Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has lost another key vote in his bid for subways, with council voting 24-19 in favour of light-rail transit along Sheppard Avenue East.
Immediately after the Thursday vote at city hall, Ford said he was already looking forward to the 2014 municipal election.
"We came up a few votes shy, but this is an election issue," he said. "Obviously, the campaign starts now."
Ford has argued in favour of subways because they move more people, don't compete with cars and are preferred by most residents in Scarborough, where the extension would have run.
His opponents' argument against the Sheppard expansion comes down to cash: there is no firm plan in place to pay for it and $8.4 billion in provincial money for transit expansion is already earmarked for a package that includes light rail — often called LRT — in other neighbourhoods.
'They don't want these damn streetcars'
In a second straight day of debate about the Sheppard line, the session quickly devolved into a bitter war of words, with Ford angrily telling council that the people of the city "have spoken loud and clear. They want subways."
Ford said in a blistering two-minute speech that Torontonians have told him "they don't want these damn streetcars."
"People hate the St. Clair [streetcar], they hate these streetcars," he said. "You can call them what you want, people want subways, folks. They don’t want these damn streetcars blocking up this city."
LRTs are not technically streetcars — they have dedicated lanes, a faster average speed, hold more people, and the stations are farther apart — but Ford often calls them "glorified streetcars" or "fancy streetcars."
The mayor claimed the LRT would end up costing the taxpayers. He said it would be a "boondoggle of billions" and compared it to Ontario's eHealth scandal, which saw a plan to create electronic health records for Ontario descend into a billion-dollar spending controversy.
"It will make eHealth look minuscule," he said.
Ford attempted to delay debate
At the end of a full day of debate on Wednesday, Ford tried to stave off defeat by having the special council meeting resume on April 4, but lost that vote 25-19.
Coun. Doug Ford, the mayor's brother, said Thursday that the LRT supporters are ignoring the will of Torontonians.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is social engineering, this is a nanny state, when politicians dictate to the people against their will," he said.
Coun. Josh Matlow, who voted in favour of the light rail, said the mayor had shown no leadership throughout the debate.
"He just said, 'I want subways. I want subways,' Matlow said. "How are you going to finance it? 'I just want subways.' Are you going to support even your allies, your colleagues' plans to fund it? 'Nah, I just want subways.' What did you have for dinner? 'I just want subways.' It didn't matter."
The debate in the chambers was often heated, with Doug Ford at one point calling his opponents "monkeys." The meeting chair called a recess at one point to allow council members to cool off.
A Grade 10 civics class was in attendance and students told CBC News the debate was "intense" and "childish."
"This is even worse than, like, Gossip Girl," one young woman said.
Coun. Joe Mihevc said the final vote was "a good day for the people of Toronto and especially for the people of Scarborough," but people in that part of the city who spoke with CBC News said they weren't happy with the decision.
The mayor previously lost a key vote on Feb. 8, when his vision of a mostly underground light-rail along Eglinton Avenue was scrapped in favour of above-ground light rail along Finch Avenue West and the eastern portion of Eglinton.
Ford called council "irrelevant" after that vote, and again told the media Thursday that the province should support subways regardless of council.
"Don't fund streetcars. Don't fund the LRTs. Put it towards subways," he said.
The province has indicated previously that it will support the will of council, and the office of provincial Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli released a statement shortly after the vote reiterating that.
"This government respects the will of the city's democratically elected councillors and they sent a message today to the province and to [provincial transportation agency] Metrolinx that light-rail transit is their preference ..." it said. "Metrolinx will now review that plan and then cabinet will have the opportunity to further consider all advice."