Thirty-five people have thrown their hat into the ring in a bid to be named the 66th mayor of Toronto. But if recent polling is any indication, it’s a two-dog fight, with incumbent mayor John Tory holding a comfortable, but not insurmountable lead over Jennifer Keesmaat.
The two are quite familiar with each other. Keesmaat was the city’s chief planner during Tory’s mayoralty before she stepped down in August 2017.
Now they’re slugging it out on the campaign trail, hoping to sway voters before Torontonians head to the polls on Monday, October 22.
CityNews reporter Cynthia Mulligan sat down separately with both candidates to touch on some of the key topics that affect the every day lives of Torontonians.
Some answers below have been condensed but you can watch the entire CityVote special here.
Tory: “I will only say that the one thing people can count on from me is that we will continue to invest record amounts in the TTC. Throughout my term of office, each year there has been a record, certainly in the last year for sure, and I think in the first year, record additional investment made in the TTC.
“The first year I was mayor I used that investment to restore I think 60-plus bus routes that had been cut by my predecessor (Rob Ford). Subsequent to that we’ve added trains to the Yonge Street line to help with over-capacity. We’ve added express bus routes all over the city. We’ve have done all kinds of things that have resulted in nothing other than a very significantly increased investment in the TTC … So I will be looking to expand transit service, nothing else other than that…”
Keesmaat: “We’ve seen ridership flat-line in the city and we’ve also seen Mr. Tory break his promise, he was not going to raise fares. He did raise fares. We now have an incredibly expensive system. It’s been raised over the course of the past four year from $133 for a Metropass to $148 for a Metropass and yet service levels have not been increasing.
“We know that Mr. Tory wasted four years on SmartTrack and that didn’t materialize. It’s had no impact. We have longer commutes on transit and longer commutes in cars. We’ve got more congestion than we ever had in the city and I see that as a lack of leadership.”
Downtown Relief Line
Tory: “If you look at the record, the Downtown Relief Line has probably been talked about for 30 years … Under my leadership we’ve gone and got $200 million from the other governments to do the real detailed planning and design work that indicate we are really serious that we are moving forward with this …”
“I ask that question every quarter at the meeting I have with the transit officials in my office: ‘Is there anything we can do be doing to do this faster?’ and the answer that comes back is ‘no.’ So I ask it all the time and we are going to be proceeding ahead and If anybody answers and says there’s things we can do to speed it up I’ll be implementing those. But we are proceeding full speed ahead the fastest of any administration ever which previously did basically nothing to move it forward. They talked. They did nothing.”
Keesmaat: “We are decades behind. We have crazy overcrowding on the Yonge Line and what we’ve basically done is looked at the current approach and identified where we could fold together tasks that we could be doing simultaneously instead of doing them one after the other. So as we are doing station designs we can start purchasing the land we require for the alignment. We can do those tasks at the same time and shave three years off of that instead of losing time like Mr. Tory did because he was focused on SmartTrack.
Tory: “If you look back to 2009 there were targets set for the construction of affordable rental housing by the city council of the day and the mayor of the day, it was David Miller, those targets were not met until part way through my administration … so we’ve met them and we’ve now exceeded them and that is something that I’m happy about.
“We’ve discovered that what is key to meeting those targets for the first time ever, was putting up city land, putting up city resources where we could, by way of deferred development charges, deferred taxes and so on, and inviting the private sector to come in and build the affordable rental housing we need. Now the challenge is to ramp that up substantially … so I’ve committed to building 40,000 new units.”
Keesmaat: “We’ve lost so much ground over the past 10 years. We are now the most expensive city in Canada in which to rent. And that’s a problem for low income communities and it’s also a problem for young people who are coming to this city who are employed and can’t access housing.
“I’ve put forward a plan that’s bold, but it’s also realistic and it is a plan to deliver 100,000 units of affordable rental housing on city-owned land. Now, Mr. Tory thinks this plan is too bold, in fact I’ve worked with the housing industry and the building industry says ‘we need more supply.’ So right now we are selling off those city-owned lands, surface parking lots for example, and we are selling them off and we are actually fueling the high-end luxury market The city is playing a role in that. It’s crazy. We have an opportunity to use that land to deliver affordable housing.”
The difference between their housing plans
Tory: “One is realistic and the other is not, it’s as simple as that … the 40,000 units that I’ve talked about came from our city staff who actually gave me a lower number as the maximum they could do and I pushed them to get it a bit higher. The 100,000 number you see coming around out there from others has been deemed by the people who build the houses to be, and I quote them ‘doomed to failure and unrealistic.’ ”
Keesmaat: “There’s a fundamental difference between my platform and Mr. Tory’s. Mr. Tory’s assumes that we will continue to use some city-owned land for luxury housing and my platform actually assumes something very different. That the city will play a leadership role and make a core part of its mandate delivering a significant amount of affordable rental housing.”
Tackling gun violence
Tory: “First support the police, and we’ve had some help from Premier Ford and his government to make sure we can hire 200 police officers this year, and 200 officers next year. And those officers will be deployed largely in neighbhourhoods walking the beat the old fashioned way.
“Secondly, change the laws … why does anybody who lives in the city of Toronto need to have a handgun? I don’t believe they do. I’ve got the federal government to the point … to say that they are going to have formal national consultations this fall on the notion of banning handguns, which I think would help to curb the supply of guns.”
“Finally, and I think most importantly, invest in kids and families. And this is where we had huge partnership with the federal government to make sure we provide the supports, the programs that are going to keep kids in school, help them with their homework, offer them an arts or music or sports program, get them a mentor, help them get a summer job. We have to invest in those communities …”
Keesmaat: “First of all in the last election he (Tory) said that a gun ban was an empty gesture. He was dead wrong. I’ve always supported a gun ban and an ammunition ban in our city. Guns have no role in a city. They absolutely have no reason to exist in our city other than to harm people.
“We need a clear public safety strategy. Mr. Tory came to office and what did he do? He froze the police budget and he froze the hiring of police officers. Then we had a crisis emerge and he said ‘oh look, let’s hire more officers.’ That yo-yo-ing approach does not help a city become safer over time. So I’ve brought forward a plan that is all about delivering community safety and well-being plans at the neighbourhood level. Policing is just one tool to deliver community safety, but we need a collaboration through neighourhood plans between policing, our school boards, our community centres, our United Way agencies, our faith based communities and cultural groups at the neighbourhood level … My commitment is to put pro-active safety plans in every single neighbourhood of the city within two years.”
The city’s financial health
Tory: “I think if you look at some of the progress we’ve made, we got $9 billion thanks to good partnerships that I nurtured with the other governments. We got $9 billion to pay for the first phase of the transit plan that I’m determined not to see delayed as others would do … We are going to have substantial sums of money flowing to the city of Toronto that address precisely that list of projects as a result of the national housing strategy which I was a leading advocate of.
“I will not take, especially seniors and young people, who are struggling right now to pay all of their bills including one of the biggest bills they pay every year, their property tax bill, and say I’m going to send you a bill for 5 or 6 per cent. That is simply going to make it more difficult for people to afford to live here and afford to have a home in Toronto and I won’t do that.”
Keesmaat: “We have this challenge that we face in our city right now, is that we’ve had some level headed, sophisticated, smart, tough-minded city managers who have come forward and said ‘look what you are doing the way you are managing your finances is unsustainable and there has been no response on the political level. Mr. Tory continues to propose the same approach, the status quo approach.”
“I think there’s three key opportunities here. The first is we know you cannot support a city of this magnitude and this scale off the property tax-base alone and we need a realignment with other levels of government in terms of the money that’s being invested into this city. The second step is we need to be spending our money on the right thing. We have billion-dollar infrastructure projects that have been demonstrated to add little value through a cost benefit analysis. The Gardiner Expressway — the business case said tear down that crumbling infrastructure and put a grand boulevard in its place and we can do that for $500 million less. Torontonians don’t want their money thrown out the door. We have to be responsible and transparent and use good data and analytics in our decision making.
“The third is a progressive approach to property taxes. Having the people who have done the very, very best in our real estate market, contributing a little bit more back so that the next generation can access home ownership. It’s a progressive tax.”