By JEFF GRAY
Saturday, October 20, 2018
One issue overshadowed all others in Toronto's municipal election: How the next mayor should deal with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who intervened in the city's election campaign by suddenly cutting its number of wards in half.
That question of leadership peppered the campaigns both of front-runner incumbent John Tory, and Jennifer Keesmaat, the city's former chief planner who jumped into the race late in the campaign after Mr. Ford's move.
But the two leading candidates also aired their differences on a wide range of other policies, with Ms. Keesmaat making a long list of promises and Mr. Tory - who declined to appear in any one-onone debates with her - largely pointing to his record over the past four years.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING Tory: Mr. Tory takes credit for the progress on his watch, and pledges to triple it. He wants the city to approve 40,000 new affordablehousing units over the next 12 years, or about 3,500 a year. And he repeatedly points out that in 2017, the city met its existing goal of approving 1,000 units a year for the first time, while approving another 1,650 this year.
The city has been consolidating its massive real estate portfolio - too slowly, critics say - with an eye to either selling off or leasing surplus land to developers who pledge to build affordable housing. Central to this plan are the tax and other incentives under the city's Open Door program, which entices developers to reserve a minimum of 20 per cent of their units for affordable housing.
Mr. Tory has also pledged to work with builders, non-profits and the federal government, which has announced a national housing strategy and billions in funding, to get more affordable housing built.
Keesmaat: Ms. Keesmaat frequently highlights that on Mr. Tory's watch, Toronto has become the most expensive city in Canada in which to rent. In her first campaign promise, she said she would build - not just approve - 100,000 units over 10 years, or 10,000 a year, almost triple Mr. Tory's promise and nearly 10 times what the city achieves now. The stakes are too high for the incremental action promised by Mr.
Tory, she warns, as more and more people are priced out of Toronto.
But critics say her target is unachievable: Even over the boom of the past five years, the city's development industry only built an average of 18,000 total units a year - affordable or otherwise. And the federal government's target for the entire country under its new national housing strategy is only 100,000 units over 10 years.
Mr. Tory's campaign said that Ms. Keesmaat hasn't explained how much her plan would would cost, noting that the city's Open Door incentives now in effect are budgeted to cost $250-million over five years, just to produce the current bare minimum of 1,000 new units a year. Ms. Keesmaat's campaign says she would keep the city's existing incentives for developers at their current level, but argues she can reach her much higher housing target simply by handing over much more city-owned land - and doing it more quickly.
Ms. Keesmaat has also promised to launch a "rent-to-own" program that would allow tenants in these new affordable housing units to put some of their rent payments toward a down payment. Her plan would be paid for with a 0.4-per-cent property surtax on homes valued at more than $4-million. But to do that, Ms. Keesmaat needs permission from the Ontario Progressive Conservative government.
PUBLIC TRANSIT Tory: The incumbent points to his council-approved transit network plan, which includes the controversial one-stop Scarborough subway extension and the downtown relief subway line, as a triumph - along with $9-billion in down payments from provincial and federal governments that he uses as proof of his skills as a negotiator. (Whoever wins will need to persuade governments to invest billions more.) He also likes to remind voters that he brought in free rides for children under 12.
But Mr. Tory has taken heat from Ms. Keesmaat over his nowdiminished SmartTrack plan. In his 2014 campaign, he promised a subway-like system, but on the surface using existing rail corridors, with 22 stations - built using tax-increment financing with money from development. Criticized as unrealistic from the beginning, it has since been turned into six new GO stations (as well as eight refurbished existing GO stations), plus a fare agreement that would see Torontonians charged a $3 fare to ride GO, provided the new provincial government honours this pledge. Toronto property taxpayers will also cover a significant portion of the $1.5-billion bill for the stations.
Keesmaat: In some ways, Ms.
Keesmaat's plan differs little from Mr. Tory's, and rests on largely the same list of partly funded or unfunded projects - but with some tweaks. She would ask the province to pay the entire cost of the Scarborough subway, and put the city's portion into the Eglinton East light-rail line. She also proposes a new light-rail line on Jane Street in the city's west end (first planned under then-mayor David Miller's Transit City concept), and new "enhanced bus service" on key lines. She would keep some of Mr. Tory's SmartTrack stations, but scrap others.
She accuses Mr. Tory of forcing city staff to work on SmartTrack - which she says was drafted on the back of an envelope - instead of the downtown relief subway line.
He has countered by insisting that the relief line is also a priority, even holding an event on Friday morning to boast that the results of the line's environmental assessment had just been approved by the province. Ms. Keesmaat says she would set up a dedicated team reporting to her office to speed up the work on the line, vowing to see it completed three years ahead of its current scheduled opening date in 2031.
POLICING Tory: With an alarming increase in shootings, and a police union complaining of overstretched officers, Mr. Tory reversed course on a hiring freeze - originally brought in as part of a broader modernization plan - and called for the hiring of 200 more officers this year, and 200 more in 2019.
(He blames the change of direction on a higher-than-expected wave of retiring cops.) Mr. Tory has also called for a ban on handguns in the city.
He has also said that he would have council match the $25-million recently announced by Mr.
Ford for policing, and direct a third of that toward new, dedicated neighbourhood officers and the rest to programs for young people aimed gt keeping them out of gangs. Council also approved, at Mr. Tory's urging, a plan to invest in a high-tech audio-surveillance system known as ShotSpotter, used in scores of U.S.
cities, that pinpoints gunshots.
Keesmaat: Ms. Keesmaat underlines Mr. Tory's sudden reversal of his hiring freeze, the city's problems with 911-response times and that fact that it took him years to come out in favour of a handgun ban, as signs that his leadership on this file has been lacking. She says she would expand the neighbourhood policing program to 140 neighbourhoods over the next four years, and she calls for more investment in youth programs.
GARDINER EXPRESSWAY Tory: He championed rebuilding the elevated Gardiner's least-used easternmost section, and points to his ability to build consensus even among some of his opponents, who would later vote for his "hybrid option," a $1.4-billion plan to realign the expressway. He clashed with Ms. Keesmaat over this issue when she was his chief planner and she publicly defied him by advocating that the Gardiner should be torn down.
Keesmaat: Dismissing what she called Mr. Tory's affection for 1950s-style highway planning, Ms.
Keesmaat says she wants to get council to agree to rip down the eastern section of the Gardiner (starting near Jarvis street) and turn it into an at-grade road, a move she says would save $500million and unlock new land for waterfront development.
TAXES Tory: After campaigning in 2014 on a pledge not to increase the residential property-tax rate beyond the rate of inflation, Mr. Tory kept his promise: But he did include an added 0.5-per-cent levy for money dedicated solely to infrastructure early on in the 2018 campaign, he reaffirmed his pledge for a second term of residential tax-rate increases at or below inflation.
Mr. Tory's promise is not without risks. The previous city manager has warned that the city is too reliant on its land-transfer tax on home sales to balance its books and that it needs new sources of revenue to maintain current service levels. In a real estate-market crash, property taxes would be one of the few options it has to fill in the gap.
Keesmaat: The incumbent needled Ms. Keesmaat to match his promise on tax increases, or reveal her plans to raise them, throughout the campaign. Just this week, she told the Toronto Star editorial board that she, too, would cap most residential property-tax increases at inflation, making an exception for her proposed surtax on homes valued at more than $4-million.
When pressed on how she would manage the city's finances, Ms. Keesmaat said she would push for a "fiscal rebalancing" that would see more revenue from the provincial and federal governments returned to the city - something many have demanded, without results, for years.
John Tory and Jennifer Keesmaat take part in the ArtsVote Mayoral Arts Debate 2018 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sept. 24.
PHOTOS BY FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
A crowd teems at Yonge-Bloor subway station. In some ways, Mr. Tory and Ms. Keesmaat's public transit plans differ little from each other. Both plans include the controversial Scarborough subway extension, although the candidates each take a different approach to how it should be funded.
MELISSA TAIT/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Cars travel westbound on the Gardiner Expressway in 2016. Mr. Tory wants to rebuild the elevated Gardiner's least-used easternmost section with a $1.4-billion plan to realign the expressway. Ms. Keesmaat wants to rip down the section and turn it into an at-grade road, a move she says would save $500-million and unlock new land for waterfront development. The pair clashed over this issue when Ms. Keesmaat was Mr. Tory's chief planner and she publicly defied him by advocating for tearing down the Gardiner.
ABOVE: FRED LUM/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL; RIGHT: MARTA IWANEK/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL