The idea is half-formed and completely out of the blue, but it managed to garner more notice than any other business on a day of grim-toned debate at city hall that Mayor Rob Ford termed Toronto’s “day of reckoning.”
At around 7 p.m., after hours of heated argument over cuts that could include closing museums, offloading the Toronto Zoo and selling three city-owned theatres, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday managed to leave speechless even the most loquacious of council members with a motion to study adding private toll lanes to the Don Valley Parkway.
“Are you serious?” was all the normally garrulous Adam Vaughan could muster during questions.
Mr. Holyday couldn’t elaborate much on his proposal, only adding that it’s an idea originally put forth by former councillor Paul Sutherland. In 2001, Mr. Sutherland suggested adding four centre-express lanes to the DVP for toll-paying vehicles and express buses. It was quickly defeated by council.
Mr. Holyday said he knows the mayor opposes toll roads, but suggested his proposal of adding a lane, might get the mayor to reconsider. “Maybe he might have to take a look at that,” he said.
Even his allies on council were incredulous.
“Do you realize you’re driving people nuts with this motion?” said Giorgio Mammoliti, summing up the tenor of fellow right-leaning councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner.
While the motion had little to do with the menu of cuts before councillors on Monday, Mr. Holyday was inspired by Councillor Josh Matlow, who earlier in the day introduced a motion to study road tolls for non-residents on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.
Not to be outdone, Councillor Paula Fletcher said late on Monday that she was crafting her own motion to study tolls on the elevated portion of the Gardiner, which she plans to table on Tuesday.
The toll talk served as a sideshow to the day’s main business: to debate $28-million of cuts, part of the $95-million worth of savings the city manager has recommended as part of Toronto’s six-month-long core services review aimed at closing a budget shortfall. Meanwhile, the action inside City Hall drew more than 4,000 anti-Ford protesters outside the building.
The mayor took great pains to insist that the budget gap is $774-million, even as the manager and members of Mr. Ford’s team have suggested in recent weeks that it’s under $600-million.
“This number is absolutely the real number,” Mr. Ford said of the oft-repeated $774-million figure.
But the discrepancy was the frequent basis of debate throughout the day.
During questioning, Cam Weldon, the city’s chief financial officer, told councillors “there are a lot of moving parts,” to the city’s budget, agreeing that the funding gap has moved since the $774-million estimate was made in February. But he refused to provide a more up-to-date estimate. “I am not comfortable giving a number,” he said.
Mr. Vaughan and Gordon Perks, opponents of the mayor and his cost-cutting plan, pointed out that a report from staff released Monday shows the land transfer alone has generated 33 per cent more revenue than expected so far this year, or about an extra $80-million.
“We have far more money available to us to save city services than the city manager and the mayor are saying on the floor of council today,” Mr. Perks told The Globe and Mail.