The OneCity debate that wasn’t left itself open to multiple interpretations—but, in the end, it was all about process.
It’s convenient enough that my column in this week’s print issue of The Grid is about process—how to include everyone who wants or needs to be included in making decisions. Artist/activist Dave Meslin and I, chatting in the City Hall rotunda on Monday, agreed that process is everything in politics. If you have everyone reasonably included in a discussion, the results of that discussion are far more likely to be good results. And if people feel excluded from that discussion or shut out of the process, the results will be tainted and unpopular (and therefore unsuccessful) even if they are ideal in some technical sense. Process, not specific policy proposals, is what great revolutions and political movements are built on: “No taxation without representation!” “The West wants in!” Etc.
In voting to kill the Vehicle Registration Tax that she herself had introduced as budget chief, Shelley Carroll made a speech to the effect that she and her colleagues had botched the process: People did not understand why the tax was more reasonable than other alternatives. And a tax that people do not understand or support is a failure. Therefore, she admitted her own participation in that process failure and voted to reverse her own policy.
During the OneCity-adjacent transit debate at City Hall, there were speeches upon speeches about process: Josh Matlow pointed out that the regional Big Move plan contains much that OneCity was supposed to add to the debate, but included the province as the partners they needed to be and also included the other municipalities in our region as partners in planning, paying for and building a network. Gord Perks made a stirring speech tinged with anger about the need to consider the whole network in the process—including bus routes—and the desperate need to have the province and federal governments pay into the system out of income tax. Adam Vaughan spoke about how a proposal coming up through committee at the TTC, developed according to the time tested democratic processes of city government was essential.
Giorgio Mammoliti clowned around like a roastmaster on his fifth drink, but virtually everyone else talked about problems of process and leadership.
When they weren’t making speeches, the councillors and staff I spoke to throughout the day made it even more clear that the problem that OneCity encountered resulted from it being a fixed plan cooked up by four councillors, presented on a rushed timetable. Columnists like me had seen it from the beginning as the start of a conversation and negotiation, but it was, they said in various ways, presented to them—after it was unveiled as a finished product—as a fait accompli. And you get all kinds of problems with that. People’s egos get bruised, sure, but legitimate points of discussion are smothered; other proposals that have been underway for a long time get squashed; different, possibly preferable options for revenue sources or routes or technologies go unconsidered. The province, who needs to fund a lot of this under anyone’s plan, cannot be rolled into just writing a cheque: they need to be included in the process from the beginning.
When OneCity was unveiled, I and a lot of other people looked at the map, the scheme, and, notably, the composition of the OneCity Quartet and saw what appeared to be signs that a particular kind of process had taken place and was taking place. Mihevc and De Baeremaeker represent the left, don’t they? Colle was the quarterback for the “mighty middle” in the budget discussions, wasn’t he? The right-leaning Stintz assembled the whole coalition on LRT plans earlier this year and constituted the TTC board. It seemed that all the factions of council outside the mayor’s inner circle were represented, that all areas of the city were taken into account and the pet projects of various councillors included, and some sort of back-channel communication with the TTC itself and with Metrolinx and the provincial government were already underway.
In short, many of us looked at the plan as presented and thought we saw the signs that it was the result of a very well-thought out process that had included representatives of a wide range of important constituencies. That all appears now not to have been the case.
Next page: Where do we go from here?