Toronto Election 2014: Olivia Chow on Seven Key Issues
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Toronto Election 2014: Olivia Chow on Seven Key Issues

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

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In March 2014, Olivia Chow was first out of the gate with a three-pronged transit platform: run better bus service, build the LRT network approved before Ford took office, and start design work on the Downtown Relief subway line.

Bus service would be a quick fix, something Chow initially said the TTC could do with its existing fleet and some elbow grease to keep the oldest vehicles on the road for a few extra years. In March, when she launched this part of her transit plan, Chow promised that “in 2015 the TTC will increase rush hour capacity by 10 per cent. This will increase service on the busiest routes, using buses the TTC owns.” She pegged the cost of this at $15 million annually, and said that could be done within existing budget capacity, while “holding property taxes around the rate of inflation.” Soon after it became clear that the TTC did not have the capacity to meet the 10 per cent improvement target within its current funding, or with its existing bus fleet.

Later in the campaign—around Labour Day—she released new details that both fleshed out and scaled back the plan. Chow’s revised proposal is to raise the land transfer tax on homes that cost over $2 million. That would generate $100 million to fund the remaining gap in the budget for the McNicoll bus garage in northern Scarborough; $84 million to purchase 40 additional buses (these would not enter service until 2018-19); and money for 10 additional streetcars, to be added to the current order (slated for delivery beginning in 2019). According to the TTC, doing all the above would yield a five per cent improvement in bus crowding standards—half of her original 10 per cent promise, and taking four years longer than she originally stated. Chow has not provided any new proposals for meeting her original targets in light of this feedback from the TTC.

LRT on Sheppard, Finch, and most importantly in Scarborough, to upgrade the worn-out Scarborough RT, would come in the medium term. These plans were already in place—studies done, funding allocated, and council approved—before Rob Ford summarily trashed Transit City on his first day in office.

The Relief Line—the TTC’s top transit priority—is a long-term project, but one with studies underway, which is more than we’ve had in a while.

Chow’s $15-million bus improvements, though, would bring only a modest, short-lived improvement in service. And while her transit plan has the makings of an integrated view of Toronto’s transit—rail service in various forms where it is needed, better service on surface routes that are essential to travel across the city, recognition of the regional rail network’s role within Toronto—such a plan needs the leadership to tell voters what they don’t want to hear: better transit will cost more money. Toronto, both its suburbs and downtown, can have much more if only there is a responsible program for transit growth and the will to pay for it.


Olivia Chow has promised to build 200 kilometres of new bike lanes within four years, including separated bike lanes downtown. She also wants to improve bike lane maintenance and snow clearance, and create more bicycle parking at TTC stations. All upgrades would be paid for by reallocating priorities in the existing cycling capital budget.

Pedestrian safety is a key part of Chow’s platform, which includes a proposed initiative that would allow entire neighbourhoods to reduce speed limits on their roads by 10 km/h (currently only individual streets can request lower speed limits). Chow also wants to introduce better lighting and longer pedestrian crossing times at the 100 most dangerous intersections in the city.

To fight gridlock, Chow wants to make it more difficult for construction crews to impede traffic, including by issuing fines to contractors who close or block roads when no work is being done. She also proposes beefing up enforcement of existing traffic laws, including those that prohibit idling on busy roads and blocking intersections. Smart traffic signals are another of Chow’s priorities; if elected, she would appoint a traffic liaison co-ordinator in the mayor’s office to work with all parties involved in keeping traffic moving.


Olivia Chow has made housing a central plank of her mayoral campaign. She has promised to bring to council a proposal for inclusionary housing that would require 20 per cent of units in new residential towers to be affordable. Council would have to define affordability, and Chow’s goal of 15,000 new affordable units is highly ambitious. But Chow is the only major candidate advocating for hard targets on new affordable housing.

Chow has also pledged to help revitalize 1,200 apartment towers by allowing commercial development and encouraging the creation of public space. Much of this is already being implemented by City staff, so it’s unclear what new resources or ideas, if any, Chow is proposing.

Chow has said she would press the provincial and federal governments for more funding. Specifically, she says the province should restore affordable housing funding to pre-1998 levels (before the provincial Conservatives under Mike Harris downloaded $905 million in public housing costs to municipalities).

On Toronto Community Housing, Chow says tenants should have more say over their own dwellings. She wants to implement a “tenant and community-driven approach” to seniors housing as a pilot project, although she has not said what, precisely, this initiative might entail. Like the other major candidates, Chow says she will ask the provincial and federal governments for help addressing TCHC’s massive housing backlog.


Chief among Olivia Chow’s environmental commitments is a promise to restore Toronto’s tree canopy, which was devastated by last year’s ice storm and floods. She proposes to pay for a 50-per-cent increase in the City’s contribution to tree planting with a hike in treatment fees paid by polluting businesses.

Chow would fight the proposal to expand Billy Bishop airport to accommodate jets. She is also opposed to the Enbridge Line 9 reversal, which would see oil from the Alberta tar sands flowing through Toronto on its way to Montreal for export.


As city councillor, Olivia Chow was a strong advocate for children, and now child care is a key plank of her mayoral platform. Her child-care policy statement released at the end of September promises an investment of $15 million over four years to create 3,000 new child-care spaces, half of which would be subsidized. Chow also wants to add 1,200 children and 40 neighbourhoods to existing low- or no-fee after-school recreation programs aimed at working families (as councillor, Chow helped create these programs).

Lifting some lingo from the conservative lexicon, Chow also says she would improve programs for kids by “Mak[ing] the city a better, more comprehensive manager.” As examples of the efficiencies she’d look to add, Chow points to “bulk-buying for child-care centres to lower costs; coordinat[ing] supply staff management to lower overhead; and creat[ing] centralized child-care waiting lists.”

Chow also says she would partner with organizations such as the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada to help deliver programs to even more kids.


Olivia Chow has expressed a desire to sit on the Toronto Police Services Board if she is elected mayor. She contends that her participation will allow her to advocate an end to police carding, the controversial police practice of stopping civilians and documenting their personal identification. Chow has taken a strong stance against carding; in reference to the disproportionate impact of carding on non-white Torontonians, Chow has called it “a practice that has been found to cause pain and oppression.”

Chow has said she will curb the police budget by reducing the force’s overtime hours. She has not specified how she would do this, nor how much money she proposes to save. The move will certainly receive pushback from the police union, whose president has said proposals to alter police shifts are oversimplified.

Chow has also vowed to expand the use of Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCITs), which can respond to incidents involving residents in mental distress. A recent review of police interactions with such residents recommended the expansion of MCITs, but Chow has not put a dollar figure on any additional investment. Chow has also said she would expand a pilot project intended to prevent crime before it happens; she has again failed to provide a dollar figure for any new investment.


Chow has committed to keeping property taxes, which account for about 40 per cent of the City’s total revenue, “around” the rate of inflation. What this means has been the subject of debate and speculation on the campaign trail, and she has committed herself to no more than 3 per cent a year.

Chow also promises to use the 1.6 per cent Scarborough property tax increase to fund the Downtown Relief Line, provided she can get matching commitments from the federal and provincial governments. But she has also committed this money to other projects, including the TTC’s state-of-good-repair backlog.

She also pledges to increase the land transfer tax on homes sold for more than $2 million. This promise would affect roughly 500 households a year, and the campaign projects that it would raise about $20 million in additional annual revenue.

The Chow campaign argues that this would constitute a more progressive form of taxation—and pledges that the money generated would be directed to issues that have been prominent planks of her platform: transit, children’s programs, and environmental projects.

In keeping with her desire for progressive taxation, Chow has referred to Rob Ford’s move to increase user fees as “shameful,” and says she will try to reduce them as mayor. She has not put forward a plan indicating how she would offset the revenue if they were to be reduced or issued a specific reduction target.

Chow also proposes to tax polluting companies on a cost recovery basis and to use the resulting $3.5 million to support her tree canopy proposal.

She also plans to extend the City’s small-business tax reduction program until 2020. The program is currently set to expire in 2015.

Chow has ruled out additional revenue tools.

See also:

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issue navigator john tory square