Toronto mayoral candidates debate arts and culture, affordable housing, Scarborough
Published Wednesday, May 24, 2023 9:34AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 24, 2023 3:54PM EDT
May 24 is the day of the mayor-athon.
Frontrunners for Toronto’s top job will spend the day debating on a variety of issues, ranging from arts and culture to affordable housing to Scarborough.
Arts and culture
The long day of debates kicked off at 10:00 a.m. at Young People’s Theatre, near the intersection of Front and Frederick streets downtown. The debate was hosted by the Toronto Alliance for Performing Arts (TAPA).
Ana Bailao, Brad Bradford, Olivia Chow, Mitzie Hunter and Josh Matlow participated in the debate. Mark Saunders was invited, but did not respond to TAPA’s invitation.
Candidates spoke about a range of campaign issues, from affordability in the city for Toronto’s artists to the usability of city-owned spaces for artistic ventures.
Chow, who leads the way with 34 per cent of decided voters according to a recent poll, chalked up much of the shortfalls in Toronto's arts and culture scene to the affordability crisis, saying "we starve our artists due to affordability," despite the fact that art is "the soul of Toronto...it inspires us, nourishes us." Chow added that she intends to increase the Toronto Arts Council budget if elected, citing her own experience as a professional sculptor as evidence for her investment in Toronto's fine arts.
"People just continue to get pushed out from neighbourhood to neighbourhood," said Bailao when asked about her first priority for arts and culture if elected. "We have a plan for our parks, our libraries, our infrastructure. Our culture spaces need to be intentional as well."
Bailao cited her experience transforming unused buildings into rehabbed, affordable cultural spaces, such as the Theatre Centre on Queen Street West and Why Not Theatre.
Bradford echoed Bailao's call for public cultural spaces, saying that there are approximately 4,800 city-owned spaces which could be better used as cultural venues within the city. He added that the average Toronto artists makes only $26,000 per year, suggesting the affordability crisis is decimating Toronto's arts and culture scene.
Hunter pointed out that the arts sector "was hit so hard and has been the longest to come back in terms of audiences" after the pandemic. "People are still hurting.”
"We want to have our share," she continued, speaking to her experiences as a Scarborough resident. "We have amazing artists and arts workers all over the city," she added, pointing out the need to ensure access to arts and culture outside of the downtown core.
"[Arts and culture] organizations need sustainable funding so that when they start something they don't have to stop it," she said. She added that while the downtown core is important, it is imperative that Toronto's next mayor nourish the arts ecosystem and audiences across the city.
Matlow said he would consult with leaders in Toronto's arts sector to strategize future funding. He said as well that he would champion Canadian content, and would invest in making sure Toronto arts and culture is a destination for tourism.
"We want to build a city that's livable, functional, wonderful," he said, adding that Toronto's arts and culture is at the centre of that goal.
Wrapping up the debate, Bailao said there's "no recovery" in Toronto without the recovery of the arts and culture sector.
"We want to invest in the services we need as artists, as citizens, and global patrons of the arts.”
To begin the debate, candidates were asked the age they bought their first home, as well as the key issues affecting housing affordability in Toronto. Saunders, Bailao and Hunter all bought their first properties in their 20s, Bradford and Matlow bought in their 30s, and Chow bought her first home in her 40s.
“Toronto needs to be somewhere young people can live,” said Hunter, who hopes to build more homes quickly if elected. “We need to build up that missing middle,” she said, stressing that housing needs to come in a variety of shapes and sizes, not just condos.
Bradford stressed the imbalance between housing supply and demand in the city, which has led to young people being shut out of the housing economy. “There is an endless spin cycle as paper is passed from desk to desk,” he said. “Speed is the key…we need to create a culture of getting to ‘yes’ and removing barriers.”
Saunders criticized Bailao for her previous experience in housing, stressing that Toronto needs to build more housing and be a more welcoming economy for builders. In several of his responses, he disagreed with his opponents who want to involve higher levels of government in Toronto’s affordability crisis, saying “anyone that is adding another level of government is moving in the wrong direction” in relation to housing.
Chow discussed increasing land transfer taxes for the very rich in order to finance affordable housing initiatives.