Will John Tory’s ‘cautious’ leadership be tough enough to tackle Toronto’s major problems if he is re-elected?

While we wait to hear if Mayor John Tory hopes to lead Toronto until 2026, urgent questions are towering.

What can we expect from the former telecom director and TV station if he is to successfully seek re-election next October based on his self-proclaimed “cautious” approach to urban issues for the past seven years?

Is a cautious centrist the right leader to initiate drastic changes needed to avert climate catastrophe and revive a city center virtually emptied of COVID-19?

“Slow, steady incremental improvements are better than nothing,” said Dylan Reid, an advocate for cities that can walk. “But we will have to move faster and think bigger if we are to achieve the goal of having a net-zero carbon city,” a city that is habitable and affordable, even when the rapid population growth resumes.

Richard Florida, an internationally renowned urban expert based at the University of Toronto, says Tory’s tactics of building support for change – pushing diverse voters toward a common good – have brought benefits to Torontoians.

“Once we get out of the pandemic, we need a steady hand,” Florida says, suggesting that a re-elected Tory can take bolder action on affordability and other issues.

The mayor himself will not talk about what a third term might look like. His spokesman Lawvin Hadisi says the mayor “is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2022 city budget.

“Against that background, we will not speculate on future plans after 2022.”

But she continues, in campaign style, to highlight Tory’s “strong and responsible leadership” throughout the pandemic and his work non-stop “to ensure Toronto comes back stronger than ever.”

That recovery, Hadisi says, depends on progress in transit, housing and affordable prices “only possible thanks to the solid foundation the mayor has built and protected throughout the pandemic.”

COVID-19 has shaped Tory’s second term: he’s the pandemic mayor. The virus, which has gripped the world for nearly two years, has pushed his agenda in new directions and shaped the city in ways that will long survive mandatory mask rules.

We asked experts what they expect from issues including major infrastructure projects, transit, housing, walking and cycling and taxes if Tory wins re-election.

Few expect this center-right leopard to change its spots (or blue needle stripes). Being an ingenious quest for the middle ground has helped boost Tory’s popularity to the point that almost anyone running against him would be a long shot.

But is the caution Toronto needs to correct skyrocketing housing costs, pandemic-ravaged finances and, most horribly, global warming?

Infrastructure

Whether it’s the waning promise of a massive downtown park or the innovation of Ontario Place, Tory has overseen a lot of vision building – but so far not a lot of actual construction on those projects.

There have been some gains when it comes to new public infrastructure, experts say, such as the rapid development of The Bentway, a space for many uses that runs under a western part of the Gardiner Expressway, which includes a winter ice rink and public art – round.

“Tory was a proponent of it and getting it done quickly,” said Jake Tobin Garrett, a park policy consultant.

Garrett says the most exciting park project underway during this period was not Rail Deck Park – a plan to span the railroad center in the center with a park crushed by the Planning Court in May – but The Meadoway, a project along a 16-kilometer stretch of hydrocorridor in Scarborough.

The linear park will span several neighborhoods and increase the city’s biodiversity in the midst of a climate crisis, Garrett says.

“It’s such an exciting idea for me,” he says, “much more of an urban building idea than even Rail Deck Park.”

There have been other changes in how the city views public space, such as turning the CafeTO program, which allowed restaurant dining in a curb courtyard during a pandemic that closed indoor dining, into a permanent fixture.

Garrett says he would love to see more of these ideas and get them replicated outside the center. “I do not think we are maximizing the opportunities we already have,” he says.

Transit

After projects with rapid transit were handed over to the provincial government, Tory and the municipality are no longer responsible for major constructions such as the Scarborough metro.

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, CEO of the grassroots advocacy group TTCriders, says that when it comes to transit operations, for which the city is still responsible, Tory has helped secure emergency funding after the pandemic decimated transit rider numbers and thus ticket revenue.

“It remains to be seen whether he will let transit collapse now or do everything to win back riders,” says Pizey-Allen, adding that operational financing will be the key to ensuring reliable service.

“We think it will be a crucial part of the mayor’s legacy – if he secures the resources that the TTC needs.”

She credited the mayor for other aspects of transit management, such as to fight for the King Street pilot who improved commuting times on the busy route.

Matti Siemiatycki, professor of urban planning at the University of Toronto, agrees that the pilot project was a “signature program”, but questions how the city arrived at the solution within a transit network that still needs much improvement.

“It’s characteristic of the way it was done – it started as a pilot project that brought in tons of evidence to support the program and implemented such projects one by one instead of seeing it as a network and a system, and aims towards much more systemic change. “

Non-transit transport

While empty buses and trams roll around the city, car traffic is rebuilt towards pre-pandemic levels. The same is true of disruptive construction projects and problems with problems despite Tory’s “traffic agents” at busy intersections.

Cyclists get an unexpected boom in bike lane construction. Temporary separate lanes installed early in the pandemic on arteries, including University Avenue, to help commuters who are at risk of infection during transit be made permanent.

And CafeTO, which is also being made permanent in one way or another, has encouraged strolls by relocating some vehicle lanes as terraces in hot weather.

“COVID shook things up a bit,” says Reid, of the advocacy group Walk Toronto, adding that Tory should be commended for supporting the changes. Reid says, however, that the city, where the car has long been king, needs a revolutionary, not evolutionary approach to transportation.

“We need to have a city where the idea is viability for everyone, where everyone can go for a fair number of things we need to do, and I do not see anyone having that vision at the moment.”

Keagan Gartz, CEO of Cycle Toronto, says the Tory and Council enabled an unprecedented growth in the bike lane network over the next three years. There will be struggles in the future to expand the network further, but it will not stop.

“Whether it’s Tory or someone else,” as mayor, she says, “they will have to come to terms with the fact that people in all parts of our city expect safe, lively, complete streets – for our climate, for our health. , for our economy and for our security. And they will not go back to the status quo. “

U from T’s Siemiatycki describes Tory’s approach to non-transit transport as “incremental, middle of the road and change that has happened but slowly.”

He points to small advances in the Vision Zero safety plan for pedestrians and cyclists: “It is not because there has been no action, but the underlying precedence of the car in large parts of the city has not been challenged.

Post the pandemic, would Tory keep up the pressure for continued change?

“I think he will continue at his pace,” Siemiatycki said. “The pandemic accelerated many projects already in the books and made it possible to implement them with much less friction and controversy.”

Housing

In 2021, the prospects for affordable housing were bleak. Property was a seller’s market, and homelessness remained a major problem for the city, which was facing setbacks to how camps in public parks were cleared over the summer.

On its way into this year, the advocacy group Social Planning Toronto outlined the decline in affordability over the past 10 years – Tory was mayor of six of them – including a waiting list for subsidized housing that grew by more than 50 percent, a failure to meet the maximum shelter capacity, which is set by the municipality, and the average rent increases between 24 and 40 per cent.

“A large reliance on the private sector to provide affordable housing has failed to deliver on this fundamental right,” the report says. “Governments have not invested sufficiently in affordable housing, including various forms of social and supportive housing and related support.”

The mayor has continued to support new housing initiatives, making affordable housing a key element of his mayoralty, including fighting for the construction of modular housing units to offer supportive housing and seeing an inclusive zoning policy approved by the council, which will force some developers to include affordable devices in new projects.

“I think the Tory administration will historically be seen as having done a lot of things in the housing portfolio, but many of them are not in line with the scale of the crisis,” said Geordie Dent, head of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations. .

He pointed to the $ 1.3 billion secured from the federal government for Toronto Community Housing repairs and a renewed 10-year housing plan.

“But almost all housing indicators have deteriorated catastrophically,” Dent said, noting that more than 30 names were added to the homeless memorial – for those who died without shelter – just this month.

‘Homelessness, camps and the use of shelter have exploded. Affordable rental units have disappeared at unprecedented rates, and we are losing a generation of families leaving the city to get more affordable housing. “

The city’s economy

Toronto budgets have been an annual high thread as city staff and politicians try to balance ambitious goals and commitments with revenues that stem primarily from property taxes. The pandemic has blown it all up.

The city only balanced 2021 books with massive rescue operations from Ontario and federal governments. Toronto expects to need an additional $ 1.1 billion in emergency aid by 2022, and pandemic consequences could hurt the city for years.

Tory’s mantra has been to do as much as possible with revenue generated through tax increases at or below the inflation rate, while seeking partnerships with provincial and federal governments to pay for things Toronto cannot do on its own.

The public and Wall Street’s bond rating agencies, he noted, both seemed eager.

grev. Gord Perks, a Tory critic, says Toronto has suffered in 11 years of austerity. Services that were run-down when COVID-19 hit, “are definitely in a mess,” he says. “I have no hope that this leopard will change its places.”

Enid Slack, a municipal finance expert at the U of T, says the city’s mayor from 2022 to 2026, whoever it is, should push for fundamental change.

“What the pandemic has shown is how much the cities are in the front line,” she says. “It has been those who have dealt with public health problems, all the problems around restaurants, finding shelter for the homeless – it’s just so many things cities do,” despite limited income opportunities and no legal option to run deficits.

“I think it’s time to think about what the province does, what cities do, and how we pay for it.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering the town hall and municipal politics for Star. Follow her on Twitter: @jpgs
David Rider is the bureau chief of Star’s City Hall and a reporter covering town hall and municipal politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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