With close to two million registered voters in the City of Toronto, the almost 350,000 votes Tory received – or just about 18 per cent of the electorate – was enough to give him a 61 per cent advantage. The other candidates didn’t have a prayer.
It is interesting how little attention voters seem to pay to municipal elections given the fact that municipal politicians and their policies have such a direct impact on our everyday lives. They are responsible for the upkeep of our roads (with the exception of the major highways); policing, fire prevention, waste disposal, transit, the upkeep of the sewer system to prevent, for example, the flooding of our streets and basements, the upkeep of our parks, jogging trails, sports facilities, public health services and the enforcement of by-laws (some of which bug the heck out of us at times).
Everyone who is impacted by any of these services – and that could be all of us – should be interested in municipal elections or, more precisely, in who is elected to the offices that control how these services are managed.
There was a lot of concern in some quarters recently when Tory pushed for an additional $50 million for the Toronto Police Service on top of their already more than $1 billion budget. There were those who felt that money could have been used to provide services that would have avoided the need for more policing.
Had the makeup of council been different, with a different mayor, that might have been an option. But it would have meant that more people would have had to exercise their right to vote and elect differently – not just in the last election when some voters might have felt that Tory had a lock on the vote as the incumbent but even in the one before when there were more choices.
This time around, there are 102 candidates vying for the office of mayor. That is the only position up for grabs following Tory’s resignation last February over an affair with a woman in his office. The winning candidate will be responsible for leading Canada’s largest municipality with an annual budget of some $16 billion. He or she will also benefit from the strong mayor legislation enacted by the province last year giving the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the power to veto certain city by-laws.
Many candidates, many promises
Among the candidates are former police chief Mark Saunders who has the firm support of Conservative Premier Doug Ford (make of that what you wish); former and current city councillors, including councillor Josh Matlow; Ana Bailão, a former city councillor and deputy mayor who so far seems to have a lock on the labour vote (again, make of that what you will); former councillor Rob Davis; former federal Liberal MP, Celina Caesar-Chavannes; former provincial Liberal MPP and minister, Mitzi Hunter (the only candidate so far who has committed to not use the strong mayor powers); former NDP city councillor and federal MP Olivia Chow who placed third in the 2014 mayoral race behind Tory and Doug Ford (now the premier), among others. Chow, by the way, used to be a favourite of labour. Just saying.
And there are just as many promises, platforms and policy statements as there are candidates.
One that immediately stands out is the promise by councillor and former NDP MPP Anthony Perruzza not to raise taxes. He seems to be going after the vote of homeowners, who make up, by all accounts, the majority of people who vote. They are also older, more established and more affluent. Will these people make or support decisions that are in your interest?
No one likes to hear that their property taxes are being increased so that might be attractive to homeowners. But consider that the property values in the city have just about doubled over the past few years with a small three-bedroom bungalow now going for close to $1 million yet those homes are still being taxed at an older tax rate when properties were much less expensive. (I can remember when those properties could be purchased for about $20,000, by the way.)
Then we complain that we don’t have the funds to maintain the city’s infrastructure, provide properly for the homeless and other desperately needed services and have to go cap in hand to the other levels of government for funding only to be rebuffed.
A promise not to raise property taxes is not a viable plan for a growing city.
And what about renters, many of whom live in the high-rise buildings that dominate the city’s skyline? Many of them are long-time residents of the city. They make up a large percentage of the city’s population and enjoy – even depend on – a lot of the services the city provides and are directly impacted by municipal policies. They need to step up.
Policy decisions pushed and supported by the owners of single-family homes downtown might not serve the interests of tenants. They need to have their voices heard by politicians who know and understand their concerns.
Then there is a plan to set aside $200 million a year for the environment. We all should be interested in protecting the environment especially as it will affect our children and grandchildren. But is that the most pressing issue currently facing the city which some say is in a state of decline? For many, it might be, but do you want that to be the determining factor in who becomes the next mayor? If you do, there is a clear choice.
What about bicycle lanes? Some candidates are promising to get rid of all or most of them; others are promising to increase the number. Is that important to you as an issue?
Affordable housing and homelessess
Everyone seems to have something to say about affordable housing and the homeless but where are the concrete plans? It makes for good soundbites, but we have heard it all before. Who do we trust –really trust – to pay serious attention to the problem of homelessness in our city?
This is a rich and good country. Ours is a fairly wealthy and caring city. We should all be embarrassed to see the homeless in our parks and on our streets, many of whom have found themselves in dire circumstances through no fault of their own. That this is also a problem in other cities should not be an excuse. We can and should do better.
I still can’t get over the news clips of the police violently removing the homeless from a Toronto park last year. Everyone involved in that exercise should be ashamed. Is this how we treat our fellow Canadians who might be down on their luck? We can and must do better. But that would take a certain kind of leadership.
It all starts with us going to the ballot box on Monday, June 26 and choosing a candidate who will care about the things that we care about.
When we don’t show up at the voting booth, we are proudly showing that we don’t care about our city and about who is chosen to run our city. By not voting, we might be allowing to win someone whose policy choices will negatively impact us.
And then we all have to live with the consequences.
This commentary was originally published in Share Newspaper, which is in its 46th year of publishing.
Arnold A. Auguste
Arnold A. Auguste is the founder and publisher of Share and a senior editor. Aguste came to Canada from his native Trinidad and Tobago in 1970 and began his journalism career as a columnist with a weekly publication in Toronto in 1972. He worked as a reporter while studying journalism at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Toronto Metropolitan University) and left that publication as managing editor in 1978 to start Share. Over the years, Share has grown to become one of Canada’s largest and most influential ethnic newspapers and by far the largest one serving the Black and Caribbean community in the GTA.