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With Ford's agenda stalled, Deputy Mayor rages against activists, unionists and cyclists

After Tuesday's council session ended with a unanimous vote and hearty handshakes, council returned to its more contentious – and entertaining – ways on Wednesday, as a fairly innocuous-looking agenda item became a major wedge issue. Up for debate: should the city be able to contract out cleaning services to private bidders without oversight from council?

In the end, the vote added up to yet another embarrassing defeat for the Ford administration. The result doesn't eliminate the possibility of contracting out work in the future, but it handcuffs the mayor's ability to do so quickly and without oversight.

Watching the debate unfold was to view two competing political strategies. On one side, you had a carefully executed and well-structured plan that would ultimately win the day. On the other side – the mayor's side, the losing side – you had unfocused rambling, yelling, name-calling and ultimately, of course, tremendous bitterness.

Here's how things shook out.

What The Opposition Did: Seizing on this agenda item as a chance to stall Ford's well-known plan to contract out everything not nailed down, left-leaning councillors worked a political angle that's proven very successful for them in 2012. Instead of trotting out stalwart mayoral opponents like Adam Vaughan or Gord Perks to lead the charge on important issues, the left works to find more centrist councillors who can carry the same banner. It's an approach that's conciliatory and moderate from the outset.

In the budget debate, that centrist councillor was Josh Colle. This week, it was Ana Bailão. Another classically centrist councillor, Josh Matlow, proved critical to the resurrection of Transit City.

It was widely acknowledged after Wednesday's vote that Bailão's motion was crafted behind-the-scenes by left-leaning councillor Pam McConnell. But had McConnell stood up and delivered the motion herself, it would have been a much harder sell. With Bailão at the helm – speaking with emotion about her own family's history – support came readily. When votes were cast, the most transformative part of the motion passed with 26 in favour.

As Bailão and other councillors spoke to the issue, a group of Ford allies seemed to get more and more frustrated with the tone of the debate. Things boiled over when Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday started actively heckling his colleagues, accusing them of lying and protecting their union friends. After some accused the Etobicoke councillor of being unfair, he replied “Aw, bullshit.”

After the vote was taken, Holyday elaborated on his frustration:

“The right never had control of city hall,” the normally genial Holyday snapped in response to a reporter’s question, alleging the mayor is being thwarted by opponents vetted and approved by “the NDP.”“The people here were duly elected,” Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) said. “My advice to the taxpayer would be: ‘Don’t send us any more activists, don’t send us any more unionists, don’t send us any more cyclists. Send us some people down here with good common sense who just want to manage the city’s affairs.“That’s what’s needed.”

As Daren Foster at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke points out, in addition to this being the kind of rambling, reactionary, out-of-touch comment you'd hear from Grandpa Simpson, it's also just plain terrible politics.

As much as Doug Holyday and the Ford brothers might want to make their enemies out to all be members of some huge far-left socialist cabal, the reality is starkly different. Bailão's motion found support from councillors of all political stripes. Sure, its genesis came from the left, but with Bailão's support the item found favour with people like James Pasternak, a self-described fiscal conservative who now sits on the mayor's budget committee, and with John Parker, who was a bonafide Mike Harris Tory in the 1990s.

The thing about Bailão – and this is what makes her the right person to be making critical motions – is that she began this council term with the full intent of working with the new mayor, and has been open to supporting him to implementing key parts of his agenda. The same goes for Josh Colle, Josh Matlow, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Raymond Cho, Parker, Karen Stintz, Jaye Robinson and a half-dozen others who have now found themselves pushed toward Ford's enemy list.

Instead of nurturing political relationships to build consensus, the mayor and his closest allies have consistently dismissed anyone who might take issue with their approach to government. Given the way Toronto city politics is structured, this is an insane strategy. It's suicidal.

The Bailão motion stands as the clearest indication so far of the narrative we're now seeing play out at City Hall. It isn't about left-versus-right politics. Instead, it's about one bipartisan group of councillors who set policy by compromise and another group who seem more content to shout endlessly while losing. The mayor has chosen the wrong side.

This post was originally published at on 2012-04-13T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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