John Tory re­al­ity check

He rode into of­fice with am­bi­tious plans for tran­sit and city-build­ing, but it’s been pretty much down­hill from the get-go in the big-ideas depart­ment for John Tory

NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By ENZO Di MATTEO en­zom@nowtoronto.com | @en­zodi­mat­teo

John Tory’s cam­paign slo­gan is “Lead­er­ship that works.” Well, you gotta give the mayor and his han­dlers credit for try­ing to sell vot­ers on some­thing. The 65th mayor of Toronto has brought back a mea­sure of ci­vil­ity to city hall. But af­ter the gravy train wreck that was Rob Ford, the bar was set low. Tory’s record af­ter four years in of­fice is more mid­dling than in­spir­ing.

That’s not to say he didn’t come into of­fice mak­ing big prom­ises. There was SmartTrack, his am­bi­tious pro­posal to criss-cross the city with 53 kilo­me­tres of sur­face rail. That train has yet to leave the sta­tion in any mean­ing­ful way. The promised 12 new sta­tions have yet to ma­te­ri­al­ize. (Six are cur­rently un­der study.) And it failed to take into ac­count a ma­jor snafu – the 10-kilo­me­tre stretch set aside for the plan along Eglin­ton West blocked by condo and town­house de­vel­op­ment

Easy to for­get, too, that Tory fan­cied him­self a city builder when he came to of­fice. But his first sig­na­ture move was to mort­gage a hefty piece of the city’s fi­nan­cial fu­ture by prop­ping up a 2-kilo­me­tre stretch of the Gar­diner Ex­press­way east of Jarvis so mo­torists could save a few min­utes on their com­mute. That mis­guided plan, how­ever, had more to do with de­vel­op­ment in the area. In fact, one of Tory’s chief cam­paign strate­gists, John Duffy, was among those lob­by­ing city hall on be­half of First Gulf, and the com­pany’s plans for a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment on lands at DVP and Lake Shore.

Tory had a choice. He could have de­cided not to lis­ten to his han­dlers and, as his chief plan­ner (and cur­rent may­oral chal­lenger) Jennifer Keesmaat ad­vo­cated at the time, pledged to tear down the sec­tion and open up the wa­ter­front. In­stead, Tory made his play for sub­ur­ban votes – and friends in high places. It’s been pretty much down­hill ever since in the big-ideas depart­ment.

AF­FORD­ABIL­ITY GAP

It’s the first item on Tory’s list of ac­com­plish­ments – no joke. Un­der Tory’s watch, Toronto has be­come the city with the high­est child poverty rate in Canada. He’s also guilty of some cre­ative ac­count­ing when it comes to the fund­ing of his own poverty reduction plan.

But that’s not the “af­ford­abil­ity” Tory is talking about. What he is talking about is prop­erty taxes and the fact he has kept them at or be­low the rate of in­fla­tion dur­ing his four-year ten­ure in of­fice. Not ex­actly a mea­sure of liv­abil­ity.

But ac­cess to tran­sit is, and in that re­gard, there has been some move­ment on the pol­icy front un­der Tory: free tran­sit for kids un­der 12 and dis­count fares for low-in­come workers. How much that has to do with the work of Tory’s TTC chair Josh Colle or Tory him­self is de­bat­able.

But the big­ger pic­ture doesn’t look so good. Toronto’s tran­sit sys­tem has never been so over­crowded, some­times dan­ger­ously so. And plan­ning for Tory’s lat­est tran­sit pri­or­ity, the promised Re­lief Line, is be­hind sched­ule. More con­cern­ing than that, how­ever, are the prov­ince’s plans to take over the sub­way sys­tem. That can only mean more trains to nowhere and grief for TTC rid­ers.

Hous­ing Crunch

Build­ing af­ford­able hous­ing has never been a strong suit of the city. And the Tory ad­min­is­tra­tion is no dif­fer­ent. His cam­paign lays claim to un­lock­ing some 18 city sites to build af­ford­able hous­ing, and the ap­proval of 1,650 rental units in 2018.

Dur­ing Tory’s time in of­fice, how­ever, rents have gone up some 20 per cent. And va­can­cies are at a 15-year low.

Tory is promis­ing to work with other lev­els of gov­ern­ment “to sup­port the cre­ation of new af­ford­able rental hous­ing.” It’s a de­cid­edly un­am­bi­tious ap­proach. By com­par­i­son, Keesmaat is promis­ing to build 10,000 af­ford­able hous­ing units. Tory calls that “un­re­al­is­tic.”

Arts And cul­ture

Tory has come through on his prom­ise to in­crease per capita fund­ing for the arts to $25 – but that’s still half of what Van­cou­ver, Mon­treal and Cal­gary con­trib­ute to arts fund­ing.

SHIFT­ING GEARS ON CY­CLING

Tory de­votes four para­graphs to his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s achieve­ments on the cy­cling file on his web­site, tak­ing credit for build­ing more than 30 kilo­me­tres of net­work. Some $39 mil­lion has been in­vested on bike in­fra­struc­ture over the last four years. But the truth is that Tory has had to be dragged kick­ing and scream­ing by down­town coun­cil­lors ev­ery inch of the way. In­deed, it wasn’t un­til a spate of road deaths in the spring that long-promised money for bike and pedes­trian-re­lated safety im­prove­ments was re­leased by coun­cil.

De­spite the mo­men­tum, Toronto re­mains one of the worst big cities in the world to bike. Tory sup­ported bike lanes on Bloor (which, it should be kept in per­spec­tive, amounts to 2 kilo­me­tres in to­tal) but voted against the Trans­form Yonge pro­posal that would have placed bike lanes on a dan­ger­ous stretch of Yonge be­tween Shep­pard and Finch. Tory’s ap­point­ment of Jaye Robin­son as his point per­son on pub­lic works has proven a dis­as­ter. The city has been per­form­ing a deadly bal­anc­ing act on road safety.

CRIME AND PUN­ISH­MENT

The mayor has boasted about his ef­forts to hire 200 more po­lice of­fi­cers in 2018 and plans to hire 200 more in 2019. When he came into of­fice, the idea was to try and keep a lid on the po­lice bud­get and im­prove re­la­tions be­tween po­lice and the city’s Black com­mu­ni­ties.

But vaunted plans to mod­ern­ize the force have crum­bled un­der the weight of po­lice union pres­sure. And ef­forts to re­build trust in pri­or­ity neigh­bour­hoods have been put aside in favour of more toys for cops, in­clud­ing costly (and ques­tion­able) sur­veil­lance equip­ment.

Af­ter the dead­li­est sum­mer on record in re­cent mem­ory, Tory pro­posed a hand­gun ban, an idea he once de­scribed as “an empty ges­ture.”

Traf­fic con­ges­tion ques­tions

Fight­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion was a ma­jor plank in Tory’s 2014 plat­form. But it’s been more cash grab and PR with po­lice tag-and-tow blitzes. Tory did ad­vo­cate for road tolls, but the for­mer Lib­eral gov­ern­ment of Kath­leen Wynne re­jected that idea. Tory made some po­lit­i­cal hay out of that. But the Libs didn’t leave Tory com­pletely twist­ing in the wind; Wynne promised to hand over more money (some $170 mil­lion) from gas taxes in 2019, but who knows what Doug Ford will have to say about that.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Ac­cord­ing to Tory, more than 200,000 jobs have been cre­ated since he took of­fice. In fact, the un­em­ploy­ment rate has been slowly de­clin­ing since be­fore he was elected in 2014. Toronto’s tech sec­tor is boom­ing, but the ar­rival of Google and Uber hasn’t been all good news for the job mar­ket (see story, page 10).

PUB­LIC SPACE CASE

There has been much talk un­der Tory about in­vest­ment in pub­lic space, but out­side a $10 mil­lion in­vest­ment in the Bent­way (which was mostly made pos­si­ble by a $25 mil­lion pri­vate in­vest­ment of Judy and Wil Matthews), there’s been more pie in the sky than de­vel­op­ment on the ground. Among the blue-sky mus­ings: a 10-hectare Rail Deck park, to be funded by “de­vel­op­ment growth and pri­vate sec­tor part­ner­ship,” and a 16-kilo­me­tre long Mead­oway along an east-end hy­dro cor­ri­dor.

En­vi­ron­men­tal de­flec­tion

Toronto has hired a Chief Re­silience Of­fi­cer to “en­sure the city is plan­ning ahead when it comes to is­sues of emergency re­sponse, in­clud­ing climate change.” But a $3.2 mil­lion in­vest­ment in the city’s Trans­form TO climate change plan is a far cry from Tory’s com­mit­ment to “get back to work” on climate change af­ter lead­ing a del­e­ga­tion to the Paris climate talks in 2015. Plans for the city to meet its green­house gas emis­sion tar­gets won’t hap­pen now un­til 2050. Tory re­cently de­clined and in­vi­ta­tion to de­fend his record on the environment at the Toronto En­vi­ron­men­tal Al­liance de­bate, one of sev­eral he has ditched this cam­paign. Not ex­actly the kind of lead­er­ship “that works,” but then what did we ex­pect from Tory?

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