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Toronto councillors manoeuvre to put transit fees on agenda

TTC chair Karen Stintz announces that she hopes federal budget infrastructure funding will support the downtown subway relief line as she speaks to the media at Toronto City Hall on the day the federal budget is released on March 21, 2013.

michelle siu The Globe and Mail

One day after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford took talk of transit funding off city council's agenda, a broad coalition of councillors is ready to put it back there again.

Several councillors, including TTC chair Karen Stintz, expressed dismay Wednesday that Mr. Ford and five other members of his executive committee took action to stand in the way of council having a full debate on how to pay for regional transit expansion.

Ms. Stintz said a majority of councillors want to have that debate and are working together to make that happen, likely at the next council meeting in early May. She accused Mr. Ford of having "completely abdicated his responsibility," on the transit file.

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"We have been elected by the people of Toronto to represent their interests and I think we need to do that in this matter," said Ms. Stintz, widely regarded as a likely candidate for mayor in the next election. "I think the mayor had an obligation to bring it to council for full debate and I don't believe he showed leadership in this matter and I don't believe he has a vision for transit and I don't believe he has a vision for the city and I think that is unfortunate."

Ms. Stintz's comments come after the mayor's executive committee voted 6-4 to delay for one month the debate on new sources of transit funding, a move that would keep the issue off the city council agenda until after a long-anticipated report to the province is expected on May 27.

The report by the province's transit agency, Metrolinx, will recommend new revenue sources such as taxes and fees to pay for more transit in the greater Toronto and Hamilton area. As part of the process and at council's direction, city staff consulted with the public and prepared a report recommending four revenue tools to be implemented in the short term and more to follow later.

Mr. Ford made it clear during Tuesday's debate that he will not support any new fees, tolls or taxes, arguing the province must take money-saving measures first. "Guaranteed, hell will freeze over before I will support any of these new taxes," he said.

Ms. Stintz said that if Toronto does not weigh in before the May 27 deadline, when Metrolinx will make its recommendations public, other regional municipalities will effectively be deciding how Toronto gets taxed.

Councillor Josh Colle, a TTC commissioner and moderate on council agreed. "It seems silly to duck this issue now," he said.

Mr. Colle said he supports bringing the debate to the council floor and Wednesday also introduced a motion that TTC commissioners debate the topic at their meeting next month.

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There are several ways that council can force the issue. While a special meeting is one option, Ms. Stintz and others said that likely will not happen.

Councillor Adam Vaughan, who began canvassing his colleagues to support a debate even before Mr. Ford officially took it off the agenda, said more than 30 councillors are involved in talks on how to move the issue forward.

Councillor Gord Perks said the easiest route would be to have a council member "remove" the transit report from executive committee at some point during the regular May meeting. This requires the support of two-thirds of councillors who are in the chamber.

Mr. Ford's chief of staff Mark Towhey said Tuesday that he is "kind of excited" by the prospect of a special debate on the new revenue tools, promising to make the mayor's opposition to them a centrepiece of his re-election campaign and to feature the names of councillors who support them on campaign posters.

Mr. Colle said he is tired of every topic being turned into an election issue and shot back at Mr. Towhey's plan.

"Sure, that's a very productive way to govern. You know, threaten councillors, that's all we need, that's worked successfully to date," he said, adding, "I'm being extremely sarcastic … that's the last thing we need."

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief


Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More


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