Eglinton Crosstown fight: do councillors force a special meeting?
Posted by John Michael McGrath, OpenFile Toronto
The Toronto Star has an important point in its latest article over the chaos that is Toronto’s transit planning, since yesterday’s TTC meeting torpedoed Karen Stintz’ (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence) attempt to get some answers from staff. From the Star:
The vote prompted some city councillors to suggest it’s more important than ever to put the mayor’s transit plans before city council even if it means calling a special council meeting.
“It’s clear that a majority of council doesn’t think this administration and its few allies on council any longer represent the interests of Torontonians,” said Councillor Gord Perks.
“My understanding was the mayor was going to bring the MOU and Gordon Chong’s report (on financing the Sheppard subway extension) to executive committee. If that happens, it will end up on the floor of council. It’s not clear we need a special meeting,” said Stintz.
There’s two questions here: timing and vote-counts. Pretty much everyone agrees that if a vote is held today, the Mayor simply doesn’t have the votes to win at council if he insists on putting all of Eglinton underground. (For a detailed head count, see Matt Elliott’s list here.) But there’s no possibility of a vote today or for weeks according to the schedule, so that brings up the issue of timing.
According to Stintz, the vote would come in March (because February’s Executive Committee meeting comes after this month’s city council meeting). But councillors on the left may worry that if they leave a vote that long, they may lose some councillors on the middle to the pressure the Mayor can bring to bear.
Which brings us to section 27-30 of the city’s procedural by-law (essentially, city council’s constitution) that states that councillors can call a special meeting of council if half of them sign a petition demanding one. It also states the petiton must have “a clear statement of the meeting’s purpose”, so the councillors in effect get to set the agenda without going through committee hoops. If they want to force a vote on council before March, this could well be how they do it. (Though presumably after the Mayor presents Gordon Chong’s subway report to Executive Committee.)
While Mayors Miller and Ford have both used the “special session” powers they have under the by-law, according to the city clerk’s office no meeting has been convened by petition since amalgamation, so this would be literally unprecedented in Toronto’s recent history.
This would also be an extraordinary step in the breakdown of council. This isn’t “tweaking” the budget, this is $2 billion and a key part of the mayor’s election campaign. (Well, sort of: Rob Ford never wanted to build Eglinton in the first place when he was running for office.) If council were to take control of the agenda like this, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the next two years being anything more than open, constant warfare.