After suffering a bruising defeat on his vision for transit, Mayor Rob Ford dismissed the will of city council as “irrelevant” and vowed to keep pushing the Premier to build subways.
At a day-long meeting on Wednesday to debate how best to use $8.4-billion in provincial transit funding, councillors backed a plan from TTC chair Karen Stintz for light-rail lines on Eglinton Avenue and Finch Avenue West and an expert panel to study a subway extension on Sheppard Avenue.
The plan leaves the door open for compromise on Mr. Ford’s election pledge to build subways, and passed council 25-16. But moments after the council chamber filled with cheers and Ms. Stintz shared the accomplishment with fellow councillors, the mayor told reporters the fight was not over.
“Technically speaking, that whole meeting was irrelevant because it’s a provincial project,” he said as several councillors gasped. “It’s a provincial project and I’m quite confident that the Premier is going to continue building subways. He’s starting with subways and he’ll end with subways.”
The remarks capped a day of drama – a rare meeting called by a majority of councillors to challenge a year-old deal between the mayor and Premier Dalton McGuinty to replace David Miller’s light-rail plan with one underground line on Eglinton. The deal required council support, and Ms. Stintz and her supporters argued the money would be better spent and serve more passengers if the Eglinton line ran at street level east of the Don Valley, with the savings used for other light-rail lines.
Ms. Stintz called it a “common-sense compromise.”
“I’m really glad that council came together and sent such a strong message to the province about our commitment to building transit and getting shovels in the ground and getting people home sooner,” Ms. Stintz said after the vote.
Ontario Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli said on Wednesday night the province is asking Metrolinx to consider the “impacts” and report quickly. “As time is of the essence, we look to the mayor and council to move forward together,” he said in a statement.
The mayor and his brother made it clear they will continue to use the mandate from Toronto voters to fight for underground transit. “Council is not supreme, the people are supreme,” Councillor Doug Ford said. “The people spoke loud and clear a year ago. They want subways.”
For hours on Tuesday, a small group of councillors including Ms. Stintz, Michael Thompson, TTC vice-chair Peter Milczyn and Anna Bailao worked on a possible compromise with the mayor. The deal – which proposed referring the issue for 30 days to a different expert panel – failed to get the needed support. It was introduced by Mr. Ford, but defeated by mid-afternoon.
The mayor’s remarks left even some of his staunchest supporters wondering about next moves. “I think that the mayor may have misspoke,” Councillor Minnan-Wong said. “I respect the will of council. We made a decision today and I respect that decision.”
The mayor’s critics said the statement shows how little Mr. Ford understands his office and the role of council. “It’s the most shocking statement I have ever heard from a mayor,” said Adam Vaughan.
The plan endorsed by council includes a recommendation that a panel look at transit options for Sheppard Avenue. That panel would include former mayor David Crombie, University of Toronto professor Eric Miller and Gordon Chong, Mr. Ford’s hand-picked adviser on his Sheppard subway plan. It would also include senior representatives from Metrolinx, the TTC, the Toronto Board of Trade and the CivicAction Alliance.
In addition to the expert panel, the motion from Ms. Stintz proposes: -Council affirm support for a light rail plan and the early implementation of three projects – an LRT on Finch from the Spadina subway extension to Humber College, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Jane Street to Kennedy Station, and conversion of the Scarborough RT to an LRT with an extension to Malvern Town Centre as funds become available.
-Continued discussions between Metrolinx and the TTC on the operation and delivery of light rail projects -Authorize the TTC to enter discussions with Metrolinx to study the future of five other transit projects -An extension of the Sheppard subway west to Downsview station -An extension of Sheppard LRT to the Toronto Zoo -An extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line east to Scarborough Town Centre -An extension of the Eglinton Crosstown from Jane to Pearson Airport -Construction of the downtown relief line.