28 October 2014
Ken Ramsay

John Tory Promises to Move Toronto "Not Left, Not Right, but Forward," But How?

(Photo Source: The Star)

The four years of a tarnished mayoral run came to an end yesterday, taking with it the controversy, and making room for a new future for Toronto. Yesterday John Tory was elected as Toronto's mayor with 40% of votes (compared to %34 for Doug Ford and 23% for Olivia Chow). The massive turnout of voters really showed how badly the people of Toronto wanted and needed change. More than 980 000 people cast ballots (61% of the electorate), which broke the previous turnout record of 2010 which was 51%. 

Tory, a former Progressive Conservative leader, was a welcome change. 

"Hallelujah!" was the first thing that came to mind for Premier Kathleen Wynne when news of Tory's victory reached her while on a trade mission in China. 

“‎He is somebody who’s got good working relationships wi‎th both senior levels of government and that’s extremely important. We need a mayor in Toronto who can work with the provincial government and the federal government.”

The relationships Wynne mentioned between Tory and senior levels of government, might have been the driving force behind Tory's victory. Most of his platform proposals outline clear initiatives, but his explanations of how he would implement changes were vague. He often fell back on relying on government funding. 

One of his most prominent proposals was his plan for a new transit line called SmartTrack. This transit system would involve a Regional Express Rail (RER) surface subway system. The goal is to provide service from the Airport Corporate Centre in the west, southeast to Union Station, and northeast to Markham. Tory says there will be 22 new stations and five interchanges, and all of this will be built and in service by 2021. It is estimated that the daily ridership of the proposed transit line will be about 200 000 riders daily, which would greatly reduce the congestion of the Bloor-Danforth and Yonge-University-Spadina lines. 

Now, who is going to pay for it, the taxpayers? Tory insists it will be funded using a mechanism called tax increment financing (TIF), instead of raising property taxes. 

“I don’t propose to offer hardworking Torontonians transit relief in exchange for a financial headache that could last for years,” said Tory at a speech back in June. “Therefore, I will not raise property taxes to build the SmartTrack line. The city’s one-third portion will come from tax-increment financing.”

The idea behind TIF is that once a certain area is declared a "TIF Zone," money is borrowed to pay for the development. Then, hopefully, the increase in property will lead to an increase in tax revenue which will then go back to paying the initial debt. Tory insists building the SmartTrack will encourage new businesses and generate economic growth. This may seem bold to some, as this has been said to be the largest TIF ever ($2.67 billion) for a single project. This would mean the province would have to double the city's current allowable TIF limit, and that may be a major risk, considering the fact that this proposed transit system will be going through many very developed areas which will not be changed drastically due to the new lines. 

Another example of vague financing surfaced regarding the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. Housing is in desperate need of repair, with a repair backlog sitting at $864 million that is said to reach $3.6 billion within 10 years if funding is not raised by $500 million annually. The TCHC may soon have to evict residents if matters are not taken care of, and this is why it is important to Tory. He has stated that he will work to speed up City contributions to TCHC, but not how. At a press conference on Oct. 8, he announced funding that was already promised by the City. He, like other candidates, claims he will ask provincial and federal governments for more funding. But one game-changer is that he insists he will have more luck with doing so thanks to his relationships with Queen's Park and Ottawa.

With that being said, his working relationships might be what helps Tory to help Toronto. Not only that, but his fierce stance on funding from federal and provincial governments is prominent. He has even said that he will "shame" them into paying their fair share, which is unlikely to ruffle many Torontonian feathers. It is far too early to see if his proposals will play out as intended, but one thing that is clear is this election will finally provide the city with some inertia, which is exactly what he has promised- to move us forward. 

"We're going to do this together. Tonight is not a victory for any one person. It is a victory for Toronto." -Kathleen Wynne, on the election outcome