John Tory will be sworn in as mayor of Toronto this coming Tuesday, December 2. The beginning of his term will also mark the end of a tumultuous period in Toronto municipal politics. Toronto was witness to unprecedented disruption at city hall during the four years that the Brothers Ford held us all in thrall.
While Rob Ford may yet return as councillor for Ward 2 Etobicoke North pending cancer treatment, we may now look forward to a calmer, more dignified period.
Despite his controversial time in office, Ford can rightfully claim that he was able to keep a number of his campaign promises. He was able to make the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service so there will be no possibility of legal strikes during contract negotiations. That is, frontline workers, at least, will not be able to legally strike.
Ford got garbage disposal privatized for half the city, was able to get a contract agreement with city workers that avoided strikes and he kept the wage increase at a minimum.
But, it was under Ford that the light rapid transit (LRT) funding that had already been in place and set to go lost ground. Ford’s insistence on subways being built at a higher cost than that planned for rapid transit, and his inability to find funding for his subway pipe dream put public transit infrastructure back by years.
Therefore, we will pay attention to how much of what Tory promised from his campaign platform will be accomplished over the next four years. Chief among them, his SmartTrack plan for solving our current public transit problem won him both public confidence and criticism. It wins points for fitting neatly with the infrastructure plan already laid out by MetroLinx, the public transportation planning group for the GTA and Hamilton areas.
Tory has set a seven-year time line for this plan which would make use of GO Transit rail lines that already exist and would link to important employment hubs in the downtown core, in Markham and the business area around Pearson Airport.
Nonetheless, Tory’s plan still does not reach out to the underserved areas, places like Rexdale in the northwest and Malvern in the east. These areas, from which travel to the downtown core can take hours because bus service is not frequent enough, may not see much improvement under the SmartTrack plan and that has to be addressed if, as Tory says, he also seeks to unite the city.
It’s a safe bet that even those who say they want subways in these areas would accept the plan for light rapid transit if it can get them to work and home in a fraction of the time it now does by bus.
The other concern raised regarding Tory’s plan is how to pay the city’s $8 billion share of capital costs. His funding plan depends heavily on tax increment financing (TIF), passing the cost to any new developments that arise along the new transit lines, rather than enacting any new municipal taxes.
TIF has worked in other jurisdictions, New York City being one example, but here in Toronto it is relying on the idea that “if we build it they will come”. This might work well in the new development areas around the Lower Don Lands. Yet, it is a bold gambit to bet on maybes at this point.
We look forward to what else Tory has in mind for fostering a more unified city. There is no question that we are marked by our cultural and ethnic diversity. But what is significantly dividing the city at this time is growing income inequality, more significantly, income inequality that exists along racial lines.
Immigrants drawn here by the city’s profile as a place that welcomes the peoples of the world find that once here, their highly valued education and skills are not being put to use. We still have too many with advanced education, driving taxis, doing security guard work or delivering pizzas. We also now have among the most highly educated group of recent university graduates holding down jobs in discount stores and fast food restaurants. Tory promised to work with the private sector to address this crisis. We look forward to seeing the results of that endeavour.
At the very least, we know that we will not be facing “Ford more years”.