John Tory defends his record heading into his final year as mayor
Mayor John Tory says he’s making steady progress on 2014 campaign promises on the eve of his third anniversary of his election win on Oct. 27, 2014.
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While campaigning for the job of running Canada’s largest city, Mayor John Tory promised to restore stability at city hall after the tumultuous term of his predecessor Rob Ford.
Even Tory’s detractors agree he’s accomplished that, and as a result has maintained high approval ratings in public opinion polls.
But beyond his calming influence, what has John Howard Tory, multi-millionaire lawyer, businessman, and former provincial Progressive Conservative leader, accomplished since he became 65th mayor of Toronto?
What about the other promises to tackle traffic congestion and expand transit— cornerstones of his 2014 election campaign? Does it take any less time to cross the city? Has traffic gotten better, or has it gotten worse?
“I like to think it’s better, I have people tell me anecdotally, that it’s better,” Tory says in an interview to mark the third anniversary of his Oct. 27, 2014 election.
Then Tory, as is his custom, qualifies his answer.
Measuring progress is difficult, he admits, though it will get easier with recently installed Bluetooth technology that monitors traffic speed on major downtown streets.
“I will say with certainty, that if we hadn’t done all the things that we’ve done, and that we’re doing, then it would be much worse, because we have a growing city.”
Those things include towing and ticket blitzes for downtown lane blockers, a pilot project using paid duty police officers to direct traffic at major intersections, to be replaced soon with full-time traffic wardens. Next month, Tory will meet with representatives of utility companies asking them to confine non-emergency work to off-peak hours.
On the transit file, Tory remains committed to creating a transit line called SmartTrack, although the current configuration is nothing like the original proposal made during the 2014 election campaign. The original proposal has been reduced to six proposed stations added to the GO train network in Toronto and an LRT line towards the airport.
During the campaign, Tory promised it would be a surface rail subway “that moves the most people in the shortest time across the entire city in seven years.” Only recently has he begun to admit seven years was an overly ambitious target.
“It may not end up being seven,” he said last week sitting in his office overlooking Nathan Phillips Square. “I mean, it’s going to be, I’m saying in the early 2020s.”
And while Torontonians might not see evidence, Tory insists progress is being made on the plan, which involves Metrolinx electrifying existing GO train tracks. Last week, there were public meetings on the design of stations, and next spring, a request for proposals will be issued, he said.
“There’s stuff happening, and it’s going to get done.”
Last week, Tory held a series of sit down media interviews wearing a dark suit, chartreuse tie, red and purple argyle socks and polished black shoes.
Sunday marked the one-year countdown to next year’s municipal election on Oct. 22 when Tory will seek re-election. So far, there is only one other major declared challenger: former city councillor Doug Ford, whom Tory beat in 2014.
Some pundits are already sizing up the campaign ahead — though it doesn’t officially start until next May — and suggest Tory’s weakness is that he lacks a bold vision for Toronto.
“I would say to people there is a vision that’s connected to a 15-year network transit plan that’s been approved by city council, we’ve never had one before,” he said, bristling slightly.
“People may say well that sounds dull, well not to me.”
And he touts his role as a champion of the tech, and film and TV sector, as further evidence.
“Nobody will call that visionary, but if you said in terms of my thinking ahead, to the future of the Toronto economy and making sure that we’ll have the new jobs that will last into the future — I am.”
He’s also proud of his record on affordable housing, pushing the province and federal governments for funding, and supporting council-set goals of building between 1,200 and 1,500 units — though housing activists challenge whether they’re affordable enough for people who need them most.
Council critics on the left credit Tory with demonstrating leadership in areas one might not expect from a politician with a Conservative pedigree: his backing of safe injection sites and the Bloor St. bike lanes, for example.
But those same critics say Tory falls short because he won’t raise property taxes above the rate of inflation to make the necessary investments in areas that he says he cares about.
There will be no budging in the upcoming 2018 budget debate on that 2014 election pledge.
“The government is talking about stress testing people on their mortgages, in light of rising interest rates, why don’t we stress test as well what would happen to a lot seniors and young people if we started property taxes up by 7 or 8 per cent,” Tory said in response.
Instead, Tory suggests much can happen with the gas tax revenue which Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne ponied up after killing Tory and council-backed road tolls, and the infrastructure levy, which he introduced in 2015. The 0.5 per cent property tax surcharge kicked in this year and will compound to 2.5 per cent over five years.
The mayor says he isn’t thinking about what other tax measures the city should consider in the future.
“We still have sort of a delta that we’re going to have to speak to but at this stage, I’m not consumed with that because we don’t need the money at this moment.”
Looking ahead to the final year of this term, Tory insists he is not about to play it safe with a do-nothing agenda.
“They grossly underestimate me,” he says of critics who suggest otherwise. “We have tons to do just look at the agenda.” He cites upcoming transit reports, the 2018 budget and a proposed short-term rental bylaw to regulate Airbnb.
“I’m going to fully occupy myself between now and the campaign time doing my job … moving transit, housing, poverty reduction forward.”
Tory, 63, also plans to continue showing up at city hall at 6:30 a.m., after sleeping for five-and-a-half hours, and admits while he doesn’t have the best work/life balance, it’s not “unhealthy.”
He credits wife Barb Hackett for being so “understanding,” such as putting up with his punishing schedule that saw him work 30 days straight in September. He vows to resume regular workouts with a personal trainer and to spend more time with his grandchildren.
Mayor John Tory's track record:
Adding more express buses on TTC routes
Measures to fight traffic gridlock, such as illegal parking crackdowns
Formed a task force to overhaul Toronto Community Housing Corp.
Keeping property tax increases to the rate of inflation
The 22-stop SmartTrack transit plan, as pitched during the 2014 election campaign
TTC fare freeze, fares have gone up every year since he has been mayor
Plant 380,000 trees annually
Outsource garbage collection east of Yonge St.