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Transit tolls and taxes to be debated over Mayor Ford's objections

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford reads documents related to the expansion of the Toronto island airport during the debate of whether or not to study the possibility of allowing jets to land at the island airport, May 07, 2013.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Tolls, taxes and a last-ditch bid for a Scarborough subway are expected to dominate the debate on transit funding at Toronto city council Wednesday.

The contentious discussion, put on the agenda at this week's council meeting over the objections of Mayor Rob Ford, will focus on a menu of options for raising new revenue to fund transit expansion. While Mr. Ford has declared "hell will freeze over" before he supports any of the so-called "revenue tools" on the short list of the provincial transit agency Metrolinx, momentum is growing among councillors for specific measures, including a regional sales tax.

Scarborough councillors, led by Michelle Berardinetti and Glenn De Baeremaeker, also are pushing to have the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit Line replaced by an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway, rather than by light rail as now planned.

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Their support for new sources of transit funding is expected to be contingent on getting backing for the subway extension, a move that requires the province to reopen the light-rail agreement it signed last fall with the city.

"I think it is important that city council have an opportunity to represent the city's interests when we talk about raising revenue," TTC Chair Karen Stintz said after winning a squeaker vote Tuesday morning to put the transit debate on the agenda.

The move, introduced by TTC commissioner and Councillor John Parker, required the support of two-thirds of councillors to overrule a vote by Mr. Ford's executive committee to delay debate for one month. Ms. Stintz and other councillors pushing for the transit debate spent the morning counting votes and introduced the motion only after Councillor Mike Del Grande, who usually votes with the mayor, left for a medical appointment.

After the vote, a triumphant Ms. Stintz gave a campaign-style speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade over lunch. Although she insisted this wasn't a warning shot for the next election, she offered the biting criticism that "saying something and doing nothing is still doing nothing."

Noting that she had always considered herself a fiscal conservative, Ms. Stintz said she was "none too comfortable" with a provincial push for new transit funding. But she argued that these projects are the biggest possible infrastructure investments for a city, and the funding has to come from somewhere.

"There is no transit fairy and there is no transit money tree," she told the audience.

Mr. Ford reiterated Tuesday that he will not support any revenue tools to build transit.

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"I respect the will of council. If they want to debate it, go ahead," he said. "But like I said, I'm going to name names and people are going to be held accountable [during the next election campaign]. People can't afford to pay another $1,000 a year, period. If they want to put it on the floor of council, that's fine. But I think the [votes] might change a little bit from the numbers you saw this morning."

Mr. Ford says the province already has enough money to fund transit but is using the issue as political cover.

"They want us to wear it. I know one guy that's not wearing it, that's me," he said.

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday agreed, saying by discussing new fees and tolls the city is giving the province licence to raise taxes and to say they are doing it with the blessing of the city.

"They are actually using us as political cover to raise taxes and I don't wish to be a part of that," he said.

With a report from Oliver Moore

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