TORONTO - Mayor Rob Ford broke ranks with his council allies and voted against a part of his own budget Tuesday.
Ford shocked many - including his supporters on council - by voting for a surprise move by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to freeze taxes in the 2013 budget rather than approve the 2% hike proposed by his own Budget Chief and endorsed by his executive committee.
The vote to freeze taxes lost 4 to 40. Ford then went on to vote in favour of the proposed 2% increase.
Ford's vote - after he urged councillors to support the budget in its entirety - prompted sharp criticism from councillors on his own executive committee.
"I don't understand why he did it," Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said after the vote.
"It seems to me that some of us are more supportive of his budget than he is.
"I don't think any mayor in the history of the City of Toronto has proposed a budget & then voted against his own tax rate increase."
Minnan-Wong questioned if Ford truly understood what he did when he voted for the tax freeze.
George Christopoulos, Ford's press secretary, said Ford was being "open-minded."
"If Council supported it, he'd happily find the money," Christopoulos said. "But they didn't. He is fine with that. He is pleased with the Budget that's been assembled."
Councillor Doug Ford accused Minnan-Wong of "politicking."
"You guys know Rob, he's not going to vote for an increase if he doesn't have to," Ford said. "That's just Rob saying we don't really need it. We have a 0% but 2% is what he can get through council.
"He's been very flexible on this budget. It's a great budget. It's an infrastructure budget. It is the best budget in North America," he added.
Ford foe Councillor Gord Perks - who unsuccessfully asked council to hike taxes by 3% - wouldn't speculate on why the mayor voted against his own budget.
"It's interesting to note that he voted against the budget that he got up and spoke about in glowing terms," Perks said.
"I'm not sure he actually has a clear idea of what financial future he wants to have for the City of Toronto."
"The mayor doesn't seem to know what he is doing," he added.
Council is expected to spend the rest of the day debating the city's $9.4 billion budget.
A tug-of-war over cuts to the Toronto Fire Service is expected. A source says there could be a deal to avoid a fight on the council floor and provide funding for Toronto Public Health's student nutrition program.
Mayor Ford started the day by trumpeting the budget in a hastily called press conference before the meeting.
"The 2013 budget is a turning point, it is a historical turning point in Toronto and a turning point for this administration," Ford said.
"For the first time in TOronto's history, we have budget that will not rely on prior year's surpluses or one-time found money to be balanced."
Ford gave his pre-meeting speech from a podium with a sign saying "Budget 2013: Turning the Corner."
"Over the past two years we have worked hard to turn the corner. We have worked hard to eliminate budget gaps, hold the line on spending and keep your taxes low," he said. "In short, this is a sustainable budget that will provide people with the confidence they need from their local government."
The mayor went through a laundry list of spending included in the proposed budget and encouraged councillors to support the document.
"This budget did not come without the usual fear-mongering from the usual suspects," Ford said.
"I urge council to support this budget and continue along the path toward a brighter, stronger future for this great city."
Firefighters wearing red T-shirts protesting the proposed cuts to Toronto Fire Services are out in force at Tuesday's meeting.
In pushing for a 2013 tax freeze, Mammoliti argued the city could make up the revenue with a casino boat on the city's shore and avoid cuts to emergency services like Toronto Fire.
"You could effectively and immediately set up a temporary casino on a boat on the waterfront," he said.
Perks argued a 3% tax hike was necessary to prevent councillors from passing a budget that makes services worse in the city.
"This is not a good news budget," he said.
"This is a budget that says to Torontonians you have to wait for the services you pay for," Perks said.
Given Ford's ongoing court battle, Tuesday's council meeting could be his last as the city's mayor. Ford is still waiting for the decision in his appeal of the judicial order tossing him out of office for violating the municipal conflict of interest act.
The Sun will be in city council chambers covering all the action.