The city’s shrunken council is going to have its work cut out for it. Even at full size, and with the capital to make meaningful changes, the John Tory-led council struggled to advance some of the city’s most pressing issues.
Here’s a look at the biggest misses of the past four years – and what the incoming government needs to get right.
OCTOBER 2018 ISSUE
The city became a less safe place to live.
My grandchildren are growing up in Toronto's West End, and when I ask their parents how safe they feel these days, they say, "Less than we used to." They believe that violence is up, and that preventive measures such as affordable social housing, recreation facilities for young people, youth employment opportunities, poverty reduction efforts and so on – all those ingredients that make a community safe – seem far from adequate. And, indeed, police data backs them up.
Between 2014 and 2018, in the neighbourhoods covered by police divisions 11, 12, 13 and 14 – which closely match the catchment area of this newspaper – shootings went up from 7 per cent of the total for the city to 22 per cent. Meanwhile, other safety stats showed no improvement. Pedestrian deaths or serious injuries between 2014 and 2017 (the last year for which numbers are available) continued to hover around 20 per cent of the city’s total, and cyclist deaths or serious injuries for the same period remained close to the 30 per cent mark.
Though these are only a few public safety indicators, they play a big role in whether a community feels safe in the places where its members walk, drive and play.
So, what’s the problem?
Our weakened safety is a direct result of the failure to implement numerous promised initiatives. Under John Tory’s leadership as mayor and as the most influential member of the Toronto Police Services Board, many improvement programs have been announced: the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Vision Zero Road Safety Plan, the police modernization plan and the enhancement of the Neighbourhood Officer program. But each of these remains unfinished business, implemented inadequately or in an ad hoc manner rather than as an integral part of city planning and budgeting.
The much-ballyhooed Vision Zero Road Safety Plan was announced in 2017, yet few of the 50 measures in Vision Zero’s action plan have seen the light of day. Meanwhile, it is only now, with elections on the horizon, that the Toronto Police Service is proposing to expand over the next two years the Neighbourhood Officer program that was launched in 2013. Currently, there are two teams of two officers in each of 11 and 13 Divisions, one in 12 and none in 14. It will take several more years before six teams will be added to 12 Division, and 14 Division gets its first team.
There are, of course, many questions that arise about the mandate, role, quality of supervision and effectiveness of these teams. However, the general idea that police officers should get out of their cars, get to know the neighbourhood where they serve, and establish positive relationships in it has considerable merit. It’s a far better approach than carding or heavy-handed after-the-fact interventions by the police's militarized Emergency Task Force under the discredited Toronto Anti-Violence Strategy, better knowns as TAVIS.
The issue is, if serious incidents, particularly shootings, showed signs of increase some three years ago, why has it taken this long to roll out proactive measures?
During the summer, we heard calls for banning the handgun and saw increased police presence in certain neighbourhoods. Yet the continued rise in shootings throughout the city and the persistent low rate of clearance – that is, the number of crimes cleared by a charge being laid – show that this approach has clearly failed to stem the violence.
In the meantime, police resources generally have been depleted in the name of implementing the recommendations of the police modernization plan, dubbed The Way Forward. The Police Services Board, under Mayor Tory’s leadership, imposed a three-year freeze on hirings. That, combined with a higher-than-projected departure of police officers, has significantly strained police resources. The plan called for enlisting alternative ‘resources’ to perform certain duties normally carried out by uniformed police officers – including, for example, the use of civilians to do crime analysis and provide police training, as well as the use of technology such as red-light cameras for traffic control at intersections.
The hiring of new officers, however, was frozen without first ensuring that those alternatives had been put in place. Now, the police board is back-pedalling and hiring 200 additional officers every year. This reversal by the board may ease the demand on officers, but a smart, new integrated community-based model of policing continues to remain elusive.
This is typical of the muddied vision and ineffective follow-through that hold community policing back in this city. No wonder Toronto feels less safe today.
— Alok Mukherjee
Alok Mukherjee is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University and author, with Tim Harper, of Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing (2018). He served as chair of the Toronto Police Services Board from 2005 to 2015.
The transit plan was impossible to execute – let alone understand.
Here's a metaphysical question for you: What is SmartTrack?
It might seem odd to be asking, more than four years after then-candidate John Tory first introduced Toronto to the term when he unveiled his 2014 transit platform, and after he spent so many debates, press conferences and interviews talking and talking and talking about it, but it's still not entire clear.
Of course, on a very basic level we know what SmartTrack was supposed to be. As Tory explained it, it was a plan to use the existing GO Transit network to provide subway-style service on all GO lines in Toronto.
But very quickly that became complicated by the fact that, long before Tory kicked off his 2014 mayoral campaign, the provincial government had already embarked on a plan to do the same thing
in Toronto through its Regional Express Rail (RER) plan. So, if the basic gist of what Tory was promising was already happening, what was SmartTrack bringing to the table?
At first, Tory’s promise was more stations – 22 of them – stretching from Pearson Airport to Unionville in Markham. But as Tory’s plan was subjected to the hard light by transit engineers,
it quickly became apparent that many of these stations were either shockingly expensive or wouldn’t attract many riders – or both. The plan has now been whittled down to six stations, with just two in the West End: at St. Clair West and in Liberty Village.
Similarly, while Tory’s plan originally envisioned a new extension of GO-style tracks along Eglinton, bringing his SmartTrack trains to Pearson airport, engineers quickly pegged the price of that track at $8 billion. So Tory reverted to another pre-existing plan, one introduced by former mayor David Miller, to build light rail along the corridor instead.
The promise of starting the expanded service in 2021 is thoroughly off the rails. If we’re lucky, we might get service in 2024, which happens to be the original date the provincial transit agency Metrolinx was targeting.
As rebranding exercises go, this one did not come as a bargain. Because Tory promised to deliver SmartTrack, Kathleen Wynne’s provincial government expected City Hall to pony up for some of the costs related to RER. The bill for City Hall, so far, amounts to just under $1.5 billion.
The upside is that the fundamental idea behind RER and SmartTrack – using the GO network to provide more frequent, local service within Toronto – is a good one, and the city’s financial stake in the project may help protect it from meddling by Premier Doug Ford’s government. And now that all this SmartTrack business is settled, the next term of council can focus on what should have been the city’s top transit priority all along: the relief line subway.
— Matt Elliott
Matt Elliott, has been reporting on policy in Toronto since 2010
Council pulled its support for ranked ballots, which would have ended strategic voting.
After John Tory was elected mayor in 2014, there was good reason to think it would be the last-ever time a Toronto election would be conducted under the first-past-the-post system.
Toronto council had voted 26–15 in June 2013 to formally request the provincial government allow the use of ranked ballots in future municipal elections. With ranked ballots, voters would be able to rank their first, second and third choice on the ballot. The candidate with the fewest votes gets eliminated, those voters' second choices get counted an the candidate with an actual majority wins – putting an end to strategic voting.
The provincial government under Kathleen Wynne indicated that it was cool with the idea. Mayor John Tory publicly voiced his support. And polls showed that a majority of the public wanted ranked ballots, too.
After years of campaigning by local activist Dave Meslin and the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT), it looked like in 2018 Toronto voters would be ranking candidates, instead of picking just one.
This story does not have a happy ending.
In October 2015, Etobicoke Councillor Justin Di Ciano moved a motion to reverse council’s previous support for ranked ballots. The motion came by surprise during a debate about the various technicalities of the Municipal Election Act, and even more surprisingly, it passed 25–18. Di Ciano said ranked ballots were too “confusing” for voters.
Given the timelines needed to procure and program the machines that count the ballots, that reversal of support effectively ended all hope of seeing ranked ballots used in any capacity in 2018. To add further insult, council also voted down an attempt in 2016 to create an advisory committee to consider ranked ballots for the next election in 2022.
While Di Ciano and other councillors opposed to electoral reform mostly stuck to the idea that ranked ballots were simply too confusing, it’s worth noting that there’s a long history of councillors exploiting the vote-splitting inherent to first-past-the-post to get elected.
In 2014, right-leaning Ward 17 (Davenport) Councillor Cesar Palacio eked out a win with 46 per cent after candidates Alejandra Bravo and Saeed Selvam split the progressive vote. Meanwhile, Christin Carmichael Greb was able to win an open seat in Ward 16 (Eglinton-Lawrence) with a paltry 17 per cent, as more than a dozen candidates split chunks of the vote.
Throughout this saga, Tory’s support for ranked ballots remained consistent, but he was never able to build support among his council colleagues the way he did on other issues like transit or keeping property taxes low.
The lost opportunity here is significant. Ranked ballots create new opportunities for new candidates to oust incumbents. Meanwhile, as Toronto politicians were clinging to the status quo, the city council in London, Ont., voted to use ranked ballots in its 2018 municipal elections this month. Cambridge and Kingston are also exploring the idea – voters in those municipalities will vote in referendums this fall on whether to make the switch. Here’s hoping newly elected councillors in Toronto take a cue from our neighbours and put electoral reform back on the agenda.
The affordable housing strategy didn’t go nearly far enough.
There are more than 180,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in Toronto. The repair backlog at Toronto Community Housing totals billions of dollars.
Fixing this is not easy.
Mayor John Tory has certainly made strides since taking office four years ago. His housing advocate, Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailão, has led a program since 2016 designed to create 1,000 new affordable homes each year. The city is on track to meet that goal.
The challenge is that Tory’s action on housing can’t keep up with the dual trends of skyrocketing housing costs and increasing poverty.
Affordable units aren’t being built fast enough, and many of those that are deemed affordable by the city are actually anything but. A report released by ACORN Canada – a national organization of low- and moderate-income families – earlier this year found that the city considers a one-bedroom apartment rented at $1,200 affordable, despite rents of that level being out of reach for most low-income Torontonians, especially minimum-wage earners. (Tory later acknowledged that Toronto may need to reconsider its definition of “affordable.”)
The effects of the city’s lack of affordable housing were felt most strongly last December, when city homeless shelters were at capacity during a bitter cold snap. Tory and a majority of councillors had earlier voted not to request use of the federally controlled armouries at Fort York and in Moss Park as emergency shelter spaces – a move that ended up putting lives at risk as people in need of shelter reported that they were being turned away due to a lack of space.
The weather is warmer now, but the shelter-capacity problem persists: An average of more than 7,000 people are sleeping in Toronto shelters each night.
Tory’s promise to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation – a promise he has reiterated for a possible second term – has limited the city’s ability to invest in more permanent shelter spaces or the construction of additional housing units.
Still, Tory has promised to build 40,000 more units over the next 12 years as part of his reelection platform. Top challenger Jennifer Keesmaat has promised to build 100,000 units in 10 years, largely by making city-owned parking lots and other pieces of land available for affordable housing use. Meanwhile, the federal government has, for the first time ever, launched a national housing strategy. Thousands of people are waiting to see if any of these plans will set them on a path to an affordable place to live.
Tory failed to build bridges with the Black community.
If John Tory wins the election this October, he will be leading a reduced city council of 25 wards, a move that has seen activists, advocates and citizens wonder not only what could be next, but how those uniquely positioned to represent and protect us will do so.
Communities routinely shut out of politics are used to this. The Black community in Toronto has had a particularly strained relationship with John Tory for the past four years, fraught with grave misunderstandings and disastrous public statements. Just this past July at city council, Tory supported and rushed to pass the use of ShotSpotter – rooftop audio-surveillance technology used to detect the sound of gunshots – claiming it should be utilized in certain areas, according to a letter he wrote to the Toronto Police Services Board on July 19. Meanwhile, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association strongly advised against the California-based technology, cautioning it is “entirely untested in relation to its privacy impacts [and] its potential use as a tool with evidentiary value in our Canadian courts.” The association also called into question “the constitutionality of its use.”
Tory has butted heads with outspoken members of Toronto’s Black community, such as Black Lives Matter Toronto, and maintained relationships with a handful of political Black elite, like Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, often paraded around to show good faith. Those who know that having a Black friend doesn’t mean anything understand exactly what Tory has been doing.
Tory made a public statement about Black Lives Matter Toronto’s disruption of the 2016 Pride Parade through a letter to Mike McCormack, head of the Toronto Police Association. He openly supported the police union and leveraged a scattered message around diversity – saying, “I, for one, appreciate both the support for Pride and all that it represents coming from the police officers who march as well as the professional way in which they have kept Pride and its participants safe all these years.” This ignored the shameful historical relationship between Black Torontonians and the police. Months before that, Tory ostracized and alienated Black Lives Matter Toronto while attempting to meet with more agreeable Black groups – telling reporters he reached out to “some leaders of our Black community” for a private meeting with him and Mark Saunders in Toronto, only to backtrack in the end and hold public meetings that included BLMTO.
He also refused to apologize for using racist language to characterize Black suspects in a June shooting, telling reporters, “the police are working aggressively and they’re working with full resources deployed to track these people, these profoundly antisocial kind of sewer rats, down.” Such dog-whistle tactics that employ coded language keep Black Torontonians on the margins.
Tory’s “sewer rat” comments came a month before Toronto Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti characterized residents of his West End constituency as “cockroaches,” saying, “Scatter them. Evict them. Get them out of Jane and Finch completely.” Such racist language instills fear in constituents. Tory does not have to go as far as Mammoliti if he follows the same cues.
Black people recognize the lines that Tory has drawn between the Black people close to him in photo ops and the activists he has attempted to silence – and, by extension, the many Black Torontonians they’re fighting for.
— Melayna Williams
Melayna Williams (JD, Osgoode Hall) is a writer and the director of Rights Advocacy Coalition for Equality.
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