After two days of discussion, Toronto city councillors rejected a total of 14 different ways to pay for transit, ruling out all but two options for funding the province’s regional expansion plans and failing to endorse a single measure.
The debate, brought to council over the objections of Mayor Rob Ford, turned into what one councillor called “an absolute dog’s breakfast,” with councillors voting to redraw transit maps and requesting the federal and provincial governments open their wallets wider for Toronto.
While he fought not to have the debate, the mayor could not have been happier about the outcome.
“I feel fantastic,” he said after high-fiving council allies.“We fended off the wolves today and saved the taxpayers at least $1,000 a family, a household. And I couldn’t be happier. This is one of the greatest days in Toronto’s history right now.”
As for what Premier Kathleen Wynne should do with provincial plans to impose new taxes and tolls dedicated to transit expansion, Mr. Ford had this to say: “I’d advise her not to even talk about revenue tools any more. Let’s get on in finding efficiencies and saving taxpayers money instead of increasing taxes.”
TTC chair Karen Stintz was one of several councillors who led the charge to get the topic to the council floor, arguing that by staying silent Toronto would give the province licence to impose fees the city did not want.
The province’s transit agency, Metrolinx, will give its recommendations to the province at the end of this month on new taxes and tolls to fund transit plans in the Greater Toronto Region and Hamilton.
Council chose to “remain silent” on the use of a regional sales tax and development charges to fund transit, and by doing so has provided input to the province, Ms. Stintz said.
“We have excluded the things we don’t think are in the interest of Toronto and we have left some on the table for the province to consider,” she said.
Included in the extensive off-limits list were: tolls; a fuel or parking or land-transfer tax; a congestion levy; increases to personal income tax, property tax and transit fares.
Through a complex web of motions that took more than two hours to wade through, councillors also voted to reopen transit plans, backing an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway into Scarborough, a western leg for the Sheppard subway to link it with the Spadina line and to put a halt to a northern extension of the Yonge line until improvements are made to increase capacity.
This on the same day Transportation Minister Glen Murray emphasized that the province will not be giving Toronto a new subway extension in exchange for a deal on revenue streams to build transit. “I want to be very clear so no one misunderstands me: We have 15 projects, we’re not revisiting those projects, we’re continuing to build those projects,” he said.
Councillor Jaye Robinson, one of the members of the mayor’s executive committee who fought to have the debate on the council agenda, wondered what message it will send to the province. “This is not how a city of this magnitude should be planning our transit,” she said. “It was an absolute dog’s breakfast. I question whether the province is going to heed any of this.”
Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who at one point Thursday told her councillors to “grow a spine,” said some of her colleagues were reluctant to “stick their necks out” and endorse tolls or taxes. “We don’t want to tax our residents any more, but how the hell are we going to pay for transit?” she said.
In the run-up to the debate and on the council floor the mayor repeatedly warned that he would make the vote an election issue for councillors.
During the debate, Mr. Ford saved his sharpest remarks for Councillor Stintz, considered a likely rival for the mayor’s job in 2014.
“You don’t support subways. I support subways,” Mr. Ford said when she questioned him on his transit plans. “You support LRTs. I do not support LRTs. You support streetcars. I do not support streetcars. Fine, you support tax increases. I don’t. You support higher fees, implementing user fees, implementing new taxes. I don’t. We’re two different systems.”
In a statement issued late Thursday, Metrolinx said it looks forward to reviewing council’s advice and will deliver its investment strategy to its board of directors on May 27.