Ford says ending the 'war on cars' a top priority
In his first news conference as Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, promised better customer service, a smaller government and an end to the "war on cars."
Ford officially became the mayor of Toronto on Wednesday, after winning 47 per cent of the vote just over a month ago.
"I ran on a platform as mayor of subways, and I was elected with quite a large mandate to build subways, and that's what I'm going to do," he told reporters.
But his opponents on city council vowed to defend the Transit City light rail plan.
"We are, for the first time, expanding transit across this city that we've waited generations for," said Coun. Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York). "And the mayor can't walk in on Day One and say, 'It's gone.'"
Former Mayor David Miller's administration came up with the $6-billion Transit City plan, which would build a 120-kilometre network of light rail transit across Toronto.
Subways cost about six times more per kilometre to build than light rail, but Ford said voters want subways.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the war on the car stops today," Ford announced. "We will not build any more rail tracks down the middle of our streets."
The news conference came after a busy morning for the newly minted mayor, whose first order of business was to tell the TTC chief general manager Gary Webster to abandon the Transit City project -- portions of which are already under construction.
"He has asked the TTC to work with Metrolinx and our board… on a new plan, a revised plan, that is more consistent with his vision for subways," Webster said after the morning meeting. Webster said the TTC would report back to the mayor in about six weeks.
About $130 million has already been spent by the province to build the light rail. Ford said the TTC board would put a "full stop" to spending at its first meeting on Dec. 8.
At Queen's Park, Premier Dalton McGuinty said he would work with Ford on revising the city's transit plans. He has previously said the provincial government would not pay any new expenses incurred in the shift.
Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne echoed that, saying, "I don't know exactly what the cost would be to get out of any of those contracts, but we've got $1.3 billion already committed in contracts."
Ford listed his administration's other priorities:
- improving customer service at City Hall
- boosting government accountability
- reducing the size and cost of government
"My campaign was based on a simple idea, that city hall should respect the taxpayer," Ford said. "That simple message reflected what people across this great city were saying, and what they continue to expect from this new city council"
Ford said his staff would be meeting with the city manager to discuss how to build a culture of customer service. He vowed that every phone call and every email sent to City Hall would receive a response.
"Toronto taxpayers expect the wasteful spending and the annual tax increases to come to an end. Toronto taxpayers do not want a larger budget and more spending," Ford said.
The city would work to a flat budget for 2011 with no major cuts to services, he said.
City council's first meeting will be a busy one. Ford said they would put an end to the city's $60 vehicle registration tax and move to declare the TTC an essential service, stripping its workers of the ability to go on strike.
Ford's detractors were also active on Wednesday. Several groups, including the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and No One is Illegal Toronto, were planning to picket outside City Hall to give Ford "the welcome he deserves."
According to a news release, the groups oppose Ford's plans to cut the city's fair wage policy and his plans for the TTC, and want his new administration to subsidize childcare and support community services.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Alicia Markson