Councillor Josh Matlow

Inside Toronto: Transit debate suspended for the night

March 21, 2012


On the verge of apparently losing a vote to build a subway along Sheppard, Mayor Rob Ford and his supporters opted for a filibuster Wednesday night to suspend the debate on whether to build subway or light rail along Sheppard Avenue.


The move came toward the end of the special meeting where councillors debated the merits of two documents: one, a report by an expert panel headed by University of Toronto civil engineering professor Eric Miller recommending light rail lines, and a second report by Dr. Gordon Chong, Ford’s point-man on his subway mandate, recommending subways.


Over the past weeks, support for the mayor’s plan had been evaporating, in large part because Ford had not put forward a financing plan for the $3.7 billion project and had shot down every alternative that had come forward from others.


At the Wednesday meeting, Scarborough-Agincourt Councillor Mike Del Grande attempted to bring one forward. He made a motion to create a financial plan to build the $3.7 billion subway line, recommending raising $100 million a year through a parking levy on all commercial parking spaces in the city. That money, he argued, could be rolled into a transit infrastructure fund that would allow continual expansion of public transit, starting with the Sheppard subway.


But it was clear as the day wore on that few councillors were swayed by the plan. So at 7 p.m., an hour before council was scheduled to break, the nearly-empty list of speakers began to fill up on a deferral motion made by Scarborough Centre Councillor Michael Thompson.

When it came time to vote to extend the meeting to finish it Wednesday night, the required two-thirds of councillors didn’t stand up. At that point, the mayor spoke for the first and only time during the day to try and convince council to put the meeting off until April 4. He couldn’t get a majority.


York West Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who supports the mayor’s subway plan and was seen towards the end of the meeting using his thumb to indicate how supporters should vote, confirmed that the filibuster move was strategic.


“Of course it is,” he said. “We had to do what we need to do today to ensure that subways are still on the table. And subways are still on the table.” Councillors supporting the light rail plan were disgusted with the move – which strategically gives the mayor and his team another 13 hours to try and win votes from the 25 councillors that appear to be supporting light rail.


“I actually feel sorry for people watching,” said Eglinton Lawrence Councillor Josh Colle. “We’re the actors in this theatre so we’re to blame, but it was so unproductive and unprofessional. What I heard from voters was that we’re sick of those antics down at city hall. Whether you blame it on the left or the right. I don’t even know if this was politics. I don’t know what was accomplished by the last ditch hail Mary desperation bid.”

St. Paul’s Councillor Josh Matlow predicted that not much will change overnight.

“It’s going to be the same vote tomorrow as it was today,” he said. “The majority of councillors are in favour of moving forward. I don’t understand why the mayor’s office would be requesting people to come back tomorrow. If they want to win a vote they should do it on the evidence.”


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