Toronto Election 2014: John Tory on Seven Key Issues

Torontoist

Toronto Election 2014: John Tory on Seven Key Issues

From transit and cycling to the environment and policing, here's how he would tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the city.

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TRANSIT

In late May, John Tory launched his plan for a new transit line called SmartTrack—the centrepiece of his “One Toronto” transit plan [PDF]. In brief, SmartTrack adapts part of Metrolinx’s Regional Express Rail (RER) plan, a broader strategy for enhancing service in the GTA [PDF], and tries to use a portion of that plan to help meet Toronto’s transit deficit.

SmartTrack would see express trains operating primarily on GO Transit corridors. It would begin at the Airport Corporate Centre (but not run to the airport itself), then veer east to Mount Dennis, travel south in a rough U-shape across downtown, and then proceed north to Unionville. The route would charge regular TTC fares with free transfers to the existing TTC system, and trains would run every 15 minutes. Over its 53-kilometre route, SmartTrack would have 22 stations, and might, according to the campaign, carry over 200,000 passengers per day.

The plan involves a number of complications and concerns: for example, it would require space in the existing GO corridors to operate; relies on outdated information about Eglinton Avenue, which assumes there was still room there for a new rail corridor; would need frequent connecting bus services to ensure passengers living in some employment clusters could reach the stations; raises questions about service frequency and station access time; overlooks three important new LRT/streetcar services—Sheppard East, Finch West, and a waterfront line; and makes the possibility of a new subway line providing local service in the areas close to downtown less likely.

And just as there are a great many questions about the viability of the transit plan itself, there are also questions about the viability of Tory’s suggestion for how to finance it. Tory’s proposal is to pay for SmartTrack using a mechanism called tax increment financing (TIF)—which is essentially a way of borrowing money based on the projected future increase in property tax revenue a new development will create. The basic idea is that if we borrow money and build SmartTrack, that transit line will spur new construction, allow new businesses to set up shop along the way, and generate economic growth. That growth will increase the property tax base, which in turn means the City will collect more money.

Excluding cost overruns and the City’s share of tunnelling along Eglinton West, the $2.67 billion needed for SmartTrack would be the single largest TIF used anywhere, ever, for a single project. That means a lot of risk for the City to assume: in fact, the province would have to double the City’s currently allowable TIF limit in order for the project to get off the ground. The $2.67 billion would also affect Toronto’s self-imposed debt ceiling.

New development would also require the provision of City services, creating an ongoing impact on the City’s operating budget—and the plan relies on developments already underway as sources of revenue for SmartTrack.


CYCLING, WALKING, AND OTHER TRANSPORTATION ISSUES

The Tory platform proposes a number of non-SmartTrack initiatives to improve transportation in Toronto.

He wants to expand the city’s network of bike lanes, although he has not provided further details except to say they would be placed in “sensible locations.” He also says he’d partner with businesses to build the lanes, along with bike parking and bike sharing programs—an untested strategy that would need to be fleshed out considerably. Streets and TTC stations would get more bike parking, including SmartTrack stations if and when they are built.

Tory promises technology-based solutions to fight gridlock, including intelligent traffic signals that assess the situation at a given intersection and respond accordingly, rather than awaiting direction from a central system. Technologies that allow signals to maximize streetcar and bus efficiency would also be considered. Other proposed anti-congestion measures include improved parking enforcement during rush hours, and a crackdown on construction that blocks traffic lanes for extended periods.

One of Tory’s more peculiar ideas is to commission a study to see how Toronto could make more effective use of Lake Ontario for commuting and day-to-day travel.


HOUSING

John Tory has said he wants to speed up City contributions to Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s crippling repair backlog, but hasn’t pledged any new funding. Tory held a major press conference on housing to announce funding for TCHC that the City has already promised to spend.

Tory has expressed a desire that city council set a target for new affordable housing units, although he has not proposed one himself. His website contains five separate sections on transit planning, but not a single one on housing.

Like his opponents, Tory says he will ask the provincial and federal governments for more housing funds. But he has also said that, unlike his opponents, he can leverage good working relationships with Queen’s Park and Ottawa to secure extra funds. This claim is dubious, but it forms part of a broader narrative that suggests Tory’s personal relationships are critical to the growth and well-being of the city.

Tory has proven himself capable of pointing out the shortcomings of Rob Ford’s housing policies, but he has yet to propose any specific alternatives of his own.


ENVIRONMENT

John Tory devotes a substantial amount of web space to his environmental plan, and earns a creditable 61 per cent (second only to Olivia Chow) in the Toronto Environmental Alliance’s candidate survey. Like Chow, Tory wants to restore the tree cover shredded by beetles and inclement weather. He says he would increase funding of the City’s current five-year tree-planting plan to $15 million from $7 million, and work with other groups to get 3.8 million trees in the ground over the next decade.

Tory promises a Sustainable City Advisory Board, which would provide advice on innovative solutions to energy efficiency and climate change. He would appoint an Environment Advocate to co-ordinate environmental policies and strategies across City departments.

Tory wants to introduce a plan to collect data on energy used by all public buildings in Toronto, and an energy-benchmarking program that would allow private-sector property owners to compare notes on energy-saving strategies and find ways to reduce their energy usage.

A Tory mayoralty would encourage the implementation of Smart Energy Networks (defined as “the strategy of more than one building sharing thermal energy systems”).

Tory has said that he hasn’t made up his mind on the proposed expansion of Billy Bishop airport, but will await further study.


CHILD CARE

John Tory has said little about child care during the campaign. Responding to an item in the Toronto Star‘s Big Ideas series, Tory indicated that he would support the use of City funds to “support Toronto families,” but strongly implied that he would expect the provincial and federal governments to do most of the heavy lifting.


POLICING

John Tory has taken a wait-and-see position on police carding, the controversial police practice of stopping civilians and documenting their personal identification. Tory has said he does not wish to abolish the practice completely, but would rather see it reformed. He says police need tools in order to do their jobs, but has not addressed the disproportionate impact of carding on non-white people.

Tory has not articulated any definitive policies on policing. He has promised not to reduce the total number of police officers. Tory has sometimes addressed questions on policing by criticizing Olivia Chow’s pledge to sit on the police board; he has pointed out that she resigned from the board as a councillor in 2000.

Tory’s failure to engage in policing issues in 2014 is a dramatic change from his run for mayor in 2003, during which he promised to hire 400 officers, ban panhandling, and allow police easier access to DNA samples (which is not to say any of these issues remain his priorities).

The police budget has increased by $387 for each Torontonian in the last four years. Tory is running on a platform of controlling costs, but he has offered little of substance on this major budget issue.


TAXES

Tory promises to keep property taxes “within” the rate of inflation, which is expected to be about 2 per cent. He pledges to continue with the Scarborough subway proposal, which would add 0.5 per cent to the property tax revenue increase in 2015 and another 0.6 per cent increase in 2016.

Tory has stated that the City can’t responsibly repeal or reduce the land transfer tax without a corresponding revenue increase or service decrease elsewhere. He does not have any plans to change the land transfer tax, which brought in $357 million in 2013. In recent years, the land transfer tax has represented the difference between a surplus and deficit.

Tory also supports keeping development charges as is.

Tory promises to keep sports user fees flat. Between 2011 and 2013, parks and recreation user-fee revenue increased by 23.1 per cent.

Much of Tory’s platform relies on increased funding from the federal and provincial governments, and he has said he will “shame” them into paying their fair share and that “there will be hell to pay” if they do not. He frequently argues that he is the candidate best positioned to negotiate with the provincial and federal governments.

He also makes unprecedented use of tax increment financing, proposing the City fund its portion of his SmartTrack plan with this revenue tool. Its portion is expected to be between $2.67 and $3.5 billion, depending on tunnelling costs on Eglinton West, and would represent the largest use of a TIF in the world. Tory has also mentioned funding $1 billion of the Downtown Relief Line through a TIF. His campaign has not provided formulas that indicate how they’ve arrived at these numbers, and when asked for additional details, Tory refers to his “confidence” in the Toronto market. (If the Toronto market does extremely well, the TIFs could conceivably be paid off, because they capture value from future property taxes over 30 years. With that said, City Manager Joe Pennachetti has indicated that this approach would essentially constitute shuffling money around.)

Tory has also not specified how his tree canopy and cycling plans would be funded.

Tory has ruled out additional revenue tools.



  OLIVIA CHOW
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DOUG FORD
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