Wednesday, February 8, 2012 brought the debate on the future of LRT in Toronto to the floor of Council for a Special Meeting. After a year waiting for Mayor Ford to get his act together on the transit file, to bring his Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Queen’s Park to Council for debate, to bring a credible plan for financing the Sheppard Subway extensions into public view, Council had enough.
TTC Chair Karen Stintz, the last person the progressive wing of Council would have expected, filed a petition with the City Clerk on February 6 for the meeting with the support of 23 of her colleagues. Two days later, Council would be in open revolt against the Mayor. The public gallery filled quickly, with overflow viewing by video in the rotunda of City Hall, and the Press Gallery had more reporters and camera crews than I have seen at Council in years. They stayed all day — this was not a story to cover in an hour or so.
Stepping back from the political drama, this was an astounding day for me as a lifelong advocate for Light Rail Transit. Here was Toronto Council spending an entire day debating transit planning, technology and funding with a level of detailed knowledge of the issues advocates could only have dreamed of years ago. At stake was not just $8.4-billion of provincial money, but the future direction of transit development.
The results are reported elsewhere. This article presents the flavour of the questions and speeches that filled the day together with a strong sense that LRT, forty years after the Streetcars for Toronto Committee’s victory, will finally have a fair chance in Toronto. I have included details of the questions asked by most Councillors in the interest of showing the range of the debate and the growing understanding, or lack of it, by various members of the details of the issues.
Mayor Ford is not known as a gracious loser, and long before the votes were actually counted, it was clear which way the issue would turn. The lowest point of the day came just after lunch when the Mayor’s team attempted to sabotage the meeting by breaking quorum. Council cannot meet without a majority of members present (23), and the Mayor’s folks actually seemed to think that by staying away, they could halt the meeting.
This shows the desperation of the anti-LRT side, and puts Ford’s later comment that Council’s vote was “irrelevant” in a different light. So relevant was that vote that he attempted to ensure it never took place. He failed.