Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has called his council's tumultuous debate on the future of the city's transit "irrelevant" after it dealt him a major defeat on Wednesday, voting down his vision to put new light-rail lines underground.
"Technically speaking, that whole meeting was irrelevant," Ford told reporters Wednesday, shortly after a competing, above-ground plan brought forward by Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz was approved 25-18.
Ford maintained his preferred plan was a provincial project and that the deal he struck with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty that was announced in March would stand.
"It's unfortunate that some councillors don't listen to the taxpayers," Ford said.
Stintz's transit proposal, which revives portions of previous mayor David Miller's plan, seemingly derailed Ford's wish to keep as much of the city's new transit underground as possible.
The deeply divided council debated the two competing visions during a special meeting held at city hall, with councillors trading claims about what their constituents want.
Ford's plan had called for subway under Sheppard Avenue, as well as an Eglinton Avenue 'Crosstown' light-rail line that would be almost entirely underground.
Stintz’s proposal calls for a light-rail line on Finch Avenue West, while moving ahead with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT development, but keeping its eastern stretch above ground.
Her proposal takes Sheppard off the table for now, while an advisory panel reviews options for transit there.
Despite Ford's hopes, Ontario Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli seemed to suggest the province would follow the will of council.
"Throughout the debate, the McGuinty government has maintained a clear stance — we wanted the city to come to a common position so that we all could focus on building much-needed transit infrastructure," he said in a statement. "Now that council has endorsed a position, we have asked Metrolinx to consider the impacts on current transit planning and report back to us as quickly as possible."
Asked before the vote whether Ford might be able to support the proposal, Stintz said it had been amended to keep some of the mayor's concerns in mind.
"What we’ve done is we’ve taken Sheppard out of the package," Stintz told reporters Wednesday, after introducing her proposal.
"So the package will now read that light-rail will be built for Eglinton, Finch and the [Scarborough] RT replacement. But what we're going to do is defer Sheppard off for further study."
Earlier in the debate, Ford tried and failed to delay a vote on Stintz's proposal.
His motion, which sought to have an expert panel review the options for extending the Eglinton line east of Laird Drive, was voted down 24-19.
Ford’s $8.4-billion plan to put an Eglinton line underground also included funding to replace the Scarborough RT with light rail, which is the same approach that would be taken under Stintz's proposal.
Ford had declared former mayor Miller's so-called Transit City plan "over" after he took over, later striking a deal with the province to put the Eglinton line underground.
Coun. Josh Matlow, usually described as a centrist, said during the debate that Ford had repeatedly turned down compromises that could have averted the meeting that Stintz forced Wednesday, using a petition that was backed by 23 other councillors.
"We have gone to the mayor several times to propose compromises that he could frankly claim victory on," Matlow said Wednesday.
But Matlow said in each case, the mayor "has not been willing" to accept a compromise option.
Mammoliti says plan rams LRT 'down our throats'
Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, a Ford ally, told reporters Wednesday that he opposes the proposal brought forward by Stintz because it will eliminate the possibility of a putting a subway along Finch Avenue.
"We don’t want an LRT along Finch Avenue, we want a subway. Don’t ram it down our throats," Mammoliti said.
The prior Transit City plan called for a new light-rail on Finch. When Ford scrapped that plan, there were plans to enhance bus service, with an eye to upgrading to rapid transit at an unspecified date.
Scarborough councillors want Eglinton underground
Several Scarborough-area councillors, including Norm Kelly, have gone on record supporting the mayor’s plan to keep the Eglinton line underground.
"When you have the money, do it right," Kelly said.
"And doing it right means that when you get the money, you build underground transit."
Ford wanted to extend the Sheppard subway, but had not determined how the project would be funded.
Stintz's opposition to the mayor’s vision for the Eglinton line has put her at odds with Ford and some of his allies. Up until this dispute she had been seen as a Ford ally, including being personally selected by the mayor as TTC chair.
Coun. Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, recently said it was "a betrayal" for Stintz to back an opposing plan.