Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he was elected on a pledge to build subways and that mandate from taxpayers gives him the authority to push ahead with plans to bury the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line.
"It's all about subways," the mayor told reporters Monday. "So it's taxpayers that elected me to get the subways in and that's what we are going to do."
The mayor's plan to bury the light rail line, part of a deal brokered with the Ontario government last spring, is being called into question by a number of councillors, including Karen Stintz, a loyalist of the mayor and chair of the Toronto Transit Commission. Ms. Stintz and others opposed to the scheme say it makes no sense to bury the rail line in the eastern section of the route where there is room for them to run at street level. Original designs for the route, part of former mayor David Miller's Transit City plan, was cancelled by the mayor on his first day in office. It called for the line to be buried only in the busiest midtown sections.
Councillors opposed to burying the whole Crosstown line argue the money saved with the street-level option – estimated to be about $1.5-billion – could be used to extend the Sheppard subway to Victoria Park and improve transit on Finch Ave. West.
The mayor shot down suggestions that he has overstepped his authority by cancelling Transit City and signing an agreement with the province without the blessing of council.
"I didn't overstep my boundaries," he said. "I did what the taxpayers want. They want subways. That's it. They don't want streetcars."
Asked what authority he had to override a possible move by councillors to stop his transit plans, the mayor responded: "It's like, winning an election."
Council will have a chance to test that authority as early as March, when the transit agreement with the province, known as a memorandum of understanding, is expected to come for a vote, Ms. Stintz said Monday.
"I am hopeful that we will reach some kind of resolution on the floor of council," she said. "I think that will be a better position to take to the province, but at the end of the day an MOU (memorandum of understanding) will be brought to council and a decision will be made."
Before then Ms. Stintz said there is still a chance to avoid a showdown over transit planning on the council floor.
"I still believe that a compromise can be reached," she said. "I know the mayor has indicated he is not entirely on board with the compromise I proposed, but that doesn't mean there is not room for a compromise."
At least one opponent of the mayor was not optimistic about the chances of reaching détente. Councillor Joe Mihevc set the stage for the municipal equivalent of a constitutional crisis by releasing a legal opinion that states Mayor Ford overstepped his authority when he unilaterally cancelled Transit City and directed the TTC to direct its resources elsewhere.
"The Mayor was not given any specific legislative or management responsibility with respect to the implementation or rescission of Transit City," wrote lawyer Freya Kristjanson. "Arguably, the failure to seek the required approvals in a timely manner could be considered a breach of the Mayor's MOU by the Province."
Mr. Mihevc refused to say who paid for the opinion.
Mayor Ford addressed the transit question following his weekly weigh-in, part of a public campaign by Mr. Ford and his brother Etobicoke Councillor Doug Ford to shed some pounds. After two weeks, both brothers lost six pounds each over the past seven days and said they are finding it tougher to get results. The mayor, who began his diet at 330, now weighs 314. Doug Ford weighed in at 259, down from his original weight of 275.
The mayor, a huge football fan, acknowledged Super Bowl Sunday will be tough. "It's my favourite day of the year, it's going to be a challenge," he said.
The brothers are trying to lose 50 pounds each over six months.