Toronto’s mayoral election on Oct. 22 is fast approaching, so Post City spoke with the two leading mayoral candidates to discuss the current issues facing the GTA and find out how either contender aims to go about solving them. Here’s what Mayor John Tory and mayoral candidate and former chief planner for the City of Toronto Jennifer Keesmaat had to say about the current state of affairs in Toronto…
On the transit haters:
We have $9 billion dollars in transit commitments from the other two governments today that are on the books for just the first phase of the transit plan I’m running on for re-election: $9 billion! We didn’t have one penny of that when I became mayor. Not one penny. And, I will tell you, I’m not the kind of person who runs around taking credit for a lot of stuff including how well the city is doing. But, I’ll tell you, on this, I will take the credit for it because it was the result of my personal diplomacy with those other governments.… I just look at that and say, boy that looks like a good deal that the people of Toronto put up a billion dollars and get six new transit stations plus the refurbished stations.
On keeping a lid on property taxes:
In the four years that I was mayor, I committed myself to bringing forward budgets that had property and commercial tax increases at or below the rate of inflation. We did that, and we did it at the same time as we produced, in each of those years, significant surpluses, which by the way, surpluses in the case of city policy, go back into the capital fund and they go into replenishing our reserves. So we had property tax at or below the rate of inflation in each of those years, surpluses in each of those years and new investments in each of those years.
On Rail Deck Park North:
I would say that, just as I believe in the Raildeck Park as the best answer by far for those lands, we have not too far from Yonge and Eglinton another similar piece of land that also happens to be used for a very similar purpose at the moment, namely a train yard [at Davisville and Yonge]. And, I initiated some discussions a while ago about that because it’s kind of an eyesore. It kind of separates one part of the city from another, and it represents an opportunity, if in context of Hudson Yards or Raildeck Park, to do that downtown. Why wouldn’t it be possible somewhere else?
On the Ontario Place casino rumours:
I’ll just say, first of all, I do not believe great cities have downtown casinos. They just don’t.… When it comes to Ontario Place, there you have one of the prime pieces of waterfront land that you have for some modified purpose in all of Toronto.… So, my answer to these rumours that I hear is, not if I have anything to do with it.
On mental health and homelessness:
I’ve not used the word “crisis’ in any context except as regards mental health and addiction. If you really want to address homelessness, I think we have to help address the refugee problem more effectively, which I believe we are on the road to doing right now mostly between the city and the federal government. And on the mental health issue, I think we need to get the co-operation [from the Province of Ontario], because I believe, if those two things were addressed [mental health and refugees], you’d suddenly find the question becomes a less pressing one. We would still have more homelessness than you’d like to have, because one is too many, but you wouldn’t have these terrible surges. What we are doing this winter is we have purchased three of these [portable] Sprung buildings.… I think they are going to be of a [good] quality, in terms of the way in which the people can be looked after that need the help. It’s an investment in extra capacity for winter.
Jennifer Keesmaat filled the Post City team in on her plan, should she be elected on Oct. 22
On a park for the old TTC bus barns site at Yonge and Eglinton:
I want to make it clear, at the outset, that I completely agree with you that we need more park space at Yonge and Eglinton and this goes back to the earlier comment about when you just keep approving buildings without pulling the lens out and saying, “Hold on a minute. What’s the overall direction that we’re going in here?” And that’s why, when I arrived as chief planner, I championed and drove forward and allocated staff to getting Midtown in Focus [planning study] in place because Midtown in Focus is all about saying, “OK, this is a rapidly urbanizing area. How do we ensure that we’re not killing the golden goose? How do we ensure that we have the public space, the park space that’s required to continue to deliver on a high quality of life?” And I think many people would argue, and I’m in that category, that we’re at that tipping point.
On affordability and what the city is doing wrong right now:
We’re selling off our city-owned lands to developers to build a luxury product. If affordability is a key issue in the city, let’s actually stop doing that. And let’s build affordable housing on that land. So I think there’s a lot of different ways into this problem. There’s a lot of different ways to address this, and we need to be embracing those variety of ways that we can to address this. But the key principle is that we should not be increasing the affordability burden. That’s not the role of the city.
On saving main street business nodes:
There has been advanced, through the province approximately a year ago, a special tax category for cultural uses as a way of protecting cultural uses.… We need the same thing for main street uses. We need to ensure that we are putting clear and strong policy in place that respects the small-scale entrepreneurs, the small-scale neighbourhood uses that so many of us cherish in our neighbourhoods. It is actually one of the beautiful things of living in Toronto. And I think it’s at risk without proactive policy.
On a new approach to policing:
We have a challenge in our city because we have, for many years, been taking a really reactive approach, and I think that does come from the mayor’s chair. It’s been a reactive approach. There’s been a cut in policing. We need to ensure that we have a proactive approach where we’re working with communities, with grassroots organizations, with neighbourhoods in order to deliver, really, a community-based approach to policing.
On bad politics and prioritizing Bloor Street bike lanes and Transform Yonge:
They absolutely need to be prioritized. [We need Bloor Street bike lanes.] And I’ll say that the politics around Transform Yonge were exceedingly disappointing. It’s another example of back of the napkin planning. There was a plan. That plan was costed. [Then] there was a plan made on the back of the napkin, which the mayor then supported, that resulted in an extra $20 million bill with no value for it. There was a no value proposition advanced. And I think, actually, Torontonians are tired, really tired of that. We want to see value. We want to see a real plan and the execution of a real plan instead of something that’s about, you know, horse-trading votes.