Miller KO's Mel's 98-pound weaklings
By JOHN BARBER
Thursday, December 4, 2003 - Page A13
Epochal achievements are not supposed to be so easy, especially at city council. Usually it takes forever to get even the little things accomplished. Certainly no council has ever reversed itself on a fundamental issue with such alacrity -- in a single day -- as Toronto council did yesterday when it voted to abandon its six-month-old championship of a new bridge to the island airport.
Was it because nobody really cared about the bridge, as its now-sour supporters try to pretend? That hardly makes sense.
Is it because the council is new, with 14 novices desperate for the attention of anti-bridge Mayor David Miller? That's closer to the mark, but there are even more holdover councillors on the other side with equally strong convictions and much more experience. If they were New Democrats, they would have strung out the debate for days with clever filibusters and a barrage of heat-seeking motions that would have caused major damage to the initiative, even if they failed to bring it down.
That's what happened to the Adams Mine deal, which was so badly shot up during its ordeal in council that even Mel Lastman abandoned it at the end of the days-long debate.
The real reason Mr. Miller waltzed to victory in the first test of his mayoralty -- probably one of the toughest he will ever face -- is that his opposition is so weak. That's the biggest surprise that emerged from yesterday's brisk business: In their first test in opposition, Mel's heavyweights went down like 98-pound weaklings.
Even more than the debate's decisive result, that pathetic performance must be what's warming Mr. Miller's heart on the day after.
Let's face it: He was highly vulnerable all day long -- and he still is. Although city solicitor Anna Kinastowski staunchly backed his position that there will be no legal repercussions from a request that the federal government "unamend" the agreement the last council had just asked it to amend, she made it equally clear that there will be costs involved in doing so.
If the Toronto Port Authority is sued as a result of city's policy change, Ottawa will clearly look to the city to help make its agency whole. Ms. Kinastowski warned that there will be costs to undo the deal even if there are no lawsuits. Certainly the toonie Mr. Miller brandished during the election campaign, in an effort to illustrate how picayune he expected those costs to be, won't come close to covering them.
But the Lastman rump did nothing with that deadly information. Instead they wailed fruitlessly about phantom lawsuits and wasted their time with ridiculous cheap shots about the mayor's mandate, pretending that his attempt to fulfill a straightforward election promise violated some sacred principle of democracy. But their campaign to win hearts and minds went haywire when former deputy mayor Case Ootes argued for an indefinite delay in the vote to help council's 14 newcomers to familiarize themselves with the issue.
First Councillor Kyle Rae sank an arrow into the middle of the former deputy's forehead by asking him why, six months earlier, he voted against exactly the same motion -- to delay the bridge approval in deference to a new council. Then, one after another, the new councillors rose to denounce the ploy for what it was: a cheap trick designed to allow the bridge to go ahead while they sat on their hands.
At the end of the day, 12 of the 14 new councillors came over to Mr. Miller's side. The opposition's failure to win converts -- or even the slightest sympathy for their cause -- was a setback that will resonate for years.
But the greatest coup came when new deputy mayor Joe Pantalone bound up all the opposition's anti-bridge motions into a neat bundle and, with the consent offered by another decisive vote, booted it into oblivion. Nothing stuck at all; the mayor's motion came to a vote as clean and direct as it began the day, unencumbered by any of the conditions, amendments or other assorted time-bombs any semi-competent opposition would have attached. I can't remember anything like that ever happening at city council.
Mr. Miller not only fulfilled his major election promise; in the process he won support that will likely stick with him for years. Nothing will get in his way now.
It could turn out to be a problem.