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Toronto Mayor John Tory on Aug. 13, 2019. After councillors spoke for and against having a debate on snow clearing, Tory derided what he predicted would turn into hours of discussion on the issue.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Mayor John Tory beat back an attempt Tuesday to have a council debate about having the city clear snow off residential sidewalks in the older parts of Toronto, as it does in the suburbs.

The city will instead proceed with a planned pilot project that will test snow clearing on about one-tenth of the areas not being plowed. More widespread action is likely to be several years away.

The issue was brought forward by Councillor Mike Layton, who tried to add a snow-clearing item to the agenda for discussion at council’s monthly meeting.

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“Ninety per cent of people clear their snow,” he said in a subsequent interview. “But that 10 per cent are making it impossible for some people in our city to get around.”

After councillors spoke for and against having a debate, an animated Mr. Tory derided what he predicted would turn into hours of discussion on the issue. And he slammed councillors who painted this as a simple issue of resident safety.

“Those who would say you’re either in favour of safety or against it – what a ridiculous articulation of what we’re dealing with here,” the Mayor told council, arguing that the pilot project was the best way to proceed.

Mr. Layton secured a slim majority in support for a debate. Under council rules, though, the item failed because it needed two-thirds backing to be added to the agenda.

“People are afraid of having this discussion,” Mr. Layton said afterward.

All 11 councillors who supported Mr. Tory in his opposition to a debate represent wards whose residents have their sidewalks cleared by the city.

Who gets their snow cleared became a hot issue last winter, when complaints about impassable sidewalks and accessibility issues poured into city hall.

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The snowy conditions also highlighted an inconsistency in the city. In the aftermath of amalgamation, residents of houses in the old cities of Toronto and East York were told to shovel the sidewalks in front of their properties or risk being fined. Residents in the rest of the city, meanwhile, have this work done for them by city crews.

On Tuesday, some councillors speaking against a debate about more comprehensive snow clearing portrayed the disparity as one of the quirks of the city, adding that there are other inequities as well.

“I don’t think we should be opening up this conversation right now,” said Councillor Stephen Holyday, who voted with Mr. Tory. “This just comes down to a conversation of money and one area wanting to see more money spent in that area.”

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