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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

Justin Trudeau’s next visit to Toronto needs to be more than just symbolic

The goal should be simple. Next time Trudeau meets the crowds at city hall, make sure he has something to announce.

liz beddall / metro

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid a visit to Toronto City Hall last week, causing an absurdly large crowd of onlookers to get very, very excited. There was some swooning. A fire alarm went off for some reason.

But after a private meeting with Mayor John Tory, here’s what Trudeau announced for Toronto: nothing.

But then, what could he have announced, really? Though it’s well understood that Toronto is a city with serious funding needs, there isn’t a whole lot of clarity around Toronto City Council’s specific priorities for federal funding these days.

This has to change.

If nothing else, Trudeau’s visit — the first official visit by a Canadian Prime Minister to city hall since amalgamation, we were told repeatedly — was symbolic of a prime minister that seems to sincerely care about the city and its challenges.

That’s a big opportunity for Toronto, a city that hasn’t really seen a whole lot federal attention in recent years.

But Tory and council need to rise to meet that opportunity.

That means defining clear strategies around the city’s two most important issues: affordable housing and transit.

On affordable housing, the problems are well documented. Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s presentation to the city’s budget committee last week was blunt about the housing agency’s fiscal reality. Without new money from the federal and provincial governments, TCHC will be forced to board up homes in 2017, meaning vulnerable people will be kicked out.

That’s, um, not good, clearly. Tory has talked about fixing this through the creation of the city-building fund he announced in December, but that solution, which would mean residential property-tax increases, exists nowhere except in a political speech. It hasn’t been the subject of a city report. It hasn’t been voted on by council.

Similarly, on transit, Tory remains almost singularly focused on his SmartTrack plan, but that too has yet to be approved by council. Heck, it’s not even clear what SmartTrack is. The Globe and Mail reported last week that the vaguely defined plan is set to radically change, with part of it replaced by a light rail line and another part removed from the initial plan entirely.

If a transit plan doesn’t even fully exist yet, how can it be a priority?

After his meeting with Trudeau, Tory told Metro that he talked with the PM about shovel-ready projects in both transit and affordable housing.

But, to avoid the mistakes made by past mayors, he should move quickly to define and set costs for evidence-driven, long-term strategies. That includes having council approval before seeking federal funding. To do otherwise would be to guarantee a council fight where elected officials scramble to direct funds toward their preferred projects.

The goal should be simple. Next time Trudeau meets the crowds at city hall, make sure he has something to announce.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt