Council Approves Light Rail Plan
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Council Approves Light Rail Plan

Approved earlier in principle, now approved in final detail, today's vote cements the plan to build four new light rail lines in Toronto.

Metrolinx's light rail projects in Toronto.

City council has approved the master agreement with the provincial government to build four light rail lines in Toronto. The debate was relatively short but somewhat fraught, as Mayor Rob Ford and several of his allies expressed concerns about the deal.

Several councillors were worried that this master agreement gives Queen’s Park and Metrolinx ultimate control over the LRT projects—Toronto only has the ability to raise objections or opposition, but if the province decides to revise any of the lines (its routes, stops, or other details), it has the right to do so. As pointed out by TTC Chair Karen Stintz in her speech to council, however, this is inevitable since the province is the one paying for construction. The province won’t give us the money, she said, “if we tell the province that we’re going to determine the scope of the projects.” She also told reporters after the meeting that she had received a note from the office of Ontario Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli this afternoon, warning that if city council tried to impose veto conditions on the deal, the $8.4 billion Queen’s Park has promised would be off the table.

Rob Ford’s concern was much bigger: he wanted to scrap the agreement entirely, and build subways. He gave an impassioned speech on the subject (a full transcript is below), but in the end it didn’t make the difference—council voted 30-11 in favour of the deal.

Stintz told us that there are no more votes coming to council on this matter: it is now, from the City’s perspective, a done deal. The lingering worry on the part of those who back this plan is that the province—and specifically a new provincial government—will tear this agreement up. Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak has registered his strong support for subways on multiple occasions, and recently said that he would support diverting as much of the $8.4 billion to subways as possible if he is elected in the next provincial election.

Rob Ford’s speech to council, in full:

Thank you Mr. Deputy Speaker. I couldn’t agree more with Councillor Shiner’s motion [to try to impose a city council veto clause]. This goes back to day one, streetcars against subways. You want to support this contract, you’re supporting streetcars. LRTs, whatever you want to call ’em. That’s the bottom line. People do not want these, they want subways. We said it over and over and over again, and this is going to be another decisive [sic] debate on subways where the people of Scarborough get nothing. They don’t want these LRTs. This is exactly what it is. It’s not too late, and stop heckling. The people of this city have spoken loud and clear. Etobicoke and North York and Scarborough. They want subways. You support this, you’re supporting more congestion, streetcars, the people do not want. Massive gridlock. This is terrible. This is the worst thing we could be approving today. It’s absolutely appalling that we can bring this to the floor council and disrespect every taxpayer in the city. They’ve spoken loud and clear. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. You can sit back and take it and take it and take it, but these people don’t want to take it anymore. We’re not going to wait until another election. Why should we have to wait until a new provincial government, a new municipal government, and then just keep going around? Let’s start building these subways. This is the worst poison pill for the taxpayers of this great city, and David Shiner is absolutely right, so is the budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Absolutely. This is terrible folks. Let’s start listening to the people that put us in these seats. Thank you very much.

Transcript by David Hains.