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Council gets light-rail disasters instead of a subway plan

Independent councillors, who hold the balance in the tight vote on transit expansion, say they are still waiting for a financing plan for the mayor’s subway option.

Darryl James/The Globe and Mail/Darryl James/The Globe and Mail

With less than two days left before a landmark council transit meeting, Rob Ford isn't saying how he'd pay for his subway plans, but his supporters are staging a last-ditch offence – even handing out pictures of light-rail crashes to try to sway votes.

The special meeting Wednesday will consider reviving the Sheppard light-rail line rather than continue with the mayor's campaign pledge to extend the existing subway from Don Mills to Scarborough Town Centre. Independent councillors who hold the balance in the tight vote say they are still waiting for a financing plan for the mayor's subway option. Even Mr. Ford's own adviser on the Sheppard file, Gordon Chong, says it is time the mayor considered tolls and new taxes to pay for transit.

"I think it is time that he open his mind to all the possibilities for building what everybody says they want on Sheppard and everybody would love to have," Mr. Chong told reporters. "It always boils down to money," he later added.

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Mr. Chong and others have floated several funding trial balloons in the past month – everything from road tolls to new taxes, even a casino or transit lottery, to pay for subway expansion. In a guest editorial in The Globe and Mail, Mr. Ford proposed a fee on parking to finance transit, but later muddied the waters by saying his administration would bring in no new taxes.

That's left several councillors asking for a plan.

"A pie graph would be nice. Just something that would show where the sources of funding would come from," said Josh Colle, a central vote the mayor needs to win.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, another key vote, said she has yet to get a response from the mayor on her suggestion of a referendum on a 1-per-cent transit property tax. "I haven't seen a bite," she said.

What councillors did get Monday was a handout from Ford loyalist Norm Kelly featuring colour pictures of light-rail crashes. The pictures included the Edmonton couple who perished in one of them.

"This is terrible," said Mary-Margaret McMahon, another swing vote on council.

Ms. McMahon also got a visit from the mayor's staff Monday, but says she got no indication of the revenue tools Mr. Ford favours. "Time's a ticking," she said. "It's a huge frustration for me why we have to decide everything at the 11th hour."

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In addition to his flyer, Mr. Kelly also brought consultant Jo Kennelly, who helped Mr. Chong with his report, to talk to councillors.

Mr. Kelly, who favours a small municipal sales tax to finance transit, says he is working on a funding proposal, but hasn't settled on specific measures. "We are still talking about a range of options," he said.

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