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Chris Selley: Ford platform faces first test

by Chris Selley

Several of Mayor Rob Ford’s central campaign planks face their first test at Thursday’s city council meeting, notably axing the vehicle registration tax, asking the province to designate the TTC an essential service, cutting councillors’ office budgets and approving the 2011 budget process. There’s also plenty of the astonishing minutia that occupies a significant portion of council’s time: Should it “rescind all turn prohibitions at the intersection of Steeles Avenue East and Staines Road”? Should it “authorize the City Solicitor to hire outside planning staff to uphold the Committee of Adjustment refusal regarding the 32 Glenayr Road application at the Ontario Municipal Board hearing” — which is to say, should it stand fast against a proposed dwelling that would occupy an outrageous 84% of its lot, or risk abandoning Forest Hill to the scourge of “monster homes”?

Tough calls. I’m nearly breathless with anticipation.

Here’s a brief wish list for the council meeting.

First, a few fiscal matters. I hope councillors don’t make much of a fuss about lopping $20,445 from their staff budgets. Twelve of 44 councillors spent less than the $30,000 limit being proposed last year anyway (not counting Mr. Ford, whose $0 total isn’t a very practical model). Heck, budgetary bogeyman Kyle Rae would have come in well under his limit had it not been for his infamous retirement party. This was precisely the sort of symbolism that got Mr. Ford elected, and while it’s a bit silly and could theoretically impact the services their constituents believe in, the small size of the expenditure conversely makes it an ill-advised hill for its opponents to die on.

Speaking of niggardly complaints and bad hills, I hope this debate over how and where councillors are going to get their dinner during meetings can quickly be put to rest. Yes, it’s silly that Mr. Ford cancelled the catering contract — the “trough,” as he put it — to save a few thousand bucks. And yes again, it’s silly for councillors to break for dinner and come back instead of eating at their desks and getting home to their families as early as possible. But it’s also silly to spend a significant amount of time worrying about it. I suggest the hungry councillors suck it up, take a collection and order out.

Moving on to more substantive issues, I hope some very serious discussion takes place over designating the TTC as an essential service. It’s a very odd stand, in many ways, for Mr. Ford to take. His case includes concerns about increased greenhouse gas emissions on strike days, which, with all due respect, I simply do not believe he cares about.

Opinions are divided across the political spectrum — Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday is a skeptic, though he’ll vote with Mr. Ford — but broadly speaking, the Mayor supports the left-wing position here. The enemy Toronto Star is backing him on this, for heaven’s sake, and why wouldn’t it? It means no transit interruptions — in theory, anyway — and higher wages for TTC employees.

Transit strikes are a royal pain, no doubt about it. But is losing five days of service in the last decade really worth spending millions more every year going forward? Remember to subtract the pleasure of bashing fat cat unionized workers from your annoyance.

I hope Councillor Mike Layton realizes how silly an idea it is for council to censure Maclean’s for an article about an Asian/non-Asian divide on Canadian university campuses — or anything else for that matter — and withdraws his motion. And I hope council votes to finally cancel its $1-a-year lease on a luxury box at the Rogers Centre for which it hasn’t bought tickets for three years, just so it never has to talk about it again. Blue Jays tickets aren’t exactly the prize they were in the early 1990s.

And finally, I hope a lot of people show up to watch, as Rob Ford has been urging his supporters to do on Twitter. Indeed, I hope council becomes Toronto’s newest spectator sport. Think about it: It’s not just one game a day; it’s dozens. And someone’s always guaranteed to win, even if it’s just referring an unpopular item to the Executive Committee. Imagine the tedium playing out before an impatient, Monday Night Football-type audience. At especially positive democratic moments, spectators could do the wave.