Toronto council has voted 25-18 in favour of a light rail transit (LRT) plan championed by TTC chair Karen Stintz, but Mayor Rob Ford called the result “irrelevant,” saying it’s up to the province to make the final decision.
And in the mayor’s opinion, Transit City remains dead and buried.
“The premier, I’m very confident, is going to build subways,” a smiling, smug Ford said following the vote.
“Technically speaking that whole meeting was irrelevant because it’s a provincial project.”
It was less than a month ago that council also derailed some of Ford’s extensive budget cut plans. Some councillors thought his comments following Wednesday night’s vote were a clear sign that the mayor was frustrated.
“It is remarkable to me to hear our mayor say that council’s decision is “irrelevant,” Coun. Josh Matlow fumed.
Coun. Adam Vaughan added, “To dismiss council in such a cavalier way, I think he’s speaking out of anger.”
In a message to his supporters posted on Facebook, Ford again reiterated that he would attempt to move forward with his subway plan despite council’s opposition.
“I campaigned to bring subways to Toronto and the people of Toronto gave me an overwhelming mandate to build subways,” Ford said. “Today’s vote does not change my promise.”
“I will not abandon the people of Scarborough and Finch Avenue to a second class transit solution…”
Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli released a statement following the vote. “I have always respected the will of council, as a whole, to come to a position regarding public transit priorities.
“Now that council has endorsed a position, we have asked Metrolinx to consider the impacts on current transit planning and report back to us as quickly as possible.”
It took council three tries on Wednesday evening to vote successfully, as several councillors mis-voted and requested a re-vote.
Councillors earlier rejected Ford’s request to defer the matter another 30 days during a special council meeting on Wednesday.
Stintz requested the special meeting on Wednesday to provide Metrolinx, the arms-length body that oversees transit in Ontario, with a concrete plan for how Toronto plans to spend $8.4 billion allocated by the province.
Many councillors said they supported Stintz’s proposal for LRTs on the Eglinton, Finch and Scarborough corridors.
Council also approved, by a vote of 28-15, Stintz’s motion to further study possible extensions to the Sheppard subway line.
Stintz requested that the city manager create an advisory panel to study transit on Sheppard Avenue East. The panel would include those who supported Transit City as well as those who don’t.
Metrolinx, the TTC, the Toronto Board of Trade, Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance, former mayor David Crombie, Eric Miller, and Gordon Chong should be on the panel, Stintz suggested.
“I think it’s a win for everyone,” Stintz said once the meeting was adjourned.
“This was a transit vote for a city that is desperately needing transit investment, so I’m pleased today that we are going to get the shovels in the ground and get the projects built.”
The debate leading up to the vote was a spirited one.
Coun. Raymond Cho said, “We do need subways, but we don’t have the money.”
He said under the circumstances, Stintz’s plan is the best.
“We can’t wait for these mythical subways. We must act on these concrete plans now,” Coun. Mary Fragedakis added.
Coun. Mike Layton said this plan is the best bang for the buck.
Others councillors including Gary Crawford, Doug Holyday and Doug Ford spoke against Stintz’s plan.
Ford said there’s a two-tiered system, one for downtowners and another for people in the suburbs, such as Scarborough and Etobicoke.
“This fight isn’t over. We will stand up for people in the suburbs,” Ford said. “They deserve better than a two-tier system and have trolley cars running down the middle of their roads.”
Holyday said, “This decision is so important it’s just a shame it’s being rushed.”
Earlier in the afternoon, council rejected Ford’s request for deferral by 24-19, allowing Stintz to present her motion to build LRTs on Eglinton, Finch and Scarborough.
“I don’t want this to be the ‘Stintz plan.’ It’s the council plan,” she said.
“Mr. Mayor, we want to support you on Sheppard,” Stintz said.
Allowing an LRT along Eglinton “would send a strong message to the province that we are good partners. … Please support my motions and please let us continue our work together.”
When arguing for the 30-day deferral, the mayor who was absent for some of the meeting, said, ““People in this city want underground, reliable, transit. Let’s get professionals in and bring back proof within 30 days that a plan is reasonable.”
“This is not the time to play politics,” he added to laughter from council chambers.
Ford, like Stintz, asked the city manager to create an advisory panel. Click here to see his request.
Coun. Anthony Perruzza, who voted against deferral, said that every single month “we keep dithering we burn” $1.5 to $2 million.
“If there ever was a time we have been disrespecting the taxpayer it’s on this issue,” he added.
“There is nothing that’s going to change in 30 days on Eglinton and Finch,” Stintz said.
However, Stintz said she would be willing to work with the mayor on a Sheppard subway “on another day.”
Stintz — a former Ford ally — formed a coalition with 23 councillors to get Wednesday’s special council meeting on transit.
Stintz argued time is of the essence when it comes to pinning down a vision for the future of transit because the 2009 agreement between the city and the province for the Transit City LRT plan expires next month.
On Wednesday morning, councillors questioned city and TTC staff, including TTC general manager Gary Webster, on the Stintz and Ford transit plans.
While Ford has been pushing for an extended Sheppard subway, on Wednesday some of his allies — councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and Vince Crisanti — pushed Webster for a Finch subway.
“What’s wrong with the people who live north of the city?” Mammoliti asked Webster during the morning session. “Why do we have to accept an LRT when others are getting a subway?”
Webster said an LRT is an “appropriate mode for the demand.”
Comparing subways and LRTs, Webster told Coun. Mark Grimes that he still wouldn’t recommend spending more money than he has on a subway that’s not needed.
“We don’t think that’s money well spent,” Webster said.
Coun. Francis Nunziata demanded that Webster clarify if Stintz’s plan was simply a rehash of the Transit City plan approved under Miller and former TTC chair Adam Giambrone.
Webster said it would be fair to say it’s the approved 5 in 10 Plan, which involves building LRTs along Finch Avenue West, an Eglinton Crosstown and the Scarborough RT replacement/extension.
Transit City called for the construction of those LRT routes. Future projects included lines along the waterfront, Jane, Don Mills and in Malvern.
Tracking #topoli on Twitter:
Ford cancelled the program without council’s approval when he took office on Dec. 1, 2010, and insists Torontonians want subways. Underground transit was a key promise in his election campaign. He promised a privately-funded extended Sheppard subway.
Coun. Adam Vaughan said Ford’s plan for Sheppard subway extension is $1 billion short in financing and, according to a report by consultant KPMG, it would significantly drive up both residential and commercial development costs.
The city’s chief financial officer also conceded that financing that one particular subway project could potentially affect the city’s credit rating.
Critics on council claim the LRT option serves more people for less money.
Ford wants the Eglinton crosstown line, which would run from Black Creek to Kennedy station, completely underground so it won’t impede road traffic. Stintz wants it to run at grade between Laird Drive and Kennedy — a move she claims would save up to $2 billion in tunneling costs.
The province agreed to allocate its $8.4 billion to Ford’s vision for transit after signing a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the city in March 2011. Last week, the provincial transit agency, Metrolinx, sent Stintz and Ford a letter asking them to clarify the city’s transit plan.
“It would be my recommendation to my colleagues that we continue with the approved plans for where we have the [environmental assessments], where we have the funding, where we have sign-off by Metrolinx, TTC and the city of Toronto,” Stintz said on Monday.
Earlier this week, Stintz acknowledged that her days as TTC chair are likely numbered after speaking out against the mayor.
Next week, the executive committee will debate the TTC becoming a nine-member board comprised of five citizens and four councillors.