By PATRICK HUNTER
There is an old saying that has, at times, proven itself over the years. ‘Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.’ But this is one time when the preference would be anyone but the devil I know. Finally, once more, the opportunity to set aside buffoonery in the leadership of this city will be in our hands – we can only hope.
John Tory, the former Ontario PC leader and a former candidate for mayor of Toronto, has now made it official. He will seek to replace Rob Ford in the upcoming municipal election slated for this fall.
Also joining the slowly growing list of candidates this week was Councillor Karen Stintz, the former TTC chair who resigned that post to become a candidate.
Including Ford, the list of high profile candidates now stands at four. A former councillor and budget chief, David Soknacki, was one of the early ones to announce his candidacy.
There is still room for other candidates for mayor. Toronto has always had a long list of candidates – some were serious contenders, others were just along for the ride, and yet some to bring a touch of levity or ridicule to the process.
One of the anticipated big name potential candidates has yet to declare her intentions. Federal NDP MP and former Toronto city councillor Olivia Chow has been courted and has confirmed that she is thinking about it. I expect that we will get her decision, one way or the other, very soon. Should Chow enter the race – and polls done by Toronto’s daily media indicate that she would enter the race as the frontrunner – it sets up for me a slate of candidates that have the potential to restore a sense of responsible leadership that has been missing for the last three years.
So far, all the high profile declared candidates represent a conservative flavour both in thinking and in political affiliation. Chow’s candidacy would likely reflect a centre-left view in both areas.
One of the big issues that seemed to cause the greatest confusion and one that is sorely lacking in leadership is the transit issue. Do we build subways or light–rail transit? How do we pay for it? Let’s face it, the auto industry is very important to the Ontario economy, which in turn affects the City of Toronto’s economy. Selling and buying cars help to keep the economy moving. Part of the problem is that we are running out of room to accommodate the increasing population of cars on our roads and in our downtown parking lots.
But, more significantly, is the fact that the vast majority of the population cannot afford a car. The vast majority of the population working in Toronto rely heavily on mass transit. That means that the majority of employees need and depend on accessible reliable transit service to get to where they need to be to make their contributions to the economy. It is necessary then, and only governments have the capacity to do this, to facilitate that key infrastructure to guarantee that movement of people. It is therefore necessary for governments to look into the future and, based on facts and reasonable probabilities, plan to ensure that the capacity to move masses of people is met. That sense of planning seems to have been lost.
There is a historical basis for this in part. It goes back to the Mike Harris government in the mid-to-late nineties. The previous government led by Bob Rae had undertaken the building of a new subway route along Eglinton Avenue. In comes Mike Harris and, in his zeal to cut government expenditures, decided to cancel the subway, filling in the subway path under construction. In the meantime, he also decided to amalgamate the six municipalities that made up the Municipality of Toronto into one big city. These moves changed the planning focus but not the plans. He downloaded many of the responsibilities of running the city, making it responsible for providing services without the normal level of financial transfers required to maintain and improve services.
The pie available for the support of key services was reduced, which in turn meant that choices had to be made. Expanding transit therefore took a beating.
We are now at a point in our history where transit is vastly proving to be inadequate. It has not kept pace with the growth of the city. Whether the original transit plans of the ’90s would be adequate now is one of those arguments which would be meaningless, with the exception that it demonstrates the consequences of a lack of sound forward planning, sticking to it while making adjustments within reasonable contingencies for changes.
So, at the beginning of the current council term, a spanner was thrown into the works of what appeared to have been a settled growth pattern for rapid transit. Turf wars opened up between the city’s and the province’s transit planning groups. The result is that some aspects of the plan appear to be in disarray.
One can only hope that under new leadership, which must change, we will return to a responsible and accountable council that will provide reliable and serious leadership.