Rob Ford's subway dream is over.
After months of bitter debate and divisive meetings that dominated proceedings at City Hall, on Thursday council finally pulled the plug on his underground transit plan.
On the second day of a special single-issue meeting, councillors voted 24-19 to build a surface LRT line instead of a subway on Sheppard Ave. East, and in doing so revived the last component of the light rail network the mayor proclaimed dead on his first day in office.
"What we've done today is we've wrestled with a difficult decision," said TTC chair Karen Stintz, who has led the council putsch against Ford's subway promise.
"We've come to a solution about how to bring transit to the suburbs. I think now is the time for us to celebrate the victory and move forward as one city."
In committing to light rail, council rejected a subway plan that many said was unfunded in favour of a mode that supporters say is more cost-effective and better serves the lower density of areas outside the downtown core. Despite talk of an urban-suburban split on the issue, councillors from across the city voted in favour of LRT.
The decision capped off a series of sweeping defeats for Ford on the transit file, and it could hardly have been imagined 15 months ago when he swept into office following a winning pro-subway campaign. In the past two months alone he has lost votes on three other LRT lines and had control of the TTC board wrested from him, and as it stands the city hasn't allocated one cent of the more than $8.4 billion in provincial and federal cash it has for transit expansion to subways.
Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, one of four Scarborough councillors who endorsed the Sheppard LRT, said that combined with the other lines already approved, the city will be investing $4 billion in the underserved eastern suburb.
"We've got the biggest transit investment ever in the history of Scarborough," he beamed. "This is spectacular news, and we hope those shovels will be in the ground tomorrow."
After the vote, Ford said he was disappointed but promised he would not give up his fight to deliver the underground transit he is adamant a majority of Torontonians want.
"I feel sorry for the taxpayers, I feel sorry for the residents," he told reporters. "I did everything I could and we came up a few votes short."
"I'm not going to support the LRTs, I'm going to do everything in my power to try to stop it," Ford continued.
Asked what action he plans to take, the mayor said he would urge the premier and prime minister to build subways with the $8.4 billion and would make transit a major issue in the next election.
But Ford's flailing defeat over a key item of his agenda has left even his council allies bemoaning a lack of leadership from the mayor's office. In the months following Ford's cancellation the light rail network, he never managed to bring a funding plan for subways to the council floor, let alone getting it passed. Along the way he alienated key centrists and even rejected a proposal put forward by his own budget chief that would have used a parking levy to pay for an underground route on Sheppard.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong backed subways until the final vote, but believes that after Thursday's vote, it's clear the transit debate is not the mayor's strong suit.
"The mayor is most successful when he addresses issues that have to do with trying to get our finances under control, trying to reduce the cost and size of government," said Minnan-Wong, who sits on Ford's executive committee. "My advice to him is that's what the public wants him to do and those are the issues he should focus on."
At least two other members of the executive, Councillors Jaye Robinson and David Shiner, said the mayor showed a lack of direction throughout the debate.
Worse for Ford, there may be more headaches coming for him on transit. In a separate decision Thursday, council voted to request the city manager to look into new revenue tools that could be used to fund transit, and with even conservative councillors proposing parking levies and sales tax increases, it appears there is broad consensus to introduce some type of fee to pay for transit expansion. Ford has made clear he opposes any new taxes or levies, even ones dedicated to subway building.
Outside of the transit debate, the ramifications of Ford's recent losses will play out over the remainder of his term. The mayor maintains that it was a one-issue debate, and he still has council's support on the rest of his agenda, but his critics disagree.
Councillor Joe Mihevc says it's clear that power has shifted away from Ford.
"You're going to find councillors doing their own thinking rather than they mayor's office doing their thinking for them," he said.