Tory would be respectable mayor, but we need more

john1John  Sewell —

A prediction  that John Tory will take the election as the next Toronto mayor seems fairly safe at this point a few weeks before election day.

He has the backing of leading Ontario figures in both the Conservative and Liberal parties, and that’s a pretty powerful  combination, leaving Olivia and her progressive instincts on the outside, no matter how well she manages to turn around her otherwise lacklustre campaign. Doug Ford doesn’t have those naïve and innocent qualities of his brother Rob which apparently appealed to so many people: he comes across as a bully, often showing an unpleasant and thuggish threat, which doesn’t attract votes.

This is one cost of having Rob Ford as mayor. Many people are so eager to ensure that we dispense with that errant leadership that they will vote for someone who is more solid and reliable, even if lacking the progressive elements that so often have been part of Toronto municipal politics. And John Tory has certainly not shown a progressive side in this campaign.

He wants to keep the crumbling Gardiner Expressway standing, even if it costs $750 million to do so, almost twice as much as it would cost to demolish. Many other cities have shown that significant improvements happen when downtown expressways are taken down, but Tory is putting that decision  off for at least a generation.

He is apparently not convinced that jets have no place on the Toronto waterfront, and has refused to commit himself to ensuring that does not happen at the Island airport. Maybe he’ll be in a conflict of interest on this issue, since his son owns a business at the airport: that would mean he couldn’t provide the leadership needed to ensure jets are confined to Pearson.

He is committed to proceeding with extending the subway into Scarborough even though a light rapid transit system would be $1 billion cheaper and would serve more people better. At a time when new transit facilities—buses, light rail, and indeed subways—are so badly needed in Toronto there’s no good argument which can be made for wasting a billion dollars on transit infrastructure we don’t need.

Some 40% of the property tax dollars raised by the city are spent on police services, but John Tory hasn’t gotten behind any of the good ways to reduce those expenditures without reducing services, such as by getting rid of the rule requiring two officers in a car after dark, or changing the shift schedule so police are paid only for working 24 hours every day rather than 28 hours. Police issues rarely are raised in election campaigns, but this time they have come to the fore—Olivia has been addressing them, as well as other candidates such as Ari Goldkind—but John Tory has avoided them.

On the question of Downtown development and the tsunami of condo towers, we have heard nothing from John Tory. We clearly need a change of direction in city building, but this doesn’t seem to be on his radar.

Then there’s the money problem. The city does not have enough revenue to address its needs, whether it is the billion dollars needed to repair Toronto Community Housing units, build better transit, build new affordable housing, or expand city services in the fields of day care, youth recreation or city planning. Tory argues that he will have good relationships with politicians at the provincial and federal levels and those good relations will mean they will provide money to the city. Good luck to him. The province has money problems of its own and Stephen Harper is for cutting taxes, not for funding better public services.

Toronto needs to get more serious about raising its own revenue. The city currently has the lowest property taxes of any municipality in the GTA. Setting our property tax rate at the average rate in the GTA would generate an extra $400 million a year, but Tory says he’ll constrain any property tax increase to less than the rate of inflation.

johnIf the prediction is right and John Tory is elected, we’ll have a more reliable and respectable mayor, but it’s unlikely we’ll have a mayor who can move the city forward in the progressive direction that is needed. Maybe Olivia can convince people in the next few weeks that’s a problem, but it will be an uphill battle.

John Sewell is a former Mayor of Toronto.