If you can’t beat ‘em, stall ‘em.
That appears to have been the mayor’s strategy Wednesday night when, moments before he was expected to lose another crucial vote on transit, his council allies successfully ground proceedings to a halt.
Councillors were poised to approve a surface LRT for Sheppard Ave., effectively killing off the subway line the mayor campaigned on. Instead, as the meeting crept towards its 8 pm finish, several Ford allies added their name to the speakers list to delay Sheppard from going to a vote.
LRT supporter Councillor Joe Mihevc moved to extend the meeting, a routine measure at most long council sessions, but Ford loyalists voted against him and the motion failed 28-15, falling just short the required two-thirds majority.
Rob Ford then attempted to put off the vote until April 4, but his motion was voted down and for a few minutes there was widespread confusion on the chamber floor as councillors argued over when to reconvene.
Eventually it was decided council will resume Thursday morning at 9:30 am, giving the mayor a scant few hours to revive his fading underground transit vision.
“The objective today was to stop a vote from taking place that clearly would be against the administration’s will,” said Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, who supports a subway for Sheppard.
“We had to do what we needed to do today to ensure that subways are still on the table, and subways are still on the table.”
But Ford’s critics say all Ford achieved was delaying the inevitable, and the mayor will prove unable to stop council from endorsing an expert panel’s recommendation to build the Sheppard LRT.
“I don’t understand why the mayor would want to play more games with such an important issue,” said Councillor Josh Matlow.
‘The majority of council have already made a decision to support an LRT on Sheppard East, based on evidence. The mayor will not be able to change facts over night.”
Council has already endorsed surface LRT lines on Finch Ave. West, parts of Eglinton, and the current path of the Scarborough RT. The Sheppard line is the final component of the Transit City light rail network Ford was elected on a promise to dismantle.
Earlier in the day, Ford’s budget chief Councillor Mike Del Grande attempted to salvage the subway plan by presenting a motion to pay for transit expansion through the introduction of a new parking levy. Under Del Grande’s plan, owners of non-residential parking spaces like Green P lots, malls, and underground garages would pay up to $110 a year to city coffers.
The estimated $100 million the levy would raise each year would go towards a special transit expansion fund, with its first priority extending the existing Sheppard subway to Scarborough Town Centre by 2020.
Once that line was completed, the money would be used to fund other transit projects, including the long-sought Downtown Relief Line or a link to the airport from the Eglinton Crosstown.
But Mihevc and others shot the parking levy idea down, arguing that it would take decades to build an 8-km subway to Scarborough Town Centre using only $100 million a year. City staff also warned that charging levies on parking could hurt Toronto’s economic competitiveness.
Taking into account money from the provincial and federal governments as well as the private sector, by most estimates the city is still roughly $1 billion short of the amount needed to build the $3.7-billion subway extension.
After the meeting adjourned, a simmering Del Grande conceded that the parking levy likely doesn’t have enough support to pass. He said the pro-Ford faction’s delay tactics were a response to those on council who had demanded to see a funding plan for a Sheppard subway, and then promptly rejected the one he put forward.
“They said they wanted a revenue source, they wanted to know what the plan was. We fulfilled that,” he fumed. “They turned on us again today.”
Del Grande’s parking fee proposal led to an unusual role reversal at City Hall, with progressives trying to convince conservatives that new taxes on cars are not a good idea.
It’s unknown whether Ford supports the parking levy. He barely spoke during the session and left without facing to supporters.
The levy has placed Ford in a politically awkward position, as he’s faced with either breaking his promise to build a Sheppard subway, or reneging on his vow not to introduce new taxes.
But regardless of the outcome for Sheppard, now that council’s right has floated a new revenue tool, new taxes and levies are likely to be part of any future discussions on transit expansion.
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