Toronto city council has voted 24-20 to endorse a Scarborough subway extension, following a raucous day-long debate that included several heated exchanges and predictions of defeat in the next election for the Scarborough councillor that voted against the line.
“I'm ecstatic. It's three years of nonstop battling but I did what the people elected me to do and that's deliver a subway to Scarborough,” a delighted Mayor Rob Ford said after the meeting, adding he hopes private investments will help lower an approved 1.6 per cent tax increase over three years to finance the subway.
"It's unfortunate. With the P3s, I'm sure we can get it lower."
Council voted to endorse the 1.6 per cent tax hike, rejecting a compromise move by the city’s budget chair to backload the pain by delaying the bulk of the increase until 2015 – after the next civic election. The increase will be implemented over three years, beginning with 0.5 percent in 2014.
Even though the tax increase is more than Mr. Ford wanted, the vote marks a big win for the city’s troubled mayor, who has long favoured subways over light rail. The political victory comes as Mr. Ford faces mounting questions about his relationship with his friend and occasional driver Alexander Lisi, arrested last week on drug charges, and Mr. Lisi’s links to an ongoing police investigation.
Once fully in place, the levy will add an average of $41 annually to Toronto homeowners’ tax bills for the next 30 years. The money, along with increased development fees, will be earmarked to pay for the city’s portion of the project – estimated at $910-million. The province and federal government also have pledged money for the project.
The subway extension usurps plans for light rail to replace the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line. TTC chair Karen Stintz warned councillors that the province was no longer interested in building a light rail line in Scarborough after promising a subway during this summer’s by-election.
“I’ll tell you guys, the province is not building an LRT. They’re not,” she said.
One of the most dramatic moments in the debate came after Scarborough Councillor Paul Ainslie backed the light rail plan.
“You are say this with a straight face, right. This is not a joke?” asked the mayor, who up until that point had been silent in the council debate. “You are a Scarborough councillor. You put a motion forward to kill the subway system when it is the number one issue by far,” Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Ainslie defended his position, saying that he did not believe a subway was the most cost-effective way to deliver transit to Scarborough residents.
Councillor Doug Ford, whose microphone was cut off as he raised his voice to challenge Mr. Ainslie on his LRT support, left the council floor to make his point directly to the press. “This is a person that is voting against his own people in Scarborough – this is disgusting,” he said, warning that he will continue the fight in the next municipal campaign. “The vote that is going to count is when he knocks on the door for the next election. We are going to make it very clear that he does not support the people in his area,” he said.
During Tuesday’s debate, city manager Joe Pennachetti told councillors that paying for the city’s portion of the subway extension will affect other capital projects. “The bottom line is there is going to be impact across all of our programs with the approval of a subway as an option,” he said.
With files from Kaleigh Rogers, Special to the Globe and Mail