One year after orchestrating a special meeting to kill Rob Ford's subway dream, TTC chair Karen Stintz is again planning to bypass the mayor and bring a major transit debate to council.
On Tuesday, Mayor Ford's executive committee voted 6-4 to defer a staff report on taxes and tolls dedicated to transit. The report was to go to council next month so that the city could give input on a provincial funding strategy for GTA transportation expansion.
City staff is recommending council endorse four options - development charges, a parking levy, and sales and gas taxes - all of which Ford opposes on principle.
As it stands, Tuesday's vote means that the report won't go to council next month and would instead come back to the executive committee on May 28. According to Ford's critics, that's one day too late: Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, is set to release its investment strategy on May 27.
But Stintz is now maneuvering with other councillors to get the staff report on the agenda for council's May 7 meeting.
"I believe council wishes to debate the matter and so we're working on ways to make that possible," Stintz told reporters outside a TTC meeting at City Hall on Wednesday.
She accused the mayor of abandoning a leadership role on the transit issue.
"From my perspective, he has completely abdicated his responsibility on the transit file," she said. "He talks about wanting to build subways, he doesn't talk about how he's going to pay for them. And when we're asked for our opinion on what we think might make for a good revenue option, he decides to defer the matter entirely."
To introduce the report next month, Stintz would need the support of two-thirds of councillors present at council. Calling a special meeting would require only a majority, but the TTC chair says there's agreement among her colleagues that that's not the way to go.
Just as she did last February, when she convinced councillors to call a special session to revive the scuttled Transit City light rail lines, Stintz appears to have the backing of politicians across the political spectrum.
John Parker, a fiscal conservative who sits on the TTC board, said he understands Ford's reluctance to accept any new taxes, but believes there's no other way to get new lines built.
"[Ford] doesn't want to be responsible for any tax increase, none of us do," Parker said, "[but] I see a pressing need to address the deficit in transit infrastructure spending and construction in this city."
The councillor dismissed a suggestion from the mayor's chief of staff that Ford's team would try to take out anyone who supports new transit taxes in the 2014 municipal election.
"I'm more concerned about making the right decisions for the city, and if that becomes a political issue, I'm prepared to defend the positions I take," he said.
Peter Milczyn, who sits on Ford's executive but voted against burying the report Tuesday, said he didn't know what Stintz is planning but signaled he would vote in favour of debating it at council.
Calling transit funding "the most significant issue we're going to deal with during this term of council," Milczyn said that it was important for councillors to register their opinions with Metrolinx.
"People expect the city to have some kind of position," he said.
Josh Colle, a centrist who also sits on the TTC board, is also supporting Stintz's push for a council debate, and believes they have the two-thirds majority to secure one.
"We have to have this discussion. We've been talking [about] it for pretty much all of my elected life, and beyond that," he said. "It seems silly to duck the issue now."
Colle argues that even councillors who oppose transit taxes should want to vote on the report. He'd like to weigh in on at least one of the staff recommendations - a parking levy, which he worries could negatively affect businesses at the Yorkdale Mall in his ward.