Rob Ford’s subway dream appears to be all over except for the voting.
After more than 10 hours of debate that included hardly a word from the city’s mayor, Mr. Ford’s allies delayed a final decision on Toronto’s crucial transit file until Thursday.
Toronto City Council met Wednesday for what was to be the final piece of efforts to revive the city’s light-rail transit plan, killed by Mayor Rob Ford during his first hours in office. The highly anticipated debate over transit options for Sheppard Avenue East pitted the advice of an expert panel favouring light rail against the mayor’s campaign pledge to extend the existing subway to Scarborough Town Centre, a position backed by his hand-picked transit adviser.
Faced with almost certain defeat of the subway plan, Mr. Ford and his supporters opted Wednesday evening to delay a decision, pushing the debate into a second day on Thursday.
Budget chief Mike Del Grande, who put forward a last-minute plan to pay for the subway and other transit projects through a dedicated parking levy, said the delaying tactic was retaliation for councillors who said they needed a financial plan to back subways and then failed to get on board with the mayor when he gave them one.
“They turned on us again,” Mr. Del Grande said following the meeting, conceding his proposal for a parking levy to pay for subways “will lose” Thursday.
Mr. Del Grande wouldn’t name the councillors he believes betrayed him, but said his motion was crafted to satisfy centrist councillors who’ve been asking for a subway funding plan for weeks.
“Why drag [the meeting]out for the second day? I think to send a message that if you’ve asked us to do things ... and then you basically throw it in our face, then you know what? We’ll send you a message back that we’re not going to do your slam dunk on your timetable.”
Mr. Del Grande estimated a commercial parking levy would generate about $100-million annually – money that could be earmarked for transit expansion, beginning with the subway extension on Sheppard.
Several councillors who said they needed to see how the mayor planned to pay for the subway extension, said it simply was a case of too little, too late. “We are being asked to jump first and ask questions later and that is not how I represent my constituents, approving something without knowing who is going to pay,” said Ana Bailao, an independent on council.
Ms. Bailao said it was unrealistic to expect her and others to support an idea presented on the floor of council.
Peter Milczyn, a councillor who is also a TTC commissioner and member of the mayor’s executive, hinted he was disappointed in Mr. Ford for failing to present a plan to pay for his subway promise in advance of the meeting.
“What’s unfortunate is the lack of leadership that’s led up to today’s debate,” Mr. Milczyn said on the council floor.
It remains unclear if the mayor will support the parking levy proposal. Deputy mayor Doug Holyday said mid-morning that Mr. Ford was having “great difficulty” supporting the tax idea, but by the end of the evening Mr. Milczyn said he expected Mr. Ford to back the plan.
Mr. Ford refused to comment, racing from the meeting when it ended, refusing questions from reporters. Aside from rising on a point of order, Mr. Ford’s only action for the day was an 11th-hour failed attempt to delay further debate until April 4. The motion lost 19 to 25.
“It just shows they have no control of council, no control of the agenda and no strategy,” Councillor Adam Vaughan said following the meeting.
Joe Mihevc, a light-rail booster and opponent of the mayor, predicted the mayor’s stalling tactic would backfire. “They smell that they don’t have the votes, so they filibustered in an attempt to perhaps work on some councillors to get the vote [Thursday.]Simple as that,” the councillor said. “When you act in this kind of, frankly, silly way by filibustering and not allowing the debate to continue and the debate to finish, you actually harden votes.”
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, a supporter of the mayor, said the delay means the mayor’s subway vision is still alive.
“The objective today was to stop a vote from taking place that clearly was against the administration’s will with respect to subways,” he said. “We had to do what we needed to do today to ensure that subways are still on the table – and subways are still on the table.”
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