John Tory ready to get back to work on Tuesday, tackle transit and affordability
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Friday, October 19, 2018 6:47PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 19, 2018 6:48PM EDT
If the polls that have consistently given him a double digit lead are correct and John Tory is handed a second term on Monday night, the notoriously early-riser says that he’ll back at his desk first thing Tuesday morning, ready to go to work.
The job that awaits him may look a little different than the one that he has held for the past four years, though.
Kathleen Wynne, the Liberal premier who was in office for all but the final four months of this term of council, is gone and in her place is a premier who Tory concedes will be much “less predictable.”
In a matter of months, Premier Doug Ford has already slashed the size of Toronto city council nearly in half and has appointed a special advisor to head up his government’s efforts to assume responsibility for Toronto’s subway infrastructure.
On the campaign trail this past spring, Ford also mused about adding two stops to the Scarborough subway extension, though it remains to be seen whether he will actually look to exert his will on a plan that recently surpassed the all-important 30 per cent threshold for design work.
In between campaign stops on Thursday, Tory told CP24.com that if given a second term, he won’t hesitate to “stand up for Toronto” but will also look to build a collegial and productive relationship with Ford.
It’s an approach that Tory has been criticized for in the past – his chief opponent in the election has called his response to the council cut “weak” and “tepid” – but it is one the incumbent mayor is not willing to back away from as he readies himself for what will, in all likelihood, be a different relationship with Queen’s Park going forward.
“My lifetime of experience, not just in politics but elsewhere, says that if you want to establish a partnership you have to focus on the things you can work on together and try to maintain a relationship that will have ups and downs but is not in a state of constant warfare, “ he said. “I would say that you can stand up when you need to stand up but you should spend most of your time and most of your effort finding common ground.”
When Ford abruptly moved to slash the size of council in July, Tory held an impromptu press conference where he slammed the move as “not right, not fair and not respectful of the people.”
But he also proposed holding a referendum on the cut at a later time and admitted that any sort of legal recourse from the city was a longshot, something that Jennifer Keesmaat seized upon in panning his approach.
For his part, Tory told CP24.com that Keesmaat has never made it clear what she would have specifically done differently.
He said that while he did express his “profound objection” to the process that was followed, he can’t just take on a “combative attitude” with the premier “100 per cent of the time.”
He said that he has been encouraged, for example, by Ford’s campaign promise to provide $5 billion in additional transit funding to the city and “heartened” by the steps he has taken to consult with civic leaders about his plan to assume responsibility for Toronto’s subway infrastructure.
It’s a plan that Keesmaat has vociferously objected to but one that Tory has indicated some willingness to consider, though only if it could be of a measurable benefit to Toronto residents.
“We will see what that process produces but it better be something that has obvious, measurable and significant advantages to riders, employees and taxpayers because otherwise why would you do it?” Tory told CP24.com.
Tory touts work on relief line
Tory, a former Rogers Cable executive and one-time leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative party, has undoubtedly brought a degree of stability to city hall after the often-chaotic tenure of Rob Ford.
He is quick to point out that he has secured $9 billion in transit funding, “not a penny of which” existed when he first assumed office back in 2014.
He also proudly trumpets his role in helping craft a council-approved transit network plan that provides a roadmap for the infrastructure the city hopes to build over the next 13 years.
The first item in that plan, the relief subway line, has been a central plank of both Tory and Keesmaat’s campaigns.
Keesmaat has promised to complete the relief subway line by 2028, three years ahead of schedule, but Tory told CP24.com that the project has only advanced past the point of discussion because of his leadership. He says that he believes he is the right person to guide it through to completion.
“Notwithstanding all the commentary, there had been exactly next to nothing done for 30 years except talk about it,” he said. “The sum total of money before I came in and placed it as a real priority was $1.5 million. Under my leadership we have put $200 million, secured largely from other governments, into actual planning and design, there has been a route chosen and the work is now being done on soil testing and notifying property owners who are going to be affected.”
Affordability has worsened
Over the last four years, Tory has mostly avoided controversy, while passing successive budgets that kept property tax increases to the rate of inflation and pushing forward several key infrastructure projects.
There have been challenges though.
The city is one homicide away from tying the all-time high of 86, which was set back in 2007, and police union officials have claimed that the Tory-backed modernization of the Toronto Police Service and its associated reduction in the number of front-line officers is at least partly to blame.
Affordability in the city has also eroded over the last four years.
One recent Urbanation study found that the average rent in the city now stands at a staggering $2,385, up 7.6 per cent from a year previous.
Tory has vowed to tackle the affordability crisis, in part, by building 40,000 new affordable units over the next decade but Keesmaat has suggested that such a commitment is not ambitious enough and has instead promised to build 100,000 affordable units over the next decade, partly through a rent-to-own program financed by a surtax on multi-million dollar homes.
Speaking with CP24.com, Tory conceded that there are many Torontonians for whom the economic growth of the city has been “very elusive.”
He said that the challenge that the city’s next mayor will face, whoever that may be, will lie in “connecting those people up with opportunity.”
“It (Toronto) is probably the last place in the world where one-size-fits-all solutions work because the city is diverse in about a hundred different ways,” he said. “We talk all the time about the cultural diversity in terms of where people come from but there is also diversity in many other respects. Economic opportunity, the diversity of the way people get around. It makes it an extraordinarily challenging city to lead.”
Tory said that he is taking nothing for granted as he embarks on the campaign’s final days but with virtually every poll conducted to date giving him in excess of a 20-point lead, it would seem likely that he’ll back on the job Tuesday.
That’s fine by him.
“If you believe, as I do, in the relationships that I think I have done a great deal to strengthen and establish, both with the council itself and the other governments, and the kind of momentum we have established with moving forward with things like the transit plan, I think the stakes are considerable,” he said. “We simply have to move forward after decades of inaction.”