November 2 2012
A last ditch effort by Mayor Rob Ford was not enough to prevent Toronto City Council from at last approving a draft agreement for four light rail transit lines for the city.
By a 30-11 margin, LRT supporters voted overwhelmingly to approve the framework of an agreement between the city, the TTC and Metrolinx regarding the lines.
While the final details are yet to be completed, Thursday’s (Nov. 1) vote at city council ensures the LRT lines will get built, said St. Paul’s Councillor Joe Mihevc, who supported the draft agreement.
Mihevc said not approving the deal could have meant the $8.4-billion allocated for the four lines – Eglinton Crosstown, Finch West, Sheppard East and a replacement for the Scarborough RT – could have been jeopardized.
“If we were to say no to it today or defer, the happiest woman in the GTA would have been Hazel McCallion,” said Mihevc in reference to the outspoken Mississauga mayor’s public desire to expand transit in her city. Mihevc, who was deputy chair of the TTC under former mayor David Miller years, slammed Ford and his allies for attempting to defer the vote.
“They were working the back of the room, trying to see who was in, counting bums in the seats,” said Mihevc. “They were getting ready to act.”
TTC Chair Karen Stintz said negotiations would continue thanks to the city’s final approval and without requiring a need to re-open the vote in council chambers.
“This is a draft agreement and it was never intended to come back here,” said Stintz. “Council was never intended to vote clause-by-clause on agreements negotiated between the city and provincial government.”
She echoed Mihevc in saying funding for the projects might have been in jeopardy had a majority of council not voted in favour, and said she had received a message from the provincial government indicating as much.
“I received a note from the minister saying if we deferred this item then the province would consider the city not serious,” said Stintz.
Under the terms of the framework, the city approved a process first announced at the beginning of October in which Metrolinx would oversee construction of the lines through an alternate financing process via the private sector and the TTC use its existing infrastructure to control operations of the four lines.
Concerns the provincial transit agency could have a final say in scope changes and the final number of stations were addressed last week to the satisfaction of the TTC, Stintz said.
But that wasn’t good enough for Willowdale Councillor David Shiner, who said the lines can still be cancelled by the province over the city’s objections – especially if there is a change in government next year. Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has made no secret of his preference for subways over LRTs.
Council voted against Shiner’s proposed amendment to require Metrolinx to gain the city’s consent for changing the scope of the projects.
Shiner said he wanted the amendment because he was worried the province could use Metrolinx as a scapegoat if the projects are ultimately cancelled. He said he wanted more assurances in the agreement the lines will be completed and built to the city’s satisfaction.
“The province can use Metrolinx as a scapegoat to not deliver what was promised,” Shiner said. “I don’t know what the fear of the province or Metrolinx is in saying, ‘We’ve promised you four lines and the stations in place, and we’ll deliver them.’”
But St. Paul’s Councillor Josh Matlow said Torontonians should be assured the projects, which were first funded back in 2009 then cancelled by Ford in 2010 before ultimately being restored as a priority by council in March, will actually be completed.
“By signing this binding agreement, we make it far more difficult for any future government to tear it apart,” said Matlow. Council also approved a motion by Parkdale Councillor Gord Perks to make the final agreement available to the public as well as a motion by Shiner to ensure the TTC sets the fare for the lines.
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