Toronto Mayor Rob Ford plans to join the annual meeting of Canada's big-city mayors on Wednesday – after years of skipping the gatherings – saying he will tap "contacts up in Ottawa" to request new federal funds for housing and transit.
Mr. Ford held a press conference Tuesday to say that when he attends the Big City Mayors' Caucus in Ottawa, he will advocate for transit funding to build the Sheppard, Finch and downtown relief subway lines. He also said he will ask his federal colleagues for new funding for Toronto Community Housing – despite voting against a motion at city council to do exactly that just one month earlier.
"I look forward to sitting down with the other big-city mayors and trying to get funding for our housing backlog – as you know, we're hundreds of million dollars behind. We have to fix it," he told reporters. "And we need money for our subway system. For the Sheppard line, the Finch line, the downtown relief line."
Late last month, Mr. Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, were the only two councillors to vote against a motion that would have asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to include in the 2014 federal budget more funding to meet the city's housing needs.
But, on Tuesday, Mr. Ford said he had voted against the council motion because "that's not how I do business."
"I'm not gonna waste their time when I know I was going up there personally to talk to these people," he said. "I'm not just going to give them reports. I don't want to frustrate our federal colleagues through paperwork."
He added that he had "contacts up in Ottawa" – Mr. Flaherty is a well-known family friend of the Fords – saying that "they know what our needs are. Why are you going to rub it in their face and paper and put it through the media and try to embarrass them? I don't work that way."
Mr. Ford has skipped the Big City Mayors' Caucus in the past, but he said he chose to attend this year because of Toronto's pressing infrastructure needs. "I realize that we need this funding to help the poor people out who live in Toronto Community Housing, the gridlock problems that we face in this city."
His colleagues on council, however, were skeptical.
Councillor Paula Fletcher questioned whether Mr. Ford is the best person to represent the city, given that most of his authority was taken from him by council in November, after the drug scandal that has tainted the past year of his mayoralty.
"You know what, it's all very political, isn't it? It's an election year. He's still trying to let people know he feels he's the mayor," she said. "We are still in the same kind of difficult time for everybody, for council and for the city, regarding the mayor and what's gone on in his personal life."
Asked if the mayor will have any legitimacy at the table in Ottawa, she said: "I think he thinks he is representing the city, I'm not sure that anybody else thinks he is representing the city. "
Councillor Ana Bailao, who has taken a lead in Toronto's efforts to secure additional money for housing from upper levels of government, said Mr. Ford should have added his voice to those efforts when he was first elected. "We need a mayor that leads this file from day one," she said. "I think he should have taken this position a long time ago, not at the 11th hour."