These are my initial impressions of the campaign so far since it is still rather early, although, if I’m honest, it’s probably going to be Olivia Chow, but I’ll be watching how the campaign unfolds quite closely. I’m hoping to write a (more) substantive blog post about all the candidates for council I like later on. For now, there are a few things to note even this early on.
First of all, I’m pretty sure I’m considered a raging socialist by most typical standards although I can’t say I subscribe to socialism because I am not really familiar with the philosophy behind but anyway, this means that I can be considered your standard urban progressive equipped with some awareness of municipal politics.
There are two basic things which I’m using as a litmus test: taxes and transit.
This is not to say that other issues aren’t important, but because I understand these issues the most so they’re the lens through which I see most of the politics of this city. They also provide a fairly accurate classification of the kinds of positions a candidate will take on a wide range of other issues like housing, social services, and general ideas about city-building.
So, why taxes and transit?
Every candidate is going to claim fiscal responsibility because everyone wants politicians to be spending taxes as little as possible. So what candidates are saying about taxes and how much they’re going to raise or lower them by is something to pay attention to. This is the same in every election, but in this election, there’s something looming ahead which hasn’t been discussed and isn’t really something that people are paying attention to unless they’re boring nerds who watch council meetings for fun.
At the special council meeting for the 2014 budget, the city’s CFO made a presentation. During that presentation, he outlined the operating budget for 2014 and pointed to some challenges over the next two years. There are two things that he noted. The first is that the city is losing a major provincial grant which will place a pressure on the budget outlook. The other thing he mentioned was that even without that loss of funding, property tax increases above the rate of inflation are going to be necessary to maintain the current level of services.
Of course, what level of services is necessary is something that’s up for debate. The problem is that candidates who promise not to raise taxes always promise that service levels won’t be impacted. That’s the exact pledge that Rob Ford made in 2010. The problem with this is that the KPMG Core Service review that he launched in order to find efficiencies basically came back with nothing. Toronto was already as efficient as it could be at current service levels. Significant savings won’t be found unless there are some drastic cuts in services.
So what I’m looking for here is a candidate who will address this problem. Either we need to see significant increases in property taxes or candidates have to say what services they consider unnecessary and will place on the chopping block.
The second thing that I’m looking at is what the candidates plan to do with transit. When Miller left office in 2010, he had significantly increased surface transit service levels and had an ambitious rapid transit plan to connect large parts of the city outside of the downtown core. Rob Ford quickly put a stop to both of those things during his first year in office.
The big ticket items that candidates are going to be talking about are the Downtown Relief Line and the Scarborough RT replacement. As a resident of Scarborough (Ward 42), this has been a serious point of frustration for me, because most Scarborough councillors either don’t understand the challenges of using transit in our part of the city or don’t care about transit riders.
Other than the big ticket items, there’s the issue of how to pay for all of it as well as improving regular old bus service. There’s no substitute for better bus service in places like my literal corner of the city. The focus of huge capital projects is to connect the city together but we’ve forgotten that just getting around the same part of the city is still a huge challenge in a lot of places. A subway isn’t going to fix that.
So, these two things immediately rule out three of the five major candidates for me. I’ll assume you are all familiar with Rob Ford. That leaves Councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16 Eglinton—Lawrence) and John Tory.
During this term, Stintz served as the Chair of the TTC and had significantly more of impact on transit service than the mayor. Her legacy includes following in Ford’s footsteps in reducing surface transit service levels, restoring Miller’s light rail transit plan, and then subsequently placing it in jeopardy again by pushing for a hastily planned and costly subway extension. This single act disqualified her from consideration.
John Tory is a former mayoral candidate and former leader of the provincial conservatives. It’s unlikely that I’ll share his views on taxation and other policy. But it’s his position on the Scarborough RT replacement that is in direct conflict with his stated concern for fiscal responsibility that makes me raise my eyebrows to the ceiling.
That leaves two major candidates: Olivia Chow and David Soknacki.
First, David Soknacki is known as a former councillor who is relatively conservative but served as the first budget chief for High Archcommunist Mayor David Miller. He wants the Scarborough RT to be replaced by a light rail line, which is good. He also seems to be thoughtful about policy and seems like someone who can be reasoned with, which is also good. He comes off as a sincere conservative, which is in contrast to the sort of moneyed political machine atmosphere that John Tory sort of exudes.
But, my support is likely going to Olivia Chow who is the only progressive in the race. There were rumours for a long time about her supporting a subway extension, but she didn’t go there, which, other than something I personally agree with, is a pretty significant risk for someone who is perceived as being a downtowner. Of course, I am concerned about her being adamant about property tax hikes in line with inflation and I don’t really have a good answer for that yet. So yes, I’ll probably have some concerns with some of her positions as the race goes on.
But I also realize that it’s impossible to have someone who presents a plan that I’ll agree with 100%. Rather, I’m trusting her to make decisions based on the lens through which she sees the city and I’m confident that we have similar ideas about that. She’s been representing Toronto as an elected official in various capacities for over twenty years now so she understands the city and the issues it faces. She’s a legit progressive who’s popular and able to connect with a lot of people across the city because of her background.
On a personal level, I’m really excited to have a Chinese woman running to be mayor of my city. Something that Toronto claims to pride itself in is its diversity and the large number of immigrants we have from all over the world. I think it’d be wonderful to have a mayor who embodies that.