The OneCity debate that wasn’t left itself open to multiple interpretations—but, in the end, it was all about process.
Yesterday, after more than four hours of debate on a motion about studying transit, the quartet of councillors who recently proposed the OneCity transit building and tax plan faced the press gallery. OneCity itself had not been the subject of the debate, but a motion wispily related to it proposed by Peter Milczyn was understood to be a symbolic representation of something related somehow to OneCity.
For once, “scrum” seemed like an appropriate name for the event—it seemed more like the kind of chaotic grappling you see at a rugby game than the normal political interrogation. The moment that Karen Stintz, Glenn De Baeremaeker, Josh Colle and Joe Mihevc finished saying that the resolution by Peter Milczyn—to have the city staff report on developing a transit plan this fall—was an historic moment (and would, for the first time, give Toronto a long-term transit-building strategy, tie that strategy to the official plan, and tie that strategy to revenue through taxes), the members of the fourth estate shouted in disbelief and apparent anger.
Wasn’t the gist of the motion that had just passed—by a vote of 43-1, with lefty councillor John Filion dissenting—just an instruction for city staff to continue doing what they were already doing, as the city manager had pretty much said under questioning earlier in the day? And how is it that the report on possible funding sources coming in the fall was somehow a fulfilment of the OneCity promise of current value–assessment uplift, when that report was already forthcoming? Had the councillors been unaware of the forthcoming study when they proposed their own? They said they achieved all their goals but they appeared to have achieved nothing at all!
Well, sure, Stintz and Colle took turns saying—except now the OneCity lines would surely be part of the study, now that the public had seen them and liked them. So there’s that. An historic first.
However, Stintz pointed out, the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line into Scarborough appeared to be dead. Council reigns supreme and council had decided not to consider making that line a priority.
But wait, her colleagues Mihevc and De Baeremaeker rushed in: That subway could still come back. It would certainly be studied as part of the process, and there would be public consultations. So that inanimate parrot: not dead at all.
As the reporters shouted questions, Stintz clarified that the Scarborough subway extension did appear to be dead. Council supreme put a bullet in it.
“No!” said Mihevc. Not at all dead—in fact healthier than ever, maybe! “I would say that the province would not be wise to continue to spend large sums of money on the Scarborough LRT because council is going to weigh in on it at a later point this year,” Mihevc said.
Yeah, not so much, said Stintz. Council reigns supreme. “We don’t have consensus on this,” she said.
Giorgio Mammoliti, who had been shouting all day, wandered past the scrum: “This is pink lipstick on a very fat pig!” he said. “Pink lipstick on a very fat pig!” I asked him which part of that metaphor his ally Peter Milczyn, who proposed the motion and was standing nearby, was meant to represent: the cosmetics or the hog? “Pink lipstick on a very fat pig!” he shouted again as Milczyn’s wincing smile stayed glued to his face.
Shelley Carroll was telling the press that, rather than an historic first or porcine cosmetics, what council had passed today was a “face-saving” measure. Adam Vaughan was talking about this as a failure of “retail politics.” Doug Ford said that his brother, who did not speak about transit during the long afternoon of debate, was clearly now back in charge of the transit file. David Shiner said something, though I cannot for the life of me recall what it was.
Milczyn himself—when I asked him directly which of the “face-saving,” “pig lipstick” or “historic first” terms best characterized the motion he had proposed and council had passed, smiled and emitted a fog of good-natured diplomatic verbiage that left me dizzy.
What, I asked him, changed as a result of his motion? Well, there’s an accelerated timeline for the report from staff—one month of acceleration, I think—and some public consultation.
Later, the mayor finally spoke, saying that there had been a “great debate” in council about transit that day. I’m not sure I agree. There had been a long debate, that’s for sure, and an emotional debate. But the motion up for discussion was a MacGuffin—an undefined Rorschach blot of no apparent actual importance around which the plot could revolve. All the councillors had pretty strong opinions about the whole thing, though no two councillors you asked could agree on what they had just-about-unanimously approved.
Next page: Why OneCity failed