By TOM GODFREY
Public transit, traffic congestion and cutting waste are high-priority issues for voters and candidates stomping on the campaign trail for the mayor’s job.
Contenders are busy rolling out their carefully thought-out platforms to reduce gridlock and wait times that they know affect a majority of voters.
Former MP Olivia Chow is holding her own and ahead of rivals Mayor Rob Ford and John Tory in the polls this week, but there are many speeches and photo-ops left until October.
Her vocal supporters vow she has a good chance of becoming Toronto’s first visible minority mayor.
Chow’s well-organized campaign is targeting voters on the political left, who have had enough of fiscal right-wingers Ford and Tory.
A Toronto Star poll conducted last week shows Chow with 34 per cent support, Ford with 27 per cent, Tory with 24 per cent.
High-profile candidates Karen Stintz and David Soknacki obtained less than 10 per cent support, according to the poll.
Ford, who has lost support due to crack smoking and drunkenness, was treated as a rock star last Thursday during the official launch of his campaign in Etobicoke. Hundreds of Ford Nation members packed the Toronto Congress Centre on Dixon Rd. to score freebies, food and beer as they cheered for the Mayor.
“My record is second to none,” Ford told screaming supporters. “My plan will keep your money in your pocket where it belongs.”
He pledged to continue cutting taxes and reducing the waste at City Hall.
“I will continue to challenge the elitists and those who want to overspend,” he said above the noise. “You have always had my back and I will always have yours.”
Members of Ford Nation danced to a band and took photos around a fire truck that was adorned with campaign posters.
The decorated fire truck landed the Mayor and his campaign manager brother, Doug, in some hot water hours later. Toronto fire fighters were quick to point out they do not endorse Ford due to recent budget cuts and the decommissioning of four fire trucks.
On the streets, Chow and Tory have been going head-to-head pitching policies for faster commute times and transit service.
Chow plans to crack down on drivers who block curb lanes and intersections during rush hour; charge builders more, the longer they close a curb lane to construct a building; fine contractors who close lanes when no work is underway and fine utility companies that dig holes in the road but don’t repair them properly.
She will provide motorists more notices of upcoming closures; hire a traffic liaison person for the Mayor’s Office and use revenue from fines to fill potholes.
Tory, a former business executive, has been making inroads with seniors in the downtown area, who are more likely to get out and vote.
He will review the fees builders pay the City for permission to close curb lanes to ease construction, co-ordinate traffic lights, explore the use of water taxis on Lake Ontario and add express buses to routes such as Dufferin St. and Don Mills Rd.
Tory will retain the east end of the Gardiner Expressway from Jarvis St., to the Don Valley Parkway.
He said his “Fighting Gridlock Initiative” will lead to the building of smarter roads and waterways to get “Toronto moving again”.
This will help “ease the traffic congestion facing frustrated Toronto citizens each and every day,” he stressed. “Improving our roads is vital to the health of our City but we can do a better job.”
The push for votes by candidates have taken them in the last week to a Hindu Temple, Easter religious festivals, park clean-ups, and the Harry Jerome Awards, of which Tory boasted of being a winner for Diversity in 2011.
There is a lot on the line and voters have to hold candidates responsible for their actions and ask hard questions before making a final choice this fall.