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Calgary's mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks with members of The Globe and Mail editorial board on Feb. 10, 2011.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi stuck his head in to one of the most heated municipal debates in Toronto, saying he is baffled by the decision to build a $3.5-billion subway in Scarborough championed by Mayor Rob Ford instead of a light-rail transit line.

"I, for the life of me, cannot understand the decision on the Scarborough subway and maybe I'm missing something. I don't understand why you'd not spend less to serve more people," he said, speaking at a Toronto Region Board of Trade luncheon in a downtown hotel.

"Clearly I'm missing something, I'm not that bright," he said, rolling his eyes.

The city's original plan was to build a light-rail line with seven stops that would cost $1.48-billion. The province had agreed to foot the bill for it. But Mr. Ford, the city's most vocal advocate of subways, was not pleased with the original Metrolinx agreement and council reopened the debate over which type of transit would replace the aging SRT, which currently connects to the Bloor-Danforth subway, this summer.

After a prolonged tug-of-war, council voted in October to build three more stops on the Bloor-Danforth subway line instead of the light-rail line, a major victory for Mr. Ford. The federal government has pledged $660-million and the provincial government pledged $1.48-billion to pay for it. The City of Toronto has to pick up the rest of the bill and council has approved a 1.6 per cent tax hike to make it happen.

Mr. Nenshi, who is in town for several speaking engagements to promote Calgary, also offered Toronto's mayoral candidates candid campaign advice. He said the obsession over partisanship and splitting votes on the right and left is distracting from real issues.

"Here's the thing: nobody cares about those old labels of left or right and liberal and conservative. Is removing the snow a right-wing or left-wing idea? Is fixing the potholes more New Democrat or Conservative? It's ridiculous," he said.

"If we went on to Bay Street today and asked 100 people, 'Are you left-wing or right-wing?' I guarantee you, 85 of them would have no idea what we were talking about and 11 of them would answer incorrectly. And the rest would be John Tory.'" he said, to wild laughter.

Mr. Tory – considered by some to be a "red tory" – was in the audience. He entered the mayoral race this week, the same day former TTC chair Karen Stintz also registered. They join a race Mr. Ford and former Toronto budget chief David Soknacki entered in January. NDP MP Olivia Chow is expected to declare her candidacy in the coming weeks.

Mr. Nenshi, who was re-elected as Calgary mayor last fall with 74 per cent of the vote, explained the techniques he used during his campaign would be worth adopting by Toronto's mayoral hopefuls: telling residents why they love the city, what drives them to be mayor, and how they plan to make the city better.

"Forget about all the shadow parties you have in Toronto political life that I find very, very strange," he said.

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