Ford places hold on traffic light votes, proving again that yes, there really are political parties at city hall
The latest example of the increasingly partisan nature of city hall—literally, the division of city council into separate organized factions we could shorthand as “parties”—comes from the Toronto Star. Apparently Mayor Rob Ford has been using his power to hold items on the council’s agenda (a power any councillor can wield) to discipline some of the councillors caught between left and right.
Traffic light projects usually sail through council without a discussion or a vote. The mayor almost never tries to stop them. But at council’s July meeting, Ford placed an unusual “hold” on a proposed new Dufferin St. light near an elementary school in the Davenport ward of centrist Councillor Ana Bailão.
Then, according to another centrist, Councillor Josh Colle, his allies lobbied other councillors to vote to kill the project.
“I think a lot of councillors were surprised that a local issue was being so heavily lobbied on,” Colle said.
In this case, the hold accomplished precisely nothing—after debating the issue, council voted overwhelmingly in favour of putting the streetlight in. So it’s possible that the Star has it wrong on this case—that Ford is holding these votes not to kill them, but to demonstrate that he’s voting against what he considers wasteful spending (something the mayor has done with community grants). And we’d be remiss not to mention that city staff recommended against the streetlight, so it’s not like Ford and company have no case. Except that as Josh Colle notes, the mayor’s hold on a streetlight in Colle’s ward disappeared right after the rookie councillor voted for the bike plan that killed the Jarvis bike lanes.
Now if Ford is using the procedures of council to whip votes and get his platform through, there’s actually nothing wrong with that—in a parliamentary tradition. The tradition of municipal government in Ontario is a little different though, and it’s not hard to see that certain councillors are bristling at taking marching orders from Ford. The mayor really ought to be careful holding the metaphorical whip here—opposition councillors are clearly trying to lure people like Colle and Bailão over to their side, and playing the bad cop is something that can backfire quite unexpectedly.