Ontario Premier Doug Ford waded into Toronto’s mayoral race Tuesday, just a week after saying he wouldn’t, calling on voters not to support any candidate who would decrease the police budget.
The premier’s comments came while speaking with reporters at an unrelated announcement about skilled trades at Pearson International Airport Tuesday.
“Enough’s enough for this crime. I've never seen anything like it. That should be the number one issue for any mayoral candidate and the mayoral candidates that say they want to cut funding for the police, they want to defund the police – don't vote for them. Simple as that,” Ford said. “Support the candidates that are going to fund the police, that are gonna get more police officers in our subways and our streets because again, I've never seen it this bad ever, absolutely ever.”
Ford made the comments in response to a question from CP24 about what his government’s plan is to tackle violence on the TTC beyond policing.
Canada’s largest public transit system has seen an explosion of violent incidents over the past year or so, including the fatal stabbing of a teenager at a subway station just last week. The continued violence comes despite an increase in the police budget this year.
The premier said he’d like to see hundreds more fulltime officers patrolling the transit system.
BOOSTING SAFETY NOT SAME AS BOOSTING POLICE BUDGET, CANDIDATES SAY
Urbanist and mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa called the premier’s comment’s “completely inappropriate” and said he “looks like Pinocchio” interfering in Toronto’s election a week after saying he was staying out of it.
He said the comments are part of Ford’s history of meddling in Toronto politics.
He pointed to the premier’s decision four years ago to slash the size of Toronto City Council from 44 to 25 in the midst of a municipal election, as well as “closed door” discussions about strong mayor powers with former mayor John Tory in the lead-up to last year’s election.
While Penalosa has talked about getting rid of the mounted unit because he sees it as outdated, he said his aim is not to defund police, but to hold the service to account for money that is spent.
“I will not defund safety. I think we need to increase the budget of safety,” Penalosa said. “That doesn't mean the police. The police is only one part of safety.”
He said opening libraries and gymnasiums for youth recreation on the weekends would do more for safety than having police on horseback.
“There are many ways to improve the safety of the city. And this is not just about police,”Pensalosa said. “I think we should invest much more in safety. But that doesn't mean to increase the police budget.”
Coun. Josh Matlow, who has in the past advocated a 10 per cent reduction in the police budget in order to divert funds to community programs targeting the roots of crime, told CP24.com the fact that adding extra officers on the system hasn’t stopped violent crime on the TTC is evidence that other tools are needed as well.
“I just I couldn't disagree more with Doug Ford's hyperbolic and very performative suggestion that hiring hundreds of police officers is going to prevent the violence that we are seeing on our TTC and throughout our neighborhoods because that hasn't worked,” the mayoral candidate said.
He said the root causes of violence are in our communities and include poverty, racism, mental health problems and lack of access to housing.
“We have youth who are at risk of going down the wrong path because they don't have safe places to go. They don't have interventions like trauma counseling, they don't have real job opportunities and options,” Matlow said. “And the city and successive governments have failed our kids and have failed our communities by not investing into the root causes of violence, and also ensuring that those communities are safer and healthier themselves.”
CANDIDATES SAY FORD ‘CLEARLY’ ENDORSING FORMER POLICE CHIEF
Asked later in his news conference Tuesday about the fact that he had said he would not get involved in the election, the premier doubled down on his call not to vote for anyone who would cut the police budget.
“All I'm saying is if you don't support our police and we're seeing stabbings in the subway, you know, car thefts coming out our gazoo and just, enough's enough. We got to put more money into policing. And there was a couple of candidates that are running, they're sitting councillors that voted to defund the police. The people that voted to defund the police, don't vote for them. Simple as that,” Ford said.
“We can't, we can't have anarchy in our cities. People have been scared to get on our subway, go walk down the street. We're known as one of the safest large cities in North America. So I believe in supporting a candidate that understands policing, that understands safe communities, understands safe subways. That's the person I believe the city should elect as the new mayor of Toronto.”
He also said that while “everyone and their cousin” is running to be mayor of Toronto, “there's only maybe one or two people that I think could actually run the city.”
Both mayoral candidates who spoke with CP24 said Ford’s comments are a clear endorsement of former police chief Mark Saunders, who has said he is running and has identified public safety as the biggest issue facing the city.
At a March 8 news conference, Ford said he “thinks the world of a number of candidates” and that it would be “great” if Saunders joined the race.
“Clearly Doug Ford is supporting Mark Saunders,” Matlow said.
The Toronto Police Service is the single largest line item in the city budget and did get an increase this year.
Some councillors and civic activists have argued that some of the money put toward policing crime would be better spent on programs which target the roots of crime, such as investments in better mental health programs and youth programs which keep young people from getting involved in criminal activity.