By Sylvia Lorico
Toronto Mayor John Tory answered questions from Ryerson students about the Toronto government’s policies and actions Thursday afternoon, at the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM).
Tory spoke with Ralph Lean, a business lawyer and a distinguished counsel in residence at Ryerson. The event was part of Ryerson professor Asher Alkoby’s lecture on Law, Business and Politics.
Here are the highlights:
Lack of Affordable Housing
Students asked how Tory would handle the lack of affordable housing in Toronto.
Tory said he hoped that the federal government would move forward with infrastructure plans worth $12.6 billion in several years for housing, which he has advocated for. He said that Toronto would be the “single biggest recipient.”
He also said he urged the federal government to make the province of Ontario match the contributions, saying in some municipalities in the past, federal money was not matched for transit infrastructure.
“I don’t want to look a whole generation in the eye and say: ‘Well sorry you can’t live in Toronto, it’s just too expensive,’” he said.
Tory said he didn’t think Toronto should follow the city of Vancouver’s technique to “cool” the housing market. He said implementing a tax on foreign home-buyers does not take into account the difference between the Vancouver market and Toronto’s in terms of problems.
Vancouver implemented a 15 per cent foreign-buyer tax in order to “cool” their housing market.
Tory attributed rising property prices in Toronto to the number of people coming into the city, as well as relatively low levels of unemployment, a healthy economy and low interest rates.
“So if it’s the law of supply and demand that is the problem what do you have to do? You have to address the supply side of it,” he said.
Scarborough one-stop subway extension
Tory passionately stood by the one-stop subway extension planned for Scarborough.
“The fact that it’s one stop or two or six or eleven makes no difference,” he said. “It is a subway that is going to connect the centre of Scarborough to the rest of the city.”
He said light-rail transit like the Scarborough RT has a significantly shorter lifespan than a subway. He also said extending the subway will bring jobs and investment into Scarborough since those living in the area won’t have to make long commutes to work.
“My guess is 25 years from now, where I will be that elderly man sitting somewhere, hopefully watching what’s going on, they will be having a debate about extending it again,” he said.
A new report city staff released on Tuesday showed the one-stop subway extension will cost at least $3.35 billion.
The plan would see an additional subway stop added to the Bloor-Danforth line after Kennedy station, as well as a new bus terminal at Scarborough Town Centre containing 34 bus bays.
Tory was critical about the lack of action on this project, saying that with his plan, this will be the ninth time the issue was approved in city council.
“That’s why we have a transit mess in the city,” he said, “we insist on debating and re-debating and re-analyzing and re-presenting instead of building this stuff.”
DVP Road Tolls
Students asked about collaboration with the provincial government on road tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and what went wrong when Premier Kathleen Wynne refused to help the city fund the tolls.
He said that in the early stages of planning, he came to Wynne with the plan for road tolls in order to address criticism that the City of Toronto was not paying its own share of funding for its transit system. At the time, she agreed to the plan.
Yet later after facing some political backlash on the topic, Wynne changed her mind on the matter.
“I feel like I’m a little boy in short pants going up to Queen’s Park with my hand out saying: ‘Please could you help me with something?’ I’m trying to run this 3-million person, $14-billion government,” Tory said.
Tory stressed Toronto should have the freedom and accountability to resolve some local problems without having to “run up the street and beg permission” from the province.
A student asked what Tory believed was the best action in order to address sexual harassment cases in Uber vehicles. She cited a CBC article where an Uber driver allegedly told a Toronto woman her payment didn’t go through and offered to accept sexual favours instead.
Tory said citizens should count on Uber to report any issues to the police. He said an advantage of the Uber system is that it allows police to see who drivers and riders are, and the time and place incidents occur.
Tory also said these incidents were “few and far-between,” and that the message of zero-tolerance for any inappropriate behaviour was sent “loud and clear” to drivers following reports of this behaviour to authorities.
A student asked about Tory’s stance on marijuana dispensaries across the city in relation to the potential decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.
The federal government planned legislature on legalizing marijuana to be introduced this spring.
Early last May, Tory called the increase in medical marijuana dispensaries across the city “verging on being out of control.” On May 12, he wrote a letter to Tracy Cook, executive director of Municipal Licensing & Standards in Toronto. In the letter, he asked her to direct staff to explore ways to regulate the business, including directing a review on the current dispensaries.
Tory said his stance on the dispensaries was because of neighbourhoods and retailers who did not want illegal dispensaries operating in the city. He also said his stance was due to dispensaries growing in number without proper regulation.
“I endorse the fact that [the Liberal government] is going to change the law, but until the law is changed, you can’t have dispensaries springing up across the city,” he said.
Tory said he doesn’t think that marijuana will be legalized by spring, saying the issue is complicated and will take more work on the part of the federal government.
Another student asked about the term “sanctuary city” and why Torontonians should be paying taxes for illegal immigrants to use city services.
Toronto became Canada’s first sanctuary city in 2013. On Jan. 31, Tory reaffirmed this status, calling Toronto a home for refugees and safe haven to undocumented immigrants.
Tory clarified his reaffirmation. He said that the term “sanctuary city” means people who want to use City of Toronto services will not be asked to show documents proving their citizenship.
“Do we go around saying: ‘Show us your documentation?’ To everyone? No we don’t,” he said.
“Are we going to turn away somebody at a city operated shelter on a cold night because somebody decided to ask them to show their papers? Is that a relevant consideration?”
Tory said he is comfortable with Toronto’s status as a sanctuary city and said the idea is to encourage people of all different living statuses that they are welcome.
Hate Crimes in Toronto
A student asked about Tory’s strategy to combat hate crimes in the city. He cited a specific incident in February where an anti-Semitic note saying: “No jews” was posted on a door in North York.
Tory commented on these crimes, saying “anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto.”
In terms of solutions, he said that while looking toward the law is an option, he doesn’t believe it would be the best solution to the problem.
“The fact that somebody would try to burn a mosque to me is such an act of treachery. It says that those people don’t pay attention to what the law is,” he said.
To combat the issue he said he would focus on educating the public about different faiths as well demonstrating that Canadian culture is diverse and accepting. He also emphasized the importance of holding Toronto-wide events to enforce inclusivity.