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When Councillor Karen Stintz thinks about the verbal assault she’s sure to endure on the council floor, she breaks into a nervous smile.
“Just trying to get through the day,” she says, when asked her survival strategy for a special council meeting set for Wednesday morning. “Just trying to get through the vote.”
The stakes could not be higher. Over the past month, Ms. Stintz, Mayor Rob Ford’s hand-picked TTC Chair, has led a council insurrection that threatens to toss out the mayor’s underground transit strategy and replace it with a reanimated Transit City, the plan Mr. Ford pronounced dead upon entering office.
Councillors are looking ahead to the seminal vote – one that will determine the fate of Toronto transit and about $2-billion – with a mix of dread, defiance and bravado.
“It’s a straight-up fight,” said Councillor Gord Perks. “The differences are pretty clear. There aren’t a lot of nuances to quibble about.”
Ms. Stintz will be asking councillors to support a 2009 memorandum of agreement with the province to build light-rail lines on Eglinton, Sheppard Ave. East, Finch Ave. West and replace the existing Scarborough Rapid Transit line – all at a price tag of $8.4-billion.
Mr. Ford declared the agreement dead when he took office, signing a memorandum of understanding to divert the $8.4-billion to building a single line beneath Eglinton Avenue, and pledging to build a Sheppard subway with private-sector dollars.
But a report commissioned to formulate a business model for the mayor’s Sheppard subway found that it could not be built without a $1-billion shortfall, a gap the city would have to close by imposing new citywide development charges and other politically risky fees.
“They’ve had a year to find funding,” said Ms. Stintz. “I’ve asked the mayor repeatedly, ‘Show me a plan that pays for the Sheppard subway,’ and after a year we still don’t have the plan.”
But to void the mayor’s plan, councillors will need to sign on to a project that some councillors find equally thin. One councillor was so unsure what the vote entailed that she was asking reporters for details.
The vote has created several cleavages within Mr. Ford’s team – both between Ms. Stintz and the mayor’s office, and among right-leaning councillors who have differing views on how they should react to a potential rejuvenation of a transit plan last championed under mayor David Miller, their eternal foe.
Ms. Stintz, a fiscal conservative who remained a trusted Ford ally throughout the first term of council, has assembled a coalition of 23 supporters – most of them members of council’s left-leaning faction. She would need 22 to win the vote.
Councillors huddled throughout Tuesday’s council session, while rumours circulated of a last-minute agreement. Some councillors suggested a resolution might be found by focusing on the Eglinton line first and putting aside the Sheppard subway question for another day. But by Tuesday evening, no deal emerged.
In a sign the mayor is taking the challenge seriously, his office issued a message asking voters to write councillors in support of Mr. Ford’s transit plan. “Many Councillors are looking to disband my rapid transit plan in favour of a light-rail vehicle network that would put more tracks on the roads, create traffic chaos and result in years of needless, messy and inconvenient construction,” said the e-mailed message. “It is now time for Toronto residents to express their views on underground rapid transit.”
Members of the Stintz coalition remained in buoyant spirits, however. One of them, Councillor Joe Mihevc, insisted everything was “game on” for Wednesday.
The proposal will hit the floor in the form of an omnibus motion that includes the 2009 agreement and requests to study other transit projects, such as an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Scarborough Town Centre, according to Ms. Stintz.
Councillor Norm Kelly, a TTC commissioner and member of the mayor’s executive, said the province, which is funding the project, should ignore council if it votes against the mayor’s plan.
“Would I respect it? No, because I think it’s the wrong decision,” he said. “I would be severely disappointed if council made that decision.”
His colleague, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, saw it differently. While he doesn’t support Ms. Stintz’s plan, he would rather see the city forge ahead with any transit project than get bogged down in political indecision any longer.
“Whatever the vote is, we need to move forward,” he said.
With a report from Elizabeth Church