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Ford faces tight vote on designating TTC essential

by Kelly Grant
City Hall Bureau Chief

Despite an aggressive labour-relations agenda that includes banning strikes at the TTC, contracting out garbage and scrapping the fair-wage policy, Rob Ford won’t be the political point-man in his looming battle with city unions.

The mayor will not chair council’s Employee and Labour Relations Committee, a job his predecessor David Miller considered so important he led the committee himself.

“I think it’s one of the those areas where the mayor feels another one of the councillors can really pick up the ball,” said Adrienne Batra, Mr. Ford’s press secretary. “It affords the mayor the opportunity to worry about his big-ticket items like customer service. That was really the rationale behind it.”

A labour-relations chair will be selected from members of the cabinet-like executive committee Thursday.

In the meantime, Mr. Ford is wasting no time tackling his first controversial labour-relations issue: asking the province to designate the TTC an essential service.

Of all the motions Mr. Ford has put on the agenda for his first business council meeting on Dec. 16, it’s the only one on which he faces a tight vote and the possibility of a key ally, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, breaking ranks.

The essential-service issue is also likely to come up when Mr. Ford meets with Premier Dalton McGuinty on Tuesday, their first get-together since Mr. Ford became mayor.

However, the fate of Transit City, an $8.15-billion light-rail network that Mr. Ford has vowed to kill, is expected to top the agenda.

The 9:30 a.m. meeting at Queen’s Park will be the start of a busy day for Toronto’s new chief magistrate, who will preside over his first, largely ceremonial council meeting beginning at 2 p.m.

But the real action begins Dec. 16, when the new council first considers business, including scrapping the $60 vehicle-registration tax and slashing office budgets, both of which are expected to pass easily.

Asking the province to ban TTC strikes is a different story. The last time council voted on the issue, on Oct. 30, 2008, the proposition lost 23-22, with Mr. Holyday casting the deciding vote in a rare alliance with Mr. Miller.

Mr. Holyday, who argued in 2008 that making the TTC essential would drive up the price of future contracts, is struggling with how to vote this time.

“My thoughts on the matter are a matter of record,” he said Monday. Asked if his views had changed since 2008, he replied: “No.”

“I am a member of Rob’s team now … I have a responsibility here so I’ll deal with it accordingly. I’ll be willing to discuss the matter [at executive committee] Thursday,” he said.

Although Mr. Holyday’s vote would carry a heavy symbolic weight, it appears Mr. Ford has enough votes to squeeze the motion through without it.

If incumbents stick to their 2008 positions, the decision will come down to Toronto’s 14 new councillors. Eight of the 14 said they would either vote yes or are leaning toward voting yes, according to a survey by The Globe and Mail.

“I’m leaning toward supporting [an essential services designation,] just because it has such an impact on people in my ward,” said Ana Bailao, the new councillor for Ward 18 Davenport. She replaced outgoing TTC chair Adam Giambrone, who voted against making transit strikes illegal.

Jaye Robinson, Josh Matlow, Gary Crawford, James Pasternak, Vincent Crisanti, Michelle Berardinetti and Doug Ford are the other councillors who intend to vote yes or are leaning towards an affirmative vote. Kristyn Wong-Tam, Sarah Doucette and Mike Layton intend to vote no, while Josh Colle and Mary-Margaret McMahon wouldn’t say ahead of the vote. Mary Fragedakis couldn’t be reached.

“For me, all indications are this is going to cost the city money and take away the democratic rights of workers,” Mr. Layton said.

A 2008 report by the C.D. Howe Institute estimated that making the TTC an essential service could cost the city an extra $23-million over a three-year contract because arbitrators tend to award more generous salary increases when workers are denied the right to strike.

Bob Kinnear, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113, which represents most of the TTC’s workers, slammed the vote as a waste of time because the ultimate decision rests with the province.

Mr. McGuinty’s office reiterated in an e-mail Thursday that he and Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne are willing to look at any TTC essential-services proposal endorsed by council. A private member’s bill to that effect, introduced by Liberal backbencher David Caplan, is stalled at the standing committee on general government.