A year ago, before his political world started caving in, Mayor Rob Ford had it all. He was rapidly tackling his agenda and held such sway over city council that he rarely came out on the losing end of a vote. Ford was actively sticking it to pundits who had claimed, shortly after his election, that this divisive and independent mayor wouldn’t be able to pass a damn thing.
Thanks to famous foibles involving Ferris wheels, school nutrition programs and subways subways subways, things are different now. At last week’s rather uneventful council meeting, the mayor came out on the losing end on several votes. Sure, most of them were small and inconsequential, but the fact remains that it’s unprecedented in Toronto’s history for the person elected mayor to lose so many votes and look so comfortable doing it.
None of the items discussed at council last week were significant enough to make the ongoing City Council Scorecard, but three votes on referral from last week are worth highlighting. These items, moved by noted left-wing councillors, required a two-thirds majority to make the agenda and see debate on the floor of council. Without that two-thirds, they’d get sent back to various committees – most of which Ford controls – where they could then be squashed. One of the items achieved the 30 votes needed to make the agenda, after which it was summarily approved. The other two motions failed, but only by very narrow margins.
Ford’s ability to control committees and refer motions is one of the last bastions of procedural power he has left. Recent results show that he may lose even that.
- MM23.12, moved by Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, saw council request that data from the recently scrapped federal long-gun registry be kept for use by Toronto cops. There’s no guarantee that anyone will listen to the request. Wong-Tam’s item narrowly made the agenda with a vote of 31-13 and was then approved by a vote of 39-5, though Councillor Doug Ford has said he hit the wrong button.
- MM23.21, by Councillor Adam Vaughan, was based on the rather free market notion that food trucks should be allowed to set up in parking lots. It failed to achieve two-thirds, coming in with 26 in favour and 17 opposed.
- MM23.22, also by Vaughan, was another motion that seemed like it should appeal to those councillors who lean toward populist libertarianism. It would have allowed lawn bowling clubs to serve alcohol, which seems like a surefire way to make lawn bowling actually fun. Alas, this was referred by the narrowest of margins, coming one vote short of 30.
None of these items are particularly earth-shattering, but they illustrate Ford’s waning grip on council. A few months ago, finding 23 votes to go against the mayor seemed like a remarkable achievement. Now, council finds itself within spitting distance of 30. And with 30 votes, council can do a lot. They can add items to the agenda, change committee membership and even replace Speaker Frances Nunziata. (Not that anyone wants to do that.)
Pay close attention to councillors on either side of the orange line marking thirty votes. Even Ford allies and executive committee members are showing signs of independence. At the rate Rob Ford is going – as he devolves backwards toward the angry opposition role he played for so many years as councillor – they could be next year’s swing votes.