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Toronto councillor James Pasternak. (Jim Ross/The Globe and Mail/Jim Ross/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto councillor James Pasternak. (Jim Ross/The Globe and Mail/Jim Ross/The Globe and Mail)

Sheppard subway versus LRT: Expect a close race Add to ...

It will likely come down to one or two votes.

The final decision on Rob Ford’s cherished Scarborough subway is going to be even tighter than expected, with the mayor having gained at least two more supporters and an extra week of time to lean on the undecided.

Councillors who support light rail say they’re confident they have at least 23 solid votes, and faith they can capture more.

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That means the mayor would have to shake just a few votes loose to keep alive his dream of extending the Sheppard subway east, and there’s every indication he’s working feverishly to make that happen.

“We are extremely close,” Councillor Doug Ford said.

In a radio interview Thursday, Mayor Ford floated the option of extending the Sheppard line just two more stops to Victoria Park – an option he rejected just weeks ago. Meanwhile, his hard-nosed former chief of staff has returned to help him win the vote, according to councillors who have spotted Nick Kouvalis at city hall.

As well, the city clerk has postponed the vote from March 15 – when some councillors, including at least one ally of the mayor, would have been away for March break – to March 21.

The showdown that day is expected to be the denouement of a battle that began Feb. 8, when TTC Chair Karen Stintz and 25 other councillors voted to revive much of Transit City, the $8.4-billion, provincially funded light rail network the mayor scrapped on his first day in office. Council also appointed an advisory panel to report on subway and light rail options for Sheppard.

The LRT coalition has already lost at least one supporter: North York Councillor James Pasternak is going to switch sides.

“The mayor’s office does not have to worry about Sheppard with me,” said Mr. Pasternak, a freshman who campaigned on expanding the Sheppard subway west through his North York ward. “I will not be supporting light rail on Sheppard,” he said.

Ford ally Ron Moeser, who was ill for the last crucial transit vote, confirmed through his assistant that he’ll be there for the March 21 vote.

Assuming Mr. Ford retains the support of Councillor Jaye Robinson, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, he need only snag two more wavering councillors. Among the councillors in the mayor’s crosshairs are Gloria Lindsay Luby, who was absent for the Feb. 8 vote, and centrists Josh Colle, Ana Bailao, Mary-Margaret McMahon and Chin Lee. Mr. Lee, while still open to the mayor’s entreaties, is leaning toward light rail. “Unless the mayor can come up with a good solid plan, I would just as soon go with the LRT,” he said.

TTC commissioner Maria Augimeri, a strong advocate for light rail, said the mayor will try to use the extra time before the vote to gain supporters, but she is confident his opponents can hold onto the 23 votes they need. “Absolutely,” she said.

There is, however, a third way the transit vote could shake out with councillors agreeing to an abbreviated subway extension.

In his radio interview Thursday, Mr. Ford said he could build the subway to Victoria Park without relying on controversial new taxes or levies, and that Councillor Stintz had told him she could support such a plan. That option is exactly what Councillor Stintz pitched to the mayor earlier this year, a plan he rejected and one she now says would be “very difficult” for her to back, although she did not rule that out.

The mayor, she said, would have to level with Scarborough residents that extending the subway to Victoria Park will mean there will be no money left to extend it further east.

“That is the fundamental difference between my position and the mayor’s,” she said. “He is perpetuating the notion that there is money to complete the subway and there is not.”

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