Mayor John Tory secured money to study the feasibility of his signature transit plan after heated city council exchanges that offered a hint of the fights to come throughout his term.
The amount of money approved was small – only $1.65-million – but it took hours to get to the vote, a debate that veered into bluster and falsehood and featured cameo appearances by the pet transit dreams of several councillors.
Mr. Tory, who ran on a platform that included expanded surface rail service, mostly on existing GO Transit corridors, touted the studies being funded as an objective look at the campaign promise he dubbed SmartTrack. He is ready, he pledged, "to be influenced by what comes back."
A key part of the studies will be the viability of running his heavy rail plan along or under Eglinton Avenue. That part of the proposal conflicts with a previously studied provincial plan to extend the Crosstown LRT farther west. And questions about how much tunnelling will be required and the impact on the neighbourhood have made that stretch the most controversial part of the proposal.
"Why wouldn't we want to look at the practicality, the feasibility, doability of the west end so that people could have one seamless connection between, say, downtown Toronto or Scarborough and the job they might have in Mississauga or vice versa?" Mr. Tory asked.
Throughout Tuesday's debate, councillors generally supported more service on the existing tracks. But Eglinton West raised more concerns. Councillor Gord Perks was among those voicing objections and he introduced a motion trying to hive off Eglinton from the rest of the project. The motion failed, but probably foreshadowed an enduring point of contention as the project progresses.
The final vote on funding the studies passed 42-2, with former mayor Rob Ford as one of the dissenting voices.
Mr. Ford, now a councillor representing an Etobicoke ward, was in fighting form Tuesday as he ripped into his successor. He launched into a rhetorical tirade at city council, insisting that Mr. Tory's SmartTrack proposal would not help congestion and arguing that winning the election did not give the mayor a mandate to pursue his transit proposal.
The former mayor was factually incorrect on many of his points, including his assertion that Mr. Tory was proposing "fancy streetcars," when in fact he wants to run heavy rail. But Mr. Ford proved that he can still be a thorn in his successor's side.
Mr. Tory stood up to the attack, noting that he "won the election," and later telling reporters, "I'm not a punching bag."
Other objections, including fairness and good transit planning, were raised by Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti, Janet Davis and Josh Matlow.
The SmartTrack funding vote came as councillors digested that cancelling the original light rail transit in Scarborough will cost the city $75-million. Sources said that the regional transit agency Metrolinx – which had been seeking $85-million in sunk costs – was willing to revise down its initial figure, but only to a point. The final price tag is still higher than the city had been hoping for.
The current plan to build a subway extension in Scarborough also reared its head on Tuesday, with council moving quickly to squelch Mr. Matlow's push for more information about the controversial project.
The councillor had put forward a series of "administrative inquiries" asking about costs, ridership projections and other key issues. Some of the answers he got from city staff fell short, he argued, and he sought to have the questions referred for further debate. One by one, his motions fell. After they failed, council voted to receive the report, effectively shelving it.
"Why are we afraid of information? There's still significant pieces that are missing," Ms. Davis said. "We have to get as much information as possible."
But Councillor Glenn de Baeremaeker said it was time that his part of the city got its "fair share." And he criticized Mr. Matlow for what he saw as an attempt to derail the plan.
"I have no objection to anyone asking legitimate questions," he said. "I think some of these questions are a back-door way of trying to reopen the debate and cancel the Scarborough subway."
Mr. de Baeremaeker also said he is open to the idea of the project getting more expensive. He was waiting for more information from city staff. "If there's another option that costs more money, is it worth investing more to get more subway?" he mused. "We don't know the answer to that because staff haven't come to their conclusion."
With a report from Elizabeth Church.