Councillor Gary Crawford, the rookie politician whose recent public appearances with Rob Ford jokingly earned him a label as the mayor's new best friend, has broken with the mayor when it comes to transit expansion.
Mr. Crawford announced Thursday that he has reconsidered his vote to defer a debate on transit-funding recommendations and will be urging his fellow councillors to add the item to the next council agenda.
Mr. Crawford was one of six members of Mayor Ford's cabinet-like executive committee who Tuesday voted in favour of delaying the debate on new sources of transit funding for one month. The 6-4 vote meant the issue would be kept off the city council agenda until after a long-anticipated report to the province is due.
"I do feel that this is an incredibly important issue for the city with regard to transit and it's a discussion that has to happen at council, so I'm supporting and urging all of my colleagues to get this on the agenda of council so we can have a fulsome debate and discussion," Mr. Crawford told reporters at City Hall. "I think having a dedicated, sustainable funding model for transit is important for the city and the province and I think we have to have that discussion at council on May 7 and 8."
Mr. Crawford, who in recent weeks has appeared alongside the mayor at one event involving graffiti and another for road work, denied any sort of rift between them. He said he continues to support much of the mayor's agenda, though not all of it.
A member of the mayor's staff walked out of Mr. Crawford's office moments before the councillor spoke with reporters.
Since the debate was deferred, several councillors, including Toronto Transit Commission Chair Karen Stintz, have expressed dismay that Mr. Ford and his executive would take action to stand in the way of a council debate.
Ms. Stintz accused the mayor of having "completely abdicated his responsibility" on the transit file.
The mayor's press secretary, in an e-mail Thursday, denied Mr. Ford had shown a lack of leadership.
"The mayor received an overwhelming mandate from Toronto taxpayers to go down to city hall and get spending under control, keep taxes low and focus the city on the priorities of taxpayers. From Day 1, the mayor has led the city in the direction taxpayers demanded. And he continues to do so today," George Christopoulos wrote.
Mr. Christopoulos did not respond to a later e-mail asking for the mayor's thoughts on Mr. Crawford's announcement.
A report by the province's transit agency, Metrolinx, is expected May 27 and will recommend new revenue sources such as taxes and fees to pay for more transit in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area. As part of the process and at council's direction, city staff consulted with the public and prepared a report recommending four revenue tools to be implemented in the short term and more to follow later.
Ms. Stintz has said that if Toronto does not weigh in before the May 27 deadline, other regional municipalities will effectively be deciding how Toronto gets taxed.
Mr. Ford said "hell will freeze over" before he would support any of the new taxes.
Mr. Crawford's announcement earned him thanks, via Twitter, from both Ms. Stintz and Councillor Josh Matlow.
Mr. Crawford said he still has concerns about raising taxes, but it is important to consider transit expansion. He said he had not decided which transit revenue sources he could support.
"The reality is we need transit expansion in this city and we need to look at all opportunity and we need to have a city council that has that opportunity to speak," he said.
With reports from Elizabeth Church and Oliver Moore