A river of rhetoric will run past us in the next 163 days as some of the 25 people campaigning to become Toronto’s next mayor pour out their ideas about how to make this city a better place in which to live. We will hear some hyperbolic sales pitches as we try to decide whom best to gamble on to head Toronto City Council for the next four years.
We think it is critical, therefore, to highlight a few of the concerns and expectations anyone seriously aiming for our votes must have in his or her game plan, and not just for the purposes of campaigning.
Two major issues that must be addressed with concrete plans, and not just promises, are affordable housing and public transportation.
Toronto’s real estate market may be red hot but over 60,000 families are languishing on waiting lists for affordable housing. Applicants wait an average of five years before receiving an offer for subsidized housing. We need to hear a comprehensive plan for the redistribution of affordable housing across the city that goes beyond the revitalization of Regent Park. Additionally, we look forward to the plans already laid out for Lawrence Heights to also move forward with haste and efficiency, and that the construction will not end up in the fiasco that we have witnessed with the streetcar right of way on St. Clair Avenue West. Officials have admitted that procedures for that construction, two years overdue and more than $10 million over its projected budget, have been poorly executed.
We also expect that those elected to the next council will focus on changing the City of Toronto’s reputation as a negligent landlord. To rehabilitate this undesirable title, priority must be given to adequately repairing public housing stock. That means funds allocated for affordable housing must be used for affordable housing.
By the way, controversial councilor, Giorgio Mammoliti, who is also running to be mayor of Toronto, has been the head of Council’s affordable housing committee.
We are also looking for a strong commitment on public transit and infrastructure development. An up-to-date, responsive public transportation system is essential to the future growth and success of this city. The retardation of the system cannot be allowed to continue.
Mayor David Miller has launched a campaign to get the public to put pressure on the provincial government to reinstate the $5 billion that was withdrawn from the Metrolinx plan. The next mayor needs to make the same or an even stronger commitment to get the province to honour its funding agreements in this area. Stepping back from investing in public transit will strangle this city. Traffic congestion already costs Toronto some $3.3 billion annually in lost productivity.
We expect to hear mayoral candidates making a strong statement of commitment to seeing an efficient line built from Pearson Airport to downtown Toronto. Until this is realized, any ideas of Toronto being a ‘world class’ city will remain mere talk. This is also important when we look ahead to the Pan-American Games, scheduled to be held here in 2015. Can we get this done?
A word here about public recreation facilities: They should not be used as a bargaining chip when it comes time to balancing the city’s budget. Recreation facilities are investments into the wellbeing of the city and every time there is a threat to cutting these services what we, as residents of this city, need to understand is that the vitality of the city is being threatened. We need to hear from the candidates if and how they plan to develop recreational facilities in areas that are now underserved.
In answer to the funding question, the Toronto Board of Trade has done the work for campaigners and offered some credible points for stabilizing the city’s budget. They are worth consideration. Suggestions include contracting out some TTC routes, garbage collection and road repairs. The board has also suggested creating multi-year projections for operating budgets and cutting back city workers’ pensions. This last one will cause controversy, but managing this city, post-amalgamation, must be decisively dealt with to make this city livable for all.