Olivia Chow's Speech to the Canadian Club: Boringly Accurate, Notably Unambitious
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Olivia Chow’s Speech to the Canadian Club: Boringly Accurate, Notably Unambitious

It turns out lying less does not necessarily mean saying more.

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When we fact-checked Rob Ford’s and Karen Stintz’s policy speeches, numerous commenters complained that we would never give Olivia Chow the same treatment, because we are socialist hippies who want to collectivize news into one giant drum circle.


On Thursday at the Economic Club, Rob Ford Lied Several Times Every Minute

Karen Stintz’s Speech to the Board of Trade: Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Of course, we planned all along to fact-check at least one policy speech by every major Toronto mayoral candidate, and preferably one that touched on as many topics as possible. Now it’s Olivia Chow’s turn.

The problem is that doing a fact-check for Olivia Chow’s speech is boring (and we anticipate David Soknacki’s eventual fact-check being even more boring, for the record), because while Olivia Chow has her faults, she has never been one to speak meaningless drivel. Simply put: Rob Ford is a liar, and Karen Stintz is a hack, and Olivia Chow is neither of these things. We are not going to engage in false equivalencies just to make Chow appear as bad as those other two for the sake of “balance.” Olivia Chow lies much less than the other mayoral candidates we’ve looked at, and we want to encourage this sort of behaviour.

(Dear Olivia Chow campaign staffers: lying less than your opponents is a terribly, depressingly low bar to set for yourself. If you find yourself tempted to cite this article as evidence of your candidate’s excellence, or pull a quote from it for a press release, please refrain. Or at least realize that it will only reinforce the sense that you are interested in winning by being the least dodgy option rather than by actually presenting a robust vision for the city.)

Here, in full, is the text of her June 3 speech and the issues we found in it. As with the other fact-checks, straight-up falsehoods are marked in red, and statements that are distortions, convenient omissions, or problematic in more nuanced ways are marked in orange.

Thank you. I want to thank the Canadian Club for inviting me to speak. And I want to thank all of you. The warm weather is finally here, the patios are calling, but you’ve agreed to spend some time with me and I appreciate it.

This is a great city all year round1, but there’s something special about the spring here. When people come out after a long winter and you can hear musicians playing jazz on a street corner, watch people throwing Frisbees to their dogs in the park, or cheer for runners in one of the many races around our city, or ride your bike, like I did with 14,000 people in the Ride for the Heart on Saturday.

All winter long we waited and we hope and in spring, our hopes for renewal are realized. That’s what I want to talk to you about today. About the renewed hopes and the dreams we all have for our city.

1 Come on. This city is awful in February and we can all admit that. We’re grownups. Toronto sucks in the dead of winter.

As you know, I bring something unique to this race.2 I know what it is like to live in a household where you’re worrying about how to pay the bills. I’ve lived that life. So do many people in this city, every single day. We started out in a low-income apartment in St. James Town. It was hard. Learning a new language, struggling to find work, struggling to fit in, and starting right at the bottom. So I know the value of every dollar and the importance of measuring results.

2 Of the approximately 40 candidates running for mayor in 2014, there are numerous candidates who grew up without money, numerous candidates who are immigrants, and numerous candidates whose first language was not English. It is certainly true that Chow is the only prominent candidate with this sort of background, but she is not unique in these respects.

I want to paint you a picture of what I want us to accomplish, together, in the next four years. I want to say a few words about our partners at Queen’s Park, since we are in the closing days of a provincial election campaign. But before I do that, let’s remember another speech delivered right here at the Canadian Club one week ago.

Mr. Tory was here, presenting his “number-one” priority. No, not the Yonge subway relief line. That was his old number-one priority. And he attacked me because he said I did not support it. Now he has a new number-one priority. And he attacked me because he said I supported his old number one priority. I don’t want to go into his latest priority today but I do want to talk about what this flip-flop says about Mr. Tory.

Because we’ve seen this over and over again. He supported faith-based schools when he was leader of the Ontario Conservative party, then was forced to take it back.3 He said a subway in Scarborough was barely justifiable—then changed his mind. He said he’ll scrap the Eglinton Connects street plan, but then he said he wouldn’t. He was all for a subway relief line, then took it back. That’s what’s happening, over and over again. And it’s disappointing.

3 Whatever you think about John Tory’s 2007 pledge to support faith-based schools for all creeds in Ontario (we would instead prefer to see the Catholic separate school system abolished, but Tory’s choice to support all faiths equally is at least a principled stance, as opposed to simply endorsing the existing system which privileges Catholics unfairly), he certainly was not “forced to take it back.” The closest he came was agreeing that there should be a free vote on the issue, but his personal support did not waver. He supported it throughout the campaign and that support is widely considered to have contributed substantially to, if not entirely ensured, his loss. John Tory has plenty of politically expedient flip-flops on his record. This is not one of them.

Here’s what I think happened: Mr. Tory committed to the Yonge subway relief line, and then he looked at the numbers and realized our city can’t afford both his gold-plated Scarborough plan, and his proposed subway relief line. So now his new plan is to get the Government of Ontario to upgrade a GO line. All because he didn’t think it through.

In fact, he’s still not thinking it through, because if you look at his maps, his latest idea would see parts of his provincial GO line running right on top of his Scarborough subway.4 Like a really expensive layer cake. A half-baked layer cake, at that. Like I said, it’s disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong. I think changing your mind once in a while can be a sign of good leadership. But changing your mind all the time is a sign of poor judgement. We’ve had enough poor judgement at City Hall. And Mr. Tory is not the change we need. We need to do better than that. I will do better than that.

4 Looking at John Tory’s maps, the SmartTrack appears to connect at both Main and Kennedy stations and then diverges from the proposed Scarborough subway extension (or any other Scarborough rail), heading directly north. Chow may here be suggesting that SmartTrack would potentially cannibalize riders from the Scarborough area and be redundant, and that is a legitimate policy concern, but her use of the layer cake analogy seems to indicate that she’s trying to imply that SmartTrack and the Scarborough extension would all but physically collide with one another, and that is simply not true.

Here is what I see for our city in the next four years.

First, I will do what it takes to unlock the potential in our city for all our citizens, including our younger residents. More than one out of five young people can’t find a job. That is not acceptable. Not only because these young people don’t have what they need to build better lives for themselves, but because they`re not being allowed to give what they have. Their skills, their creativity, their energy. We need to unlock that potential.

That’s why I’ve proposed a detailed youth employment plan5, leveraging the city’s own investments in infrastructure to create jobs for young people. And we need the private sector to match our effort. Developers are already doing that in Regent and Alexandra Park. Smarter and stronger children means a better and stronger community. There are far too many families who have no access to after-school activities. I will expand the after-school activities for children so they grow up smart and strong, and stay out of trouble.

5 Chow’s youth employment plan is, we suppose, detailed when compared to the likes of Rob Ford’s “I’m gonna make jobs!” plan, but that is not a litmus test worth using. Given that the rest of that brief paragraph lays out almost all of the elements of her plan as revealed to the public thus far, it’s just not the case that this plan can meaningfully be described as “detailed.”

It’s also not really that impressive: youth unemployment in Toronto is over 22 per cent right now, and Chow’s plan calls for only 5,000 new youth jobs through direct municipal spending, additional youth jobs through community benefits agreements (which will provide jobs, but likely not in the dramatic numbers hoped for) … and then she’s going to try and cajole the private sector into hiring youth, which seems more like wishful thinking than a plan. The bright side of Chow’s plan is that her promises are specific and should provide the benefits she says they will provide. The downside is the benefits are quite limited.

Then, to continue to unlock our city’s economic potential, we must deal with gridlock. It locks away our money and freezes our potential. The Toronto Board of Trade estimates that traffic jams costs us $6 billion dollars in lost productivity every year. Let’s start right now by improving bus service6, expanding capacity by 10 per cent during rush hour. That means getting people to work on time and more time with family. Buses may not be sexy, but they’re practical, and they’re how most people who use the TTC get around the city. We can help reduce gridlock today7.

6 Chow’s proposal would improve service in that we’d be better off than we are right now—but that’s because Rob Ford cut service relative to where we were under Miller. Her plan may help us start to recover from an illness, but it’s hardly an improvement in good health. Also, if the concern is gridlock—that is, congestion on the streets—Chow is conveniently omitting any discussion of streetcar service levels.

7 Nothing, no measures taken just on the transit side, will reduce gridlock. Our streets are congested because there are more cars, trucks, and taxis than there is available road space, and they are becoming even more congested because our population is growing while the available road space is not. Reducing gridlock will not come via transit service improvements alone. Reducing gridlock will probably not come at all. Realistically the best we can hope for is holding the line, and that requires not just building more transit but also taking cars off the road.

Next, let’s put shovels in the ground and build the above-ground rail8 in Scarborough now. We can build it four years faster than the below ground options, with four more stops, without causing a traffic nightmare for Scarborough. Saving us a billion dollars and no need for a 30 years property tax increase. And I might add we’d be well on our way to improve transit for Scarborough residents if the current mayor hadn`t wasted the last four years revisiting a well thought out plan designed by experts.

We must also proceed with the Yonge subway relief line9, upgrade the Bloor-Danforth signal system, and maintain the existing transit system by making sure it is in a state of good repair.

8 “Above-ground rail” is a term Chow is using here as a dodge. What she means when she talks about “above-ground rail in Scarborough” is LRT. The political weight that initialism has taken on should not stop her from using it—it’s the accurate one. And what our transit debate needs desperately, as much as it needs money and consensus and plans that last more than six months—what it needs as a necessary precondition to obtaining those other things—are politicians willing to speak about transit as though it were a matter of best practice and research, in which debates are decided by evidence. Which they should be. We can start by calling things by their proper names.

9 If Chow is going to complain about Tory not being able to make the math work on the DRL, she doesn’t then get to promise a DRL which she herself has not explained how to pay for. Chow has played fast and loose with the Scarborough subway tax, saying she will “save” this tax by reverting to the LRT plan. However, it is this money which she then proposes to dedicate to other projects, including the DRL, which means she isn’t saving it so much at spending it on other things (things, by the way, that council hasn’t approved it for).

Finally, we need to unlock the potential of our entrepreneurs and small business leaders. Small businesses create about 80 per cent of our new jobs. Because our city is so diverse, very often, they’re run by entrepreneurs from somewhere else. They bring knowledge with them. Of markets and cultures. Contacts and trends. They enrich our city and help us prosper.

That’s why I would cut small business taxes10 in the first four years of becoming mayor. Vancouver has a program that matches existing businesses with immigrant entrepreneurs. The new business gets help setting up. The existing business gets help to export. It’s a very successful idea. We need it here.

10 Chow wouldn’t be “cutting small business taxes” but rather extending a small business tax cut that already exists. Although the tax cut will lapse if not actively extended by city council, Chow is essentially pretending that maintaining the status quo comprises a “tax cut,” which it does not.

So in four years here’s what I see happening: 5,000 young people trained and employed in good jobs. Thousands of children happy with after-school activities. More successful new entrepreneurs. More export activities from small- and medium-sized businesses. Better bus service. Above-ground rail well on the way for Scarborough residents.

But to get to that point, we will need a provincial partner. No matter which party forms the next provincial government, they’re going to have to put Toronto near the top of their agenda. I’m not saying that because I think Toronto is the centre of the universe. That would be ridiculous. Everyone knows the centre of the universe is Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. But just like Ontario is the heart of Canada, our city is the heart of Ontario.

So for Ontario to work, our city has to work. And we need a mayor who will speak up for the city, advocate for it, and work collaboratively with the provincial government. That means bringing ideas forward that will help our city and our province.

I certainly did that. The provincial all-day kindergarden came from my pilot project, First Duty, when I was a city councillor and the city’s children’s advocate.

Our current mayor could never do that11. That’s why Rob Ford’s circus has to leave town. For good. I love our city. And we need to get back to business, and working with the province. I will put forward two urgent issues in front of the new government right away.

11 We are about as far as it is possible to get from being Rob Ford fans, but Rob Ford did get the province to advance funding for his subway project. Possibly only because he made subways into a political totem and the Liberal government acted out of cowardice, but: he did it. (Also, Chow: please don’t make us defend Ford ever again.)

One: we need a long-term agreement to fund the operation of the transit system. When I was a Metro councillor, the province paid 50 per cent of the operating costs of the TTC. Municipal downloading in the Harris years has been reversed in a lot of ways, but not that one. If you think about it, provincial operating funding for the TTC makes sense. Because the TTC isn’t just city transit. Every day, hundreds of thousands of commuters from the 905 also use the TTC to get to and from work. In that way, the TTC is regional transit just like the GO, and deserves operating support.

Two, we need to fix another Mike Harris municipal downloading experiment. Back in 1998, the government downloaded provincial social housing to the City. We need a long-term agreement to repair and operate provincial social housing and build new ones.

So, that’s what I want for our city in the next four years. But I tell you, I can’t do it alone. No mayor can. It takes people working together. All of us. With a common dream, a common goal, a common purpose. When I look at our city I see people who want what’s best for one another. I see people who want to lift each other up, help one another succeed.

We need to create jobs by strengthening our small businesses, we need to put children and families at the heart of our city, we need better transit. We need to make our city strong, once again, by unlocking its tremendous economic potential.

It’s been a long winter. But there is good news. Spring is here. And change is around the corner. Let’s make change happen, and change that lasts. Thank you.

Transit research contributed by Steve Munro.