Toronto city council has passed its 2014 budget, ending an often fractious, day-long debate that saw officials trade barbs over libraries, fire trucks, security guards and — once again — subways.
The budget passed by a vote of 35-9 shortly after 9 p.m. ET Thursday, after some 11 hours of debate by the 45-member council.
Mayor Rob Ford, his brother, Coun. Doug Ford, and budget chief Frank Di Giorgio were among those who voted against it. The mayor had earlier submitted a handful of cost-cutting motions, some of which set the stage for tense, even angry exchanges throughout the day.
Before each motion could be discussed, council became entangled in a procedural debate about whether the motions could be introduced. Ford was accused of not getting the motions properly processed by the clerk's office in time for Thursday's meeting, a claim he denied.
Coun. Adam Vaughan later called Ford a "hypocrite" for speaking out against the tax hike city council approved on Wednesday while suggesting, in today's motions, that low-income families should pay a fee to apply for financial assistance.
Ford had suggested applicants should pay $14 per child to apply to the city's Welcome Policy program, which subsidizes access to recreational programs.
The mayor lashed out against council yesterday after it approved a 2.23% property tax hike, over his proposed 1.75% hike. The difference works out to about $12 more per year for the average household.
A visibly angry Vaughan wondered aloud how Ford, who was not in the council chamber at the time, could oppose a $12 per household hike while proposing a $14 per child fee on low-income families.
"He's a hypocrite and that attack on children will not go unchallenged by me," said Vaughan.
Ford's motion was later voted down.
Subway issue resurfaces
It was just one of several tense, angry and absurd moments as debate on the dozens of motions dragged into the evening — including a fresh round of arguments over the Scarborough subway extension.
Councillors Josh Matlow, Paul Ainslie and Kristyn Wong-Tam each raised separate motions aimed, in various ways, against the project which council approved in October 2013 over an alternate plan for light-rail transit.
The motions were debated on and off through the afternoon, leading eventually to a firm rebuke from Coun. Karen Stintz, who is also chair of the Toronto Transit Commission.
"That decision has already been made," Stintz told council, adding that the subway will be built, in some form, by the province whether the city helps fund it or not. The extension will have fewer stops without the city's support, however, she said.
Stintz noted her household's contribution, through taxes, to the extension as approved by council will be about $20.
"If I get to use my 20 bucks that way, I tell you it's the best 20 bucks I'll spend this year," she said. "We will do this city an incredible disservice if we continue this debate into the near term."
This led to an even more fiery speech from Scarborough-area Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, who accused his downtown colleagues of short-changing the city's expansive and populous east end. De Baeremaeker noted the York University subway extension will effectively reach Vaughan, beyond the city's northern limit.
"You look down on us. You think you're smarter than us," he said. "There is no honour in these motions."
All three motions were later dismissed by City Council Speaker Frances Nunziata on the grounds they could bring "legal consequences."
Mayor takes aim at trees
One of Ford's many motions called on the city to abandon plans to spend $7 million to plant 97,000 new trees.
Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon asked the mayor if he was "aware of the benefits of a tree," to which the mayor responded by accusing her of being absent during December's ice storm, which caused widespread damage to city trees.
"Do you know that we’re spending $50 million already on those trees in the ice storm?" said Ford, who later said that if the councillor wanted to "go and plant trees, knock yourself out, but don’t use taxpayers' money."
Then McMahon asked the mayor about his push to remove security guards from city libraries.
Pointing to a homicide that occurred at the Main Street Library in 2010, McMahon asked the mayor if he was aware at the incident.
"I’m aware that there was people killed at the Eaton Centre, on a streetcar, on sidewalks, so we need security guards on every corner, is that what you’re saying?" Ford responded.
"It’s called the police — if somebody commits a murder, it could happen anywhere."
Ford went on to say that he believes security guards at city libraries are not being put to good use, and that a guard could not have prevented the homicide at the Main Street Library.
McMahon suggested that their presence could potentially "mitigate a disaster or a problem" but the mayor didn’t agree.
"I just can’t comprehend how you think sometimes, Coun. McMahon, sorry," Ford said.
"Right back at you, ditto," McMahon said.
Ford also said the city should stop writing off up to $3 million each year in unpaid library fines, saying that he regularly pays fines that stem from his kids' library use. He said unpaid library fines should be tacked on to the offenders' property taxes.
Ford's library motions, and the motion to abandon the tree planting, were also voted down.