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Liveblog: Transit Showdown at City Hall

After months of debate and weeks of mounting tension, city council meets today to decide what transit plan they support.

COUNCIL OVERTURNS FORD, RESTORES LIGHT RAIL PLAN BY A VOTE OF 25-18

The transit plan currently on the books for Toronto, based on a Memorandum of Understanding between the mayor and the province.




Quick reference; live updates follow below:

The Coalition Plan
This is based on a binding Memorandum of Agreement the City signed with the province in 2009. Karen Stintz is introducing a multi-part proposal that extends that MOA (which would making it council’s endorsed transit strategy) in most elements, and also ask for a number of reports on some specific items that concern various councillors (which is a way of exploring what revisions might be possible, without committing money to new projects or stopping the early phases of the current plan).

In summary Stintz’s motion calls for:

  • Construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Jane Street to Kennedy Station
  • Construction of the Finch West LRT from the Spadina Subway extension to Humber College
  • Conversion of the Scarborough line from RT (which is at the end of its lifespan) to LRT from Kennedy Station to Sheppard Avenue, with an extension to the Malvern Town Centre as funds become availabile;
  • Establishing an expert advisory panel regarding transit on Sheppard Avenue that will report back to a Special Meeting of Council no later than February 21, 2012, to determine the most effective means of delivering rapid transit to the greatest numbers of riders with the funds currently allocated. Particpants to include: representatives from Metrolinx, the TTC, the Toronto Board of Trade, and the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance; former mayor David Crombie; director of the U of T Cities Centre Eric Miller; and Rob Ford transit advisor Gordon Chong.
  • Directing TTC staff to work with Metrolinx to put together reports on the feasibility of the following future transit projects: extension of the Sheppard subway west from the current Sheppard Station to the current Downsview Station; extending the Sheppard LRT to the Toronto Zoo; extending the Bloor-Danforth subway from Kennedy north-east to Scarborough Town Centre; extending the Eglinton LRT to Pearson; construction a Downtown Relief subway line.

Status of the plan: the three lines to be implemented immediately are fully costed, and have their environmental assessments complete and approved. Construction of the central portion of the Eglinton LRT is underway; work on other projects has been halted under instruction from the mayor.

Total track to be built: 52 kilometres


The Mayor’s Plan
The mayor is famously opposed to building rail on city streets; his first day in office he therefore proclaimed that previous plans for light rail were “dead.” His plan calls, instead, for the following:
  • Take the $8.4. billion committed by the province to pay for the above transit projects and allocate the whole of it, in the first place, to the construction of an Eglinton LRT that is fully underground.
  • Fold the Scarborough RT replacement into the Eglinton LRT line.
  • Take any remaining funds once the Eglinton LRT has been fully paid for, up to $650 million, and put that towards constructing a subway on Sheppard.
  • Use other sources of funding, including as much money as can be obtained via the private sector, to construct the Sheppard subway.
  • Expand service on Finch with bus rapid transit (BRT).

Status of the plan: Construction of the central portion of the Eglinton LRT is underway; the remaining portion of the Eglinton line undergoing planning revisions now. Sheppard subway and Finch BRT are currently goals without a clear funding strategy.

Total track to be built: 25 kilometres, plus 13 kilometres on the unfunded Sheppard line.


The Votes
Members of council: 45 (44 councillors plus the mayor)
Needed to win the vote: simple majority of 50% plus one
Councillors absent: 2 (Gloria Lindsay Luby, on vacation; Ron Moeser, ill)
The magic number of votes: 22
Number of councillors who signed the petition calling this meeting: 24 (one of whom is the absent Gloria Lindsay Luby)

Last night two councillors, both signatories on the petition that requested today’s meeting, told us that attempts to agree on a compromise with the mayor were rebuffed, and that debate would be over the full light rail plan outlined in the 2009 MOA. Also yesterday, we asked TTC Chair Karen Stintz whether the current conflict on council, combined with the province’s own financial constraints, might mean that the Ontario government might just pull some of that funding out of Toronto transit altogether; she told us she had no reason to doubt that all of the $8.4. billion would remain committed to Toronto transit projects, whatever form they might take.


7:16 PM: Two revotes because councillors apparently can’t figure out red and green buttons. Final tally: 25-18. Also passes: motion to convene blue ribbon panel for advice on the best transit mode for Sheppard; that will report back by March 21, 2012.

6:59 PM: THE BIG MOTION TO RESTORE LIGHT RAIL PLANS PASSES 26-17.

6:50 PM: And, more speakers keep getting added to the list. First was Maria Augimeri, who showed a video about the sorry state of transit on Finch. Now is Michelle Berardinetti, who is reading in full a letter from former city council clerk Novina Wong, which is strongly pro-subway.

6:39 PM: Last speaker before we get to voting: Jaye Robinson. Top two complaints she gets from constituents: gridlock and TTC service. “We need to get things moving and we need to do it now.” Would have appreciated another month to debate, but we have money and we need to use it. She’s hedging on which way she’ll vote, but saying it’ll be based on what she heard from her residents today.

6:09 PM: John Parker, key centre-right vote, now speaking. “We have had a full airing” of the merits on Eglinton. We have room and time for debate on Sheppard, where we need to figure out “what to do with part of a subway” that’s already there. And then “the kind of city you build with surface transit is a city with more general development… When you build subways with stations at more distant points from one another.” He actually says what few have dared to: LRT is better when you are building a city and not just trying to move people from point A to point B, because it is associated with more vibrant street development.

6:03 PM: Shelley Carroll uses speech to make direct address to Dalton McGuinty. Speaks about her daughter who has special needs, will always take TTC. “Rapid transit needs to be here now for my daughter,” she says, voice breaking.

5:50 PM: Frances Nunziata is upset about mass expropriation of houses. The story: on the northwest corner of Eglinton and Weston, about 10 houses would have to go to accommodate the current station design. Some other houses would have to lose part of their front lawns. (Big thanks to Steve Munro for that information.)

5:36 PM: Oh, here’s Adam Giambrone, responding to Giorgio Mammoliti’s earlier dig: “If we get good transit, he can make all the jokes he wants. Oh and it is Mammoliti afterall, should I pay attention to him?”

5:32 PM: Back after a quick break to recap events on CBC Radio’s Here and Now. In our absence, Chin Lee has a motion that would expand Stintz’s advisory panel to include a representative from the Sheppard BIA, and Doug Ford has insulted Stintz more.

5:15 PM: Milczyn tables a motion aimed at broadening 3b of Stintz’s motion so that part of the expert panel’s mandate is to seek alternative funding sources. “She deserves everyone’s respect, she has mine,” says Milczyn of Stintz. “We tend to shoot the messenger—shoot the manager,” he says, referring to TTC staff.

5:05 PM: Peruzza and Mammoliti are now arguing over something to do with magic beans, whether they exist, and whether they can be used to purchase a Finch Avenue subway.

5:03 PM: Doug Ford made his speech a few minutes ago. “This is about the short-term thinkers and long-term visionaries.” Subway plan is by the latter. In a scrum afterwards, he says that if Stintz’s motion passes, he will actively lobby the province to get them to ignore council’s vote.

4:30 PM: Doug Ford making his speech. “This is about the short term thinkers and long term visionaries.” Subway plan is by the latter, he says.

4:23 PM: Deputy mayor Doug Holyday again playing on a purported suburb vs. downtown split. Ford, as noted by the Sun‘s Don Peat, hasn’t been seen since his referral motion lost.

4:15 PM: Motion, as expected, from Giorgio Mammoliti: asking Metrolinx to take the money previously allocated to the Finch LRT and spend it instead on Eglinton and rapid bus service on Finch; also, that everyone enter into talks about the prospect of building a subway on Finch. Repeat: nobody has a viable plan for building a subway on Finch, and given the precedent of the light rail and Sheppard subway debate nobody will come up with one in our lifetimes. Essentially: Mammoliti’s motion would kill the Finch LRT now in the hopes of building a subway who knows when, with who knows what money. And then: “The only difference between this and the Stintz/Giambrone proposal is that we don’t have a leather couch in this proposal.” Yes, really.

4:09 PM: Amendment proposed by Kristyn Wong-Tam, asking for gender equity on Stintz’s blue ribbon panel.

3:56 PM: Distributed so far today: “I <3 Gary Webster" buttons, and "Karen Stintz Fan Club" buttons.

3:55 PM: Josh Matlow: the rookie councillors serving their first term weren’t comfortable when the mayor cancelled Transit City. “I want to see something in front of me that makes sense.” Says Stintz has delivered precisely that.

3:50 PM: Glenn de Baeremaeker says that Ford hasn’t managed to raise any new funds for transit while David Miller got $8.4 billion from the province.

3:48 PM: The list of councillors who have so far either implied or said outright that the mayor/province should ignore council’s vote if they vote for LRT: Norm Kelly, Frances Nunziata, Giorgio Mammoliti.

3:48 PM: Mammoliti’s response to all this: take the money allocated to the Finch LRT (if Stintz’s motion passes) and move it back to Eglinton. Oh, and the province should take over everything.

3:37 PM: “I spoke to the mayor yesterday,” Stintz continues. “I said it’s okay to agree to disagree on Eglinton…but hear from me that we want to support you on Sheppard.”

3:32 PM: “We need plans that survive election cycles,” said Stintz, making her “let’s all get together on this” speech. Her plan, she says, accomplishes several things: ensures Eglinton gets built as efficiently as possible, provides Finch with service, gives mayor opportunity to deliver on his promise to build the Sheppard subway, and confirms council’s position to Metrolinx. “I need to stress, this is not a Stintz plan. This is a council plan, a Metrolinx plan, a regional plan.”

3:32 PM: VOTE ON THE REFERRAL MOTION, which would delay any further votes until after Ford’s expert panel provides advice. Motion to refer FAILS 19-24. This makes it increasingly likely that Karen Stintz’s motion will pass, with at least that same margin of victory.

3:27 PM: A tension among those councillors supporting Ford: on one hand light rail is return to evil Miller plan, on the other we don’t know enough about it to know whether we should vote for it.

3:23 PM: Ford supporter Michelle Berardinetti will be supporting the deferral, says they need more time to research and consult.

3:21 PM: Frances Nunziata is fired up. “Councillor Stintz should be ashamed of herself!” Protests that supporting Stintz’s plan is supporting Transit City, says building above ground will require mass expropriation of private property. (It won’t.)

3:15 PM: David Shiner is moving an amendment to Ford’s motion that would widen the scope of his panel to look at all transit lines.

3:11 PM: Raymond Cho, who previously suggested the mayor was governing “almost like a dictator,” has apologized.

3:09 PM: Now eyes on James Pasternak as he rises to speak. He signed the petition but generally votes with Ford. Says we need to “just start digging,” but isn’t actually very clear about where his vote will go.

3:08 PM: And then John Parker, key centre-right vote. “I don’t need political cover for my decision. It’s not personal, it’s not political, it’s where I’ve come down to after reading all the information available to me.” Fair to study Sheppard more, he says, but he already knows his choice on Eglinton and Finch. Parker is stepping out from under the mayor, seems like he is going to back the Stintz plan. Huge flip. (Didn’t sign the petition, so this is a new vote for the coalition plan.)

3:07 PM: Raymond Cho says mayor has been action “almost like a dictator.” Doug Ford protests, then goes on to speak about the proposed deferral: “We had the largest referendum in Canadian history, folks; it was called an election.” He says Rob Ford was elected to build subways.

2:56 PM: Regarding the claim that councillors don’t have enough information: Paula Fletcher holds up a stack of transit studies.

2:46 PM: Karen Stintz rises to speak to the deferral motion: “This isn’t really a complicated argument. It’s a question of what you do with 8.4 billion dollars” that is coming from the province, for specific projects. Says this isn’t about subways, because no construction right now on the books is for a subway. “Subways are important on Sheppard” and it is fair to consider that separately, thus she pulled them out of her motion. But, she goes on, “construction is underway on Eglinton right! now! We need to make a decision right now.” Nothing about Eglinton and Finch is going to change in 30 days.

2:38 PM: Two key votes everyone has their eyes on: James Pasternak, who signed the petition and represents a ward that would benefit from Finch transit, but has largely sided with the mayor and whose mind is often changeable; and John Parker, a moderate conservative who generally sides with Ford but opposes the buried Eglinton LRT. The two have psent the last few minutes talking.

2:36 PM: Ha. Josh Matlow: if Ford allies thought they could win by one or two votes, they would hold that vote right now.

2:32 PM: Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, Giorgio Mammoliti rise to defend the deferral; Holyday says that they have a split council and this matter shouldn’t be decided by only one or two votes. Then Joe Mihevc: “we have had one year of deferrals, delays, the mayor has not brought this to council as he should have.” Time to decide.

2:23 PM: Ford moves a motion that calls would refer the Stintz proposal to the City Manager (procedurally, a way of delaying a vote while council gathers more information) and establish a “fact-finding panel” that would look at “available evidence” for extending Eglinton line and make recommendations thereon, report back within 30 days. He says this meeting has no purpose other than to have councillors listen to each other. “Every poll that has come out” shows that people want subways. “Transit is to get people from point A to point B fast.” Subways do this. Traffic jams don’t. And then: “the downtown core has subways already. The people in the suburbs don’t.” So, let’s give the people what they want, he says. “We’re going in without any facts or figures,” he says of the LRT plan. “People are pulling numbers out of the air.” (Full text of Rob Ford’s motion is here.)


“This is not the time to play politics.”

—Rob Ford

2:22 PM: Back from lunch a bit late, as it took councillors a while to get in their seats. We’ve concluded questions of staff, and now moving on to speeches from members of council. First up: Mayor Rob Ford.

12:39 PM: Lunch break until 2 p.m.! Giorgio Mammolitti is doubling down on the mayor’s commitment to the Sheppard subway by saying he might move to give money from Finch to build the Eglinton LRT (not sure what money—perhaps the money for the light rail line, if Stintz’s motion passes), so that he has an opportunity to explore building a subway on Finch. He says areas like Jane and Finch “are poor” enough and that an LRT will close the few businesses they do have. Meanwhile, Karen Stintz told reporters that she spoke with the mayor last night and that she and council understand he made a commitment to build a subway on Sheppard—that’s why the Sheppard LRT isn’t in her motion today, just the blue-ribbon panel to explore and report back on the best options for Sheppard.

12:27 PM: A key voice on transit: Peter Milczyn, a centrist who generally aligns with Ford, and is vice-chair of the TTC. He just came up to the press gallery to talk to reporters, but would not say definitively how he will be voting today. He did say that he supports Karen Stintz in her capacity as TTC chair—she has done her job “with integrity”—and that they need to determine if they can fund a Sheppard subway, and if it seems they can’t, then let that plan go and move on.

12:13 PM: City staff: “investment in fixed rail provides certainty”—but it’s the existence of rail, not the kind, which has that effect (with regard to development).

12:08 PM: Frances Nunziata’s rhetorical strategy: drop the names of David Miller and Adam Giambrone, for they are clearly evil. And then “isn’t this Transit City?!,” followed by “I don’t care what you put underground, so long as you put it underground.” Nunziata, obviating differences between LRT and subways.

12:06 PM: Seems deferral motion is coming from right-wing councillors, to put off decision to a future meeting. Coalition councillors say they have the votes to defeat it.

11:55 AM: Perhaps the first hint of mayor’s counter-strategy: Mark Grimes suggests we should delay decision until councillors have the opportunity to question Metrolinx staff. (Right now only TTC staff are answering questions.) In short, he is implying the decision should be delayed to a future meeting.


“We don’t recommend spending money you don’t have on an asset you don’t need.”

—Gary Webster

11:50 AM: Gary Webster, TTC manager, is very clearly coming out for the LRT plan today, says evidence backs it and politicians shouldn’t try to solve technical problems on the experts’ behalf. “LRT is the predominant mode, accepted worldwide,” he says, for meeting needs greater than buses but not great enough for subways. Also, Mark Grimes has donned a bow tie for this special occasion.

11:43 AM: Matlow questions Webster: does Shepphard meet the TTC test for a street that warrants full subways? Webster says no. Same with less congested, eastern portions of Eglinton.

11:19 AM: @DonnaLeaElliott: Idc what happens re:new line. as long as I can get a subway @ 2 am past kipling w/o worrying about muggings, rapes and murders.

11:28 AM: Josh Matlow comes upstairs to talk to the press, says bickering needs to stop, decision needs to be evidence-based, mayor espouses fiscal responsibility and should understand this LRT plan. “We have gone to the mayor several times to propose compromises he could claim as victories,” he goes on, but Ford wouldn’t play ball. Need to move ahead. Uses Ford’s “respect for taxpayers” line against him. Not expecting him to budge, but is hoping Ford ultimately respects council’s vote.

11:14 AM: Lots of numbers have been flying around, but TTC’s Webster puts cost difference of buried vs. unburied Eglinton LRT at $1.9 billion. He also anticipates that, contra Ford’s wish, there will be no money left after building a completely buried Eglinton LRT for any other transit projects (Ford wants it to go to a Sheppard subway). Webster also thinks the current $8.4 billion funding envelope won’t be enough for all three LRT lines; if forced to choose, he would prioritize Sheppard over Finch.

11:01 AM: @DoucetteWard13: This is an amazing discussion at council learning so much about these LRT plans. We should have had this discussion a year ago.

11:03 AM: John Parker now questioning staff. His is the vote perhaps most up for grabs at the moment: he did not sign the petition calling for today’s meeting, but he is on record as opposing the Ford Eglinton-burial plan. Some of his questions address the added costs of increasing bus service on Finch, which would follow under Ford’s plan. No budget for that though.

11:00 AM: Maria Augimeri: “the subway they want to build now…is that the same subway that I voted on in the 1980s?” Laughter. Webster: yes.

10:52 AM: Wondering about real, practical, actual person difference between the two plans? TTC manager Gary Webster: the LRT plan will serve 135,000 more people. And with that, the TTC is as far out of the closet as they can get.


The LRT plan is “better value for money.”

—Gary Webster, chief general manager of the TTC

10:46 AM: First use of the widely scorned term “Transit City” is by Jaye Robinson, at 10:41 a.m.

10:42 AM: If you’re trying to get a sense of the day: currently councillors are questioning City staff about the details of various plans and proposals; this will likely last at least until the lunch break at 12:30. Council will reconvene at 2 p.m., wrap up questions of City staff if there are any left, and then move on to consideration of motions. We know Stintz has one (outlined in the blue box above); quite likely Ford allies will present at least one and possibly several motions meant to counteract Stintz’s. Other motions and amendments are also likely, as individual councillors have ward-specific concerns they want addressed. Councillors will have two opportunities to speak: questioning the mover of any motion, and making a five-minute speech on the main item. In short: it’s going to be a long day.

10:23 AM: Under questioning, City staff are explaining why these LRT plans might not be subject to the same cost overruns as the St. Clair right-of-way was—in large part, those overruns were due to “project creep,” i.e., other organizations like Hydro taking the opportunity to add work while the street was already being dug up.

10:23 AM: Reminder! If you’re catching up on the context for today’s meeting, we have a summary right here.

9:58 AM: No longer a rumour! Here is the substance of Stintz’s proposal [PDF]:

      Toronto City Council affirm its support for the light rail transit priority plan for Toronto consistent with the Metrolinx “5 in 10″ plan as presented to the Metrolinx Board…and early implementation of the following projects:
      • The Finch West LRT from the Spadina Subway extension to Humber College;
      • The Eglinton Crosstown LRT from Jane Street to Kennedy Station;
      • The Scarborough RT converstion to LRT from Kennedy Station to Sheppard Avenue, with an extension to the Malvern Town Centre as funds become availabile;
      That Council request the City Manager establish an expert advisory panel regarding transit on Sheppard Avenue that will report back to a Special Meeting of Council no later than February 21, 2012. The advisory panel will determine the most effective means of delivering rapid transit to the greatest numbers of riders with the funds currently allocated for a public transportation project on Sheppard

    Particpants on said panel to include: representatives from Metrolinx, the TTC, the Toronto Board of Trade, the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance, former mayor David Crombie, director of the U of T Cities Centre Eric Miller, and Rob Ford transit advisor Gordon Chong.

9:55 AM: The rumour of the moment: Stintz will introduce a motion on three of the four original light rail lines, with a special panel to determine fate of Sheppard.

9:46 AM: Here come the petitions, a few hundred or a couple of thousand signatures at a time, councillor by councillor: from Raymond Cho, Shelley Carroll, Karen Stintz, Sarah Doucette, Gord Perks (“Ward 14 represent!”), Joe Mihevc, Josh Matlow, Glenn de Baeremaeker, Maria Augimeri, and Mike Layton, and from Michael Thompson and Mary-Margaret McMahon calling for clarity but not any particular plan.

9:44 AM: Franz Hartmann, head of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, tells us that over the next few minutes petitions will be introduced by a sequence of councillors, with signatures in support of light rail. Total number of signatures collected: 24,000.

9:43 AM: The elevators to council chamber were turned on at 9:15 a.m. precisely. By 9:20 most of the seats were full. One way or another, something major is happening today.

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