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Woodbine Live, the entertainment and retail project touted by Mayor Rob Ford as proof of his ability to attract investment, is in jeopardy of losing its tax breaks from the city.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Rob Ford suffered a big loss on a small issue at council Tuesday.

The mayor tried to stop the city from hiring outside planners to appear at the Ontario Municipal Board, the provincial panel that hears appeals of development disputes.

"I'm just shedding light on this because I think we really have to start today, I wish we could have started sooner, and stop hiring these outside planners," Mr. Ford said. "It's costing approximately $10,000 every time we do this. It could go as high as $20,000 in some cases … the bills add up. I don't really see a purpose for this."

The mayor's efforts to halt the hiring of non-staff planners in three different cases failed by wide margins.

He lost 34-4, 33-5 and 33-4. On the first vote, only the mayor's brother, Councillor Doug Ford, and his budget chief, Mike Del Grande, actually supported the mayor. Councillor Josh Colle, the fourth vote, said he pressed the wrong button.

On the third item, the mayor was marked absent because he left his seat to take a phone call during the vote.

The vote counts were reminiscent of Mr. Ford's days as a councillor, when he was well-known for moving motions that garnered scant support.

Normally, a dry debate about planning procedure wouldn't attract much attention in council chambers.

But the mayor decided to personally champion the issue, move motions and take questions, something he rarely does outside of the few big-ticket issues marked as the "mayor's key item" at the start of some of council's monthly meetings.

"We're not winning at the board," Mr. Ford argued during the debate. "We're just throwing away hard-earned taxpayers' money over nothing."

One by one, councillors stood to challenge him, most arguing they wouldn't be able to protect the interests of their residents if the city couldn't hire outside planners when the need arises.

John Filion, a North York councillor whose ward is seeing a development boom, pointed out that if the city declines to send an outside planner in these cases, it would mean an automatic loss.

"This would be like the gravy train of all gravy trains for every developer and builder in the city," he said.