New mayor is John Tory – When will things get better?

Stig Harvor –

stig1The exhausting Toronto city election has finally ended! Despite its marathon 10-month length, public attention has been riveted as seldom if ever before on the race for mayor. Voter participation at 64% set a new record. This is a laudable achievement. The previous record was 51% in 2010 with the election of Rob Ford. Before that the rates were well below 40%.

This election, however, has occurred under very special circumstances. We have just lived through four years of unprecedented division and tumult in our civic affairs.

We have suffered under an administration led by a mayor totally incapable in both his public and private life, to rise from a constituent-fixated suburban counsillor to the leader of a complex megacity.

Our newly elected mayor, John Tory, is a very capable man. He promises to end the raucous and unseemly Ford City Hall Circus. During the election campaign, he created the impression he was the calming, level-headed influence an exasperated public desperately needed and wanted.

Tory’s own long career as a politician is one of multiple, earlier failures to win.

His victory this time is not based so much on his own virtues as on strategic voting.

He effectively positioned himself as the safest bet to keep the reviled and discredited Fords out. It worked.

But what is worrisome is that Doug Ford still got one-third of all votes cast. And his seriously ailing brother, Rob, was handily re-elected in his Etobicoke Ward 2.

Also the young 21-year old Ford nephew, Michael Ford, was elected as school trustee without actively campaigning. Grievance, gullibility and alienation are still alive and well in our city.

Tory is a conservative, civic-minded business person. Just like the Fords, he took advantage of strong public resistance to paying more in taxes. The trouble for many people today is that their incomes are stagnant or even falling. Ordinary people feel insecure, neglected and fearful.

The cause is our economic system. Actions of greedy cowboy capitalists lead to booms and busts. What we need is more co-operation toward the common good, not just competition for private gain.

Cities’ main sources of revenue are from property taxes. Such taxes are not related to people’s ability to pay. Toronto property taxes are the lowest in the Greater Toronto Area. But this is of little balm to people who feel squeezed financially.

The so-called higher orders of government, provincial and federal, monopolize taxes based on income. (New York City levies an individual and corporate income tax.) Toronto only receives back 8% of all taxes paid by their residents. (Many American cities have their own sales tax or receive part of a state-wide sales tax.)

Former mayor David Miller vainly tried to get a larger slice of the pie for Toronto.

No such effort entered the current mayoralty debate. The three main contenders only said they would keep property taxes around or within the rate of inflation, now about 2%.

Even Olivia Chow, strongly aware of the need for added city revenue, felt constrained to only propose a modest increase in the land-transfer tax for expensive homes that sold for $2 million or more.

Perhaps she would have been more successful by challenging today’s fundamental problem of the 1% and the 99%, the grossly unequal and unfair distribution of the great wealth in our city.

Tory claims he is eminently suited to work with the provincial and federal governments. Their support is vital for many city services, including transportation.

He sought and received election endorsement from a varied crew of provincial and federal politicians, both Conservative and Liberal. Will they help now with actual money? (As a long-time Conservative Party member himself, Tory admitted he had supported Rob and Doug Ford in the last, fateful 2010 city election.)

stigIn the end, the political views of the newly elected city councillors are crucial to the future functioning of our civic government. Our mayor only has one vote among 45. We have avoided what is called a “strong mayor” system. It would have been a disaster with Rob Ford in charge. City council thankfully remains supreme. How it will line up is yet to be seen.

Tory’s victory means we will lose Chow and at least one of the two Fords in the formal political life of our city. Tory’s election platform was strong on improving the hard, physical infrastructure of our city.

It was weak on improving the equally important soft and neglected social, human infrastructure.

Tory could benefit our city by assisting to find a significant civic, public position for Chow. Based on her long, active, successful political life, we need her help in building a city that serves all of us.