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Toronto mayor Rob Ford is photographed during an interview in his office at Toronto city hall on Dec 21, 2010.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canada's civic leaders are meeting this weekend in Halifax, but the mayor of the country's largest city won't be joining them. Rob Ford is taking a pass on the annual get-together of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, a chance for local politicians to compare notes and rub shoulders with federal ministers and the leaders of opposition parties.

Toronto's popular new mayor, who took office on a pledge to "stop the gravy train" and cut civic spending, also has a reputation for setting his own course. In this case, a spokesman from his office said the mayor is busy and is reluctant to spend taxpayers' money on a trip when a phone will do.

Mr. Ford is happy to work with other municipalities, said Mark Towhey, his director of policy and strategic planning. But he said Toronto has enough clout that citizens don't need to worry if their mayor isn't present when the leaders of the country's largest cities gather at the same table.

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"Toronto is a pretty big city," Mr. Towhey said. "People know where it is."

As for this weekend's meetings with leaders from Ottawa, Mr. Towhey said Toronto has "already got as a city a really good working relationship with the federal government."

Although the mayor isn't going to Halifax, Toronto will be represented by a dozen councillors, all travelling to the conference at the city's expense. Since Toronto is a member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, all elected officials can attend the meeting using city funds, rather than their office budgets, to cover travel costs, a city official confirmed.

Among them will be Giorgio Mammoliti, one of the Mr. Ford's most loyal supporters, who said he will be attending meetings as the mayor's representative.

"When the most important meetings happen, I think you will see Mayor Ford most likely at the table, " he said Thursday when reached at the Toronto airport.

"One of the things Mayor Ford prides himself on is the strength of his administration and he does rely on the strengths of some of his colleagues to get the job done for him. He is relying on me at FCM and I don't think I'll let him down."

Mr. Ford is not the first Toronto leader to take a pass on the annual meetings. While former mayor David Miller was an active member of the federation, taking a lead role in the group's efforts to secure municipal funding from Ottawa through gas taxes, another former mayor, Mel Lastman, was in the habit of letting a young city councillor speak in his place - Jack Layton.

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Paula Fletcher, one of the dozen councillors heading to Halifax, said the mayor should take the opportunity to meet fellow civic leaders and share ideas. "This isn't a gravy train, but this is a place we can talk about trains, subway trains, light rail vehicle trains and transportation," she said.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, the new chair of the Big City Mayors Caucus, said he hopes Mr. Ford will take a bigger role down the road.

"All of us are grappling with significant challenges, particularly with budgets," Mr. Robertson said. "We each map out how we dedicate our time to solve those and so at this point I'm sure he's got good reasons to stay close to home and focus on Toronto. But I hope he's a more robust presence on the national stage on behalf of cities in the future. We all need to work on this together."

With a report from Siri Agrell

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