With Justin Trudeau's majority, Toronto should hold the Liberals accountable to their better selves.
In the end, it was an astonishing Liberal victory.
For the first time in Canadian history, the third-place party swept to power, and did so in part by winning every riding in Toronto. High-profile members of Parliament like Peggy Nash, Andrew Cash, Craig Scott, Joe Oliver, Julian Fantino, and Chris Alexander were swept away in a big Liberal win, referred to as a Red Wave or second coming of Trudeaumania, depending on the source.
Whatever superlative one might prefer, the majority victory—unthinkable just a few weeks ago—was impressive, and one need only look to the rival parties to measure the magnitude. The NDP, who once looked poised to lead a minority government, were reduced to 44 seats, the same third-place territory the beleaguered Liberals occupied after the 2011 election. After losing to a rival he considers beneath him, Stephen Harper clung to his diminished pride, and announced his leadership resignation through a memo, rather than in his concession speech. Doing so was against convention, but maybe he did not want to give the media the clip they desired; if so, it was a petty final act befitting his decade-long tenure as PM.
If soul-searching is in the cards for the NDP and Conservatives, it should also be the case with the Liberal government. What should they do with all of this unexpected political capital? Where does their future lie, and how will it shape Toronto’s political landscape?
With an incumbent prime minister seeking his fourth term at 24 Sussex, the 2015 election was as much about rejecting Stephen Harper as it was about the alternatives offered by rival parties.
But if the Liberals won in part due to a wave of anti-Harper voting, then they have an opportunity to be a welcome corrective.
Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were always disinterested in urban housing policy (beyond boutique tax credits for home renovations) and thus ignored the growing issues that TCHC, and social housing agencies around the country, face. TCHC houses the equivalent of the population of Prince Edward Island, but $3.6 billion worth of repairs is needed over the next decade to repair its aging housing stock. If the agency doesn’t receive the funding imminently, thousands of homes will be condemned—around 18,500 residents could be removed from their homes by 2023. It is an urgent crisis that needs to be recognized as such by the federal government, and Toronto is in a much better place to get that recognition with Spadina—Fort York MP Adam Vaughan potentially in the Trudeau cabinet.
Of course, there are always transit needs, and they go far beyond a vanity subway in Scarborough, or whatever SmartTrack is supposed to be. There are $2.4 billion in unfunded TTC capital projects, and that’s before you get to the headline-making projects that people talk so much about, like the much-needed Relief Line.
And there’s $325 million of federal money needed for Don Flood Protection, perhaps a project for new Toronto—Danforth MP Julie Dabrusin, a board member of Parks People, to advocate for.
The Liberal government promised “real change,” and if you look at the electoral map of Canada’s largest city, Toronto is ready for it—but that means following through on meaningful policies, the kind we were told Stephen Harper lacked either the compassion, or interest, to implement. That means real investments in housing, transit, and other infrastructure—and let’s not forget the social services needed to help make our city more livable.
It may be tempting for the Liberal party to bask in the glow of their victory. For it to be more than an ephemeral reaction to a prime minister past his best-before-date, however, the incoming government should receive pressure to invest in cities like Toronto in ways that the previous government did not.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberals surpassed every expectation placed on them. And so now it is time for the electorate to adjust their expectations accordingly.