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The Globe and Mail

Toronto campaign trail: Ford wants to ‘phase out’ streetcars as Chow tackles housing

Rob Ford went to rehab and learned a lot about himself.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

As Toronto Mayor Rob Ford campaigned on the radio Friday morning – repeating many of his talking points over substance abuse and promising to rid the city of streetcars even while admitting he might not be able to do it – his rival Olivia Chow unveiled her affordable housing policy.

During Mr. Ford's interview with Newstalk 1010's Jerry Agar – his first since cancelling a slew of previously scheduled interviews Thursday – the beleaguered mayor said he was in "denial" before rehab, telling the interviewer, "I used to do a lot of crying by myself" before switching gears to campaigning.

"I want to slowly phase out streetcars," he said. "These streetcars cause more congestion."

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Despite this, he acknowledged that he probably would not be able to fulfill this promise, at least not any time soon. The city has already committed $1.2-billion toward ordering 204 new streetcars, which are expected to begin operating on Toronto streets by the end of this year. The city is also in the process of building a new streetcar storage facility in the east end of the city – a project that is expected to cost $500-million.

"I know we invested in streetcars," Mr. Ford said in the radio interview. "Obviously, if we can sell them, great. If we can't, then we have to use them. We're going to phase them out sooner or later."

But simply selling off the streetcars may not be an easy solution either.

"These new streetcars have been designed and engineered for Toronto's network," Toronto Transit Commission spokesman Brad Ross said Friday morning. He pointed to the track width and the accessibility ramps as features that were custom-designed for Toronto's city streets.

Mr. Ford's interview took place amid an anti-Ford demonstration of about a dozen protesters, who dubbed themselves "the shirtless horde" – inspired by the now famous "shirtless jogger" who confronted the mayor last weekend at a Canada Day parade.

"I was inspired by Joe Killoran, the shirtless jogger," said John Furr, the protest's organizer. "I wanted to represent normal people, just like he did. He's not ranting, he's not a bad apple. It's Rob Ford who's rotten to the core."

Mr. Furr said he hopes the demonstration will start a movement of other average Toronto residents coming out and protesting. "He and [his brother] Doug claim they're treated like rock stars when they come out. We want average residents to send a message. … Don't be afraid to step out and say this is inappropriate."

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At the same time Mr. Ford talked transit, Ms. Chow released her plan to encourage private landlords to build more affordable rental housing units by giving them breaks on development fees and fast-tracking approvals.

She estimated that as many as 15,000 affordable units could be built over four years – representing roughly 20 per cent of new rental units – with her proposed combination of financial incentives and streamlined planning process.

"People cannot find good rental housing because there is not enough rental housing being built," she said.

Ms. Chow offered no immediate remedies for the massive repair backlog at the city's social housing agency, but proposed that the Toronto Community Housing Corp.'s existing seniors buildings be run separately as a pilot project that could lead to the creation of other, smaller and more community-focused units. She pointed to the revitalization of Regent Park as a model for revitalizing existing housing stock.

As for Mr. Ford, the former NDP MP said she took issue with his decision to limit media access at a press conference earlier this week, where only select reporters were granted access. "What does Rob Ford have to hide? Why isn't he answering questions?" she asked. "No wonder citizens are upset, whether they are wearing shirts or not wearing shirts."

Meanwhile, Mr. Ford's campaign confirmed that the mayor is working with a sobriety coach to address his addiction issues.

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The mayor's communication director, Jeff Silverstein, would not say whether the coach is working with the mayor full-time, or whether the coach is being paid.

He also would not say whether the sobriety coach was assigned to the mayor by GreeneStone, the rehab facility where he spent the past two months addressing substance abuse issues.

The mayor recently admitted to alcohol and drug abuse, after multiple reports of images and videos showing the mayor appearing impaired. In April, The Globe and Mail revealed the existence of a second videotape that showed the mayor smoking crack cocaine. Shortly after, the mayor stepped down to go into rehab.

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