The LRT versus subway debate is finally off City Hall's agenda.
Despite accusations of last-minute stall tactics and a blustery speech from the mayor, council signed off on a master agreement with its provincial partner on four new LRT lines Thursday.
"This conversation will not come back to council," said a relieved TTC chair Karen Stintz after the vote.
"This term," she added with a laugh.
Council had already signaled its support for the light rail routes at two special council meetings earlier this year. But the master agreement between the city, TTC, and Metrolinx sets out the roles of each partner, and council's approval of it was necessary to actually execute the projects.
Provincial transit agency Metrolinx can now move ahead with building the lines on Eglinton, Finch West, Sheppard East, and the route of the Scarborough RT, effectively concluding the long-running spat over rail lines that began the day Rob Ford took office.
The agreement was approved easily, with a vote of 30-11. But it did not go quietly.
After skipping out on the middle of the meeting to coach his high school football team, Mayor Ford arrived in the council chamber just in time for the end of the debate. He then gave a blistering speech that revived talking points from earlier this year when his divisive crusade for subways dominated proceedings at City Hall.
"This is not what the taxpayers want in this city. This goes back to day one, streetcars against subways," Ford said. "You want to support this contract, you're supporting streetcars. That's LRTs, whatever you want to call ‘em, that's the bottom line. People do not want these, they want subways."
"You support this, you're supporting more congestion, streetcars that people do not want. Mass gridlock! This is terrible. This is the worst thing we could be approving today," he shouted.
While the mayor was absent from the chamber, his allies on council rose time and time again to speak on a minor agenda item about community housing, effectively drawing out the debate.
Councillor Joe Mihevc accused them of "ragging the puck" in order to give the mayor time to get back to City Hall in a last ditch effort to orchestrate the master agreement's defeat.
"They were working the back, they were trying to see who was in, who was not in," Mihevc said. "They were counting bums in seats, they were trying to get the mayor to come back as fast as possible. Well, right after his primary commitment, i.e. his football game."
But those who opposed the agreement said they were concerned that the deal left too much room for the province to change the transit plans without council's consent. The approved agreement gives the city the right to "object" and "oppose" any material changes - such as eliminating stations or moving lines above or below ground - but the province retains final say.
"It only gives us the right to object but no right to make sure [the lines are] actually built!" Councillor David Shiner said in a speech to council. "The province has reneged before, they may renege again. I can't support this today. It doesn't assure us anything real."
Shiner moved a motion that would have forced Metrolinx to seek council's consent for any changes. It failed 13-28.
Stintz was clear that any delay in approving the agreement would have put the provincial funding in jeopardy.
The TTC chair said earlier in the afternoon she received a message from Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli's office that indicated "if we deferred this item then the province would consider the city not serious about the $8.4 billion in transit."
While the framework for the agreement has now been approved, representatives of the TTC, city, and Metrolinx have yet to sign it. Stintz said the parties are still working out the finer points.