There are three mayoral candidates left standing in Toronto’s municipal elections. Samantha Edwards breaks down their plans for our city
For months, Toronto’s been engrossed in the excitement of the looming mayoral election. Well, kind of. While the media has been oversaturated with coverage, the truth is, less than 50 percent of Torontonians will vote on Oct. 25. Students represent an even smaller number. In the 2006 municipal election, only 43.8 percent of Canadians aged 18 to 24 voted, 19 percent below the national average.
At the start of the race, there were five frontrunners. Sarah Thompson, the founder of the Women’s Post, was the first to drop out and cross into former enemy lines by endorsing George Smitherman. Next, it was Rocco Rossi, who famously suggested building an underground highway right through the city. Now, only three remain. Here’s a beginner’s guide to each candidate’s platform and what they would do if elected.
Rob Ford “The Sultan of the Suburbs”
Rough around the edges, Rob Ford has become a surprising frontrunner with a simple message: stop wasteful spending at city hall. For the Etobicoke councilor, hijacking the gravy train means a slash and burn approach that attacks from all sides. He is the anti-David Miller, the anti-status quo and to some, the antichrist. For all those populating Ford City though, he is the antidote for everything currently wrong with Toronto.
Public transit: First and foremost, as the rogue suburban warrior, Ford believes it’s time to end the war on cars. He wants to scrap Transit City, the current proposed transit plan that focuses on building light rail transit lines. In the mayoral chair, Ford wants to extend the Sheppard and Danforth subway lines to the Scarborough Town Centre, replace streetcars with buses on arterial roads and build 100 kilometres of off-road bike paths. Ford plans to fund his expansion, an estimated $4 billion, largely in part with provincial money already approved for Transit City. But, there’s the rub: the province has no plans to reallocate the promised funding to other projects. Ford’s idea assumes buses are more agile and svelte than streetcars, but in reality they carry fewer people and only add to the congestion of the roads.
Culture: Ford has no arts platform and the only one not pledging to increase arts funding. He believes the arts should be financed through the private sector until the city manages its $2.4 billion debt. Ford told the Eyeopener he won’t be cutting the arts budget — just not increasing.
Budget: Ford touts he will cut wasteful spending by saving $1.2 billion. He wants to chop the number of city councillors in half, lower expense accounts (bye bye office espresso machines and cab rides), privatize garbage collection and reduce the city workforce. Though his cost-saving techniques may be admirable, many of his ideas would never fly. City council holds the power to decide how big council is, Ford would in essence have to get half his councillors to voluntarily quit their jobs. However, his track record shows that Ford’s a frugal guy. He only spends around $100,000 a year on staff salaries out of a $210,000 budget and in 2005, he famously only spent $2 of his allotted $53,500 expense budget.
Other: Ford does not have an environmental platform and no formal plan for lowering youth unemployment. To his harshest critics, he’s foul-mouthed, hotheaded and known for his outbursts in council (one time he called an Italian councillor “Gino Boy”). But to his supporters in Ford City, he’s an ordinary guy (think Toronto’s own Sarah Palin) who wants to hold the city financially accountable. “Who do you trust with the money? You can trust me… there won’t be any financial scandals.”
Joe Pantalone “The Little Mayor who Could”
He may be small in stature, but Joe Pantalone punches above his weight. A city councillor for 29 years and currently serving as deputy mayor, he knows city hall inside and out. The only lefty candidate, Pantalone promises to follow through with Transit City and balance the budget without cutting community services. Even though he trails in the polls and has been pressured to drop out and leave the race to the big boys, Pantalone says he isn’t going anywhere.
Public transit: Transit City may be David Miller’s brainchild, but it’s now Pantalone’s baby. Transit City, which has already been approved by council, proposes introducing Euro-inspired light rail transit lines that will connect the suburbs to downtown. While they’re often confused for streetcars, LRTs are much faster because they travel in their own right-of-way lanes (think the Spadina streetcar) or underground like subways. There’s no doubt that subways are the most convenient commuter option, but they also cost three to five times more than LRTs. As Pantalone puts it, choosing between a subway and LRT is like being asked, “Do you prefer a seven-course meal in the best restaurant in town or a burger at Wendy’s?” He says of course people will want the gourmet meal, but not if you can’t afford to eat for the next three-days.
Culture: Pantalone plans to increase arts funding by investing an additional $17.5 million over five years and developing a program that would give new Canadian residents in Toronto free access to major performing art companies for a year. Pantalone’s artistic vision for the city also involves beautifying our neighbourhoods. As the city’s Tree Advocate (yes, it’s a real position that would make Ford cringe), Pantalone has overseen tens of thousands of new trees planted yearly.
Budget: Pantalone promises a balanced budget that doesn’t involve cutting any community services, but it does include a 2.5 per cent property tax increase and help from a $180 million surplus from the 2010 budget. While it looks good on paper, it’s tricky banking on unofficial surpluses when the year isn’t even over yet. And no one likes higher taxes.
Other: Out of all the candidates, Pantalone’s platform is the most environmentally friendly. He pioneered the Green Roof bylaw, which requires green roofs on all new development projects and if elected, he plans to double the number of community gardens and farmers’ markets. When asked if he would support the permanent closure of Gould Street, he said, “Yes, 100 per cent. I think it’s perfect. People are social; we need squares, piazzas and gathering places where we can socialize.”
Those in the “anyone-but-Rob-Ford” campaign will push for strategic voting at the expense of Pantalone. However, the little mayor that could isn’t running out of steam yet, he says a vote for George Smitherman is like a vote for Ford. “Do you want to have the devil or the deep blue sea? Maybe the deep blue sea looks better and more attractive, but it’s just as deadly as the devil.”
George Smitherman “Not-so Furious George”
While he never went to school here, George Smitherman likes to think of himself as a Ryerson guy. He lives up the road on Carlton Street and says he’s looking forward to skating at Maple Leaf Gardens. Politically, he’s close to Ryerson too – he was our MPP for 10 years. For a while, people believed it was his race to win but now he’s neck and neck with Ford. He was Dalton McGuinty’s right-hand attack dog, but he’s been more like a lapdog in this election. Nevertheless, for those fearing the Ford-apocalypse, Smitherman may be the only hope.
Public transit: Smitherman wants to “get Toronto moving again” by introducing a new network of subway and light-rail lines that would be completed in two phases over the next 10 years. The first phase includes expediting the Spadina line to York University, extending the Sheppard LRT and building a waterfront light-rail line, all plans that are already underway. To finance his transit plan, Smitherman relies on funding commitments from the province and Ottawa. He says Toronto’s tab would only be $5 billion and private-public partnerships would help cover the costs. “I want the TTC in the driver’s seat, but I want private contractors to be responsible and accountable for actually constructing the transit line,” he says.
On biking issues, Smitherman wants to keep cyclists on main roads, but has no intentions of building new lanes on arterial streets just yet. While Ford wants cyclists off the streets and into the parks, Pantalone argues more lanes are needed, starting with Richmond and Adelaide streets.
Culture: Smitherman’s platform involves increasing arts funding per capita, creating affordable studio spaces and sending local artists abroad to act as ambassadors for the city instead of politicians. He’s a firm believer that the arts are a viable investment and wants to encourage its growth. Plus, Smitherman said he’s agreed to dance on So You Think You Can Dance Canada to show his commitment to arts and culture. Pretty appropriate for someone who has made his mark dancing around hot topics.
Budget: Freezing property tax, cutting $2 million from the office budgets of the mayor and councilors and possibly contracting out city services are the key ways Smitherman plans to maintain a balanced budget. Citing his experience working as an MPP, Smitherman says he’s qualified for the mayoral chair. Unfortunately for Furious George, critics are quick to point out his involvement in the eHealth scandal, which auditors say wasted $1 billion in taxpayer money.
Other: Of all the candidates, Smitherman is the most connected to Ryerson. As MPP, he helped secure the money needed to build the new Student Life Centre on Yonge Street and also the Image Arts building. He takes strolls along the new Gould Street and would work to make it permanently pedestrian-only. His platform also calls for lowering youth unemployment in Toronto and says he will create 7,500 new jobs for youth each year. Smitherman says, “I’m the local guy, I’ve delivered for Ryerson like no other.”