Mihevc says he’s been told in no uncertain terms that he’s not welcome on the new transit board), but the TTC can’t incur all the costs of cancelling Transit City without coming to council for the money first. De Baeremaeker says, “I expect the commission to listen to the will of council—and I expect the province to, as well.”

To which we can only ask, how’s that been working lately?