An exclusive conversation with the leading mayoral candidate John Tory.
By Thomas S. Saras
I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your very busy schedule for this interview.
Mr. Tory what is your philosophy during this election, how exactly do you see City Hall in the future and what changes will you bring in the future?
I think I see a City Hall that works better for people and I think it starts with the council. The council has been very divided for the last number of years and I think it is time we took the temperature down a bit. And I think this starts at the top, I think it starts with the Mayor making a much greater effort to work with the council because you cannot get much done if you don’t have the council’s support. I think it goes from there to the rest of the city hall, the public service and all the councilors deciding on a few things that are really important to get done and in my books that includes dealing with traffic and transit focusing on taxes and spending and making sure that we keep all of that done in a responsible way , well managed way and jobs.
I think if we made significant progress on all those things traffic, transit, taxes, spending and jobs, people would be very happy. And if we kept services, good quality services for people and there is much more to be done, but I think if you did really well at those things, to keep the temperature down so the place is not divisive and not chaotic I think people would be pretty happy. I think that is the kind of City Hall that I want, one that gets things done. I was with the Chinese media, I don’t think you were there, I was with the Chinese Canadian Media and one of them said to me if you can have three words to describe the City Hall that you would run say after a year, what would those words be. I said “getting things done”. I think that is want people want more than anything else. If I could choose three other words they would be “bringing people together”, because I think the city needs to be brought together after the last four years.
Your opponents are accusing you of being the son of a family of the plenty and that you would not be able, to some extent, to serve a city with this diversity, where many people suffer daily trying to survive. What is your answer on this?
I direct people often, when this comes up, to my record as a private citizen. Forgetting what I have said or what I have done being a political candidate because the things that people say, including those comments by my opponents, are politically motivated. I said, well what did John Tory do when John Tory was a private citizen? When he could have given his time to anything he wanted or just stayed home and watch TV. What I did instead was to have an incredible activist track record as somebody who went to just about every corner of this city, every community and did all kinds of different things to help people and try to understand what was at the root of some of the challenges people faced, whether it was kids with autism , or it was people who are under housed in TCHC neighborhoods, or kids who are unemployed or kids who are dropping out of school or teenage girls who are getting pregnant, or moms who are single moms and have two jobs and cannot cope with helping their kids with their homework.
I have been on behalf of organizations that are well known, and will say that I was there, helping a lot in those neighborhoods. It does not mean I can change who I am, I cannot change who I am, as I am who I am, but apart of who I am, is a person who has for decades, not just for a couple of months or a couple of years, but for decades been involved in the community as a volunteer trying to understand what the challenges are and try and make them better, make the situation better. I am happy to run on that record, because you are who you are and if you try and pretend you are someone else it is pretty difficult to do. And I think the skills and experience I have in business and in law will help me be a better leader, a better mayor. And that combined with my community experience which I think is immensely beneficial to me and will be beneficial for the people.
there is a problem with the city and its public housing structure, you know this, everyone knows this. Every day there is a crime in the area where public housing exits. The present day mayor probably cut all the services, there is no security, the whole system is collapsing, if not collapsed yet, then is collapsing and it seems like no one from City Hall really cares what happens because everyone in the City thinks we need money to help the system. Do you have any strategy in place for this?
Well, the first program that I have, that is in my platform that I think will make the biggest difference to the people who are living in the Toronto Community Housing Neighborhoods, of which you know are many, is to make sure that people who are unemployed or underemployed have jobs, good jobs. And I have a number of ideas on that. This is in my platform. But I have also talked frequently about taking job opportunities out to those neighborhoods because I think a lot of times people who live out in those communities find themselves quite isolated, they don’t really know how to sort of approach RBC or Ford or Bell about a job because Its complicated, they will put their resume into a website and they find they won’t hear from them ever again.
So, I am a great believer in job fairs and things like that, that take job opportunities out to those communities and because I think the biggest thing that will help those communities is jobs for people who are unemployed and underemployed. Secondly, I think we have to repair the housing. I mean repairing the housing is not just about a smart business decision about something we own, but it’s about the dignity and self respect of the people who live in that housing, I think things will be better for kids and families in the Toronto Community Housing Communities if you fix the housing problem. And it’s one of the reasons I talked about accelerating the investment of money and fixing that housing, so that we can fix it faster and having people living in dignity faster. Thirdly, I have talked quite a lot about programs.
As you implied and correctly so, the current administration has looked for opportunities to criticize and cut those programs that invested in kids. I look at it exactly the opposite. I look at it and say this is the best investment we can ever make. Investing in kids in particular in helping them with positive activities, positive role models, help with their school work to stay in school, these are the programs that are going to maximize the chances of those kids staying on the right path and end up not falling into trouble and not ending up being victimized in violence that is unrelated to good activities and good expenditures at that time. So I talked quite a lot about that and again my tract record as a citizen indicates how committed I am to those kinds of programs.
So, I think those three things plus I have talked often and again it’s in my platform, about renewing all of these communities and I think the kinds of renewals we have seen, say at Regent Park, and every community is different, but the kind of renewal we saw at Regent Park where you kind of got new mixed community housing but you also have a lot of private sector jobs because the new community attracted a Sobeys, Tim Horton’s and Rogers and an RBC and I forget what else, but literally created hundreds of jobs, hundreds of real jobs for people that were drawn from those communities. I think if you sort of start with jobs generally you then go to repairing the housing, then go to the programs for kids and families that are going to help lift them up and keep them on the right track. And you also then talk about the renewal physical and social of those communities, I think it will make a difference and that plus the continued presence of community policing because there is a need to have police in those communities if you have police in those communities in a kind of collegial responsible way you are less likely to have people who are criminals.
Any plans for the youth, especially for the depressed areas.
A. Well, I have talked about the things I just mentioned, but I will say for example that I have specifically committed to doubling the number of companies involved in Payee, which is the city’s most successful youth unemployment program and I have talked about doubling the number of companies in the first year that I am in office and then we pick up on the programs for the family and kids I mentioned a moment ago. And I think the other things I mentioned, the renewals of those communities is going to obviously make it a better place to live for those kids. And I would mention one more thing, the things I believe very strongly include mentorship, if all kids living in some of these challenged neighborhoods could have a mentor to kind of help them and stay focused on the positives of being in school and so on, I think this will even help the parents and I think that will go a very long way. These are some of the programs, mentoring programs that work well and I will continue to support. I will not criticize them or vote against them as the Fords have done for example.
a few years ago I had an interview with our common friend, Mike Harris, I remembered that he mentioned that Toronto has been built in order to have almost a million residence and now Toronto is home to close to five million people and the streets still remain the same with traffic congestions occurring anywhere, according to him, from what I remember, he said Tom we have to create new highways. To build new avenues in order to make sure that in the future Toronto will be able to serve this many people. Now as the mayor Toronto, you are entering in a historic time. Toronto is expanding everywhere, new buildings, more people, but the streets have remained the same. Do you have any strategic program in place for this or a plan?
Well, there is a big problem but I am not sure if you look at a highly developed city like Toronto that has been here for quite a while there is not very much room left to build new streets and new avenues and so what are you left with. You are left with two challenges both of which I have addressed very directly in my platform. Number one is getting the traffic moving on the streets that already exists and I have 12 points in my platform that just represent common sense that people have not acted like enforcing the law with regards to vehicles being parked where they should not be in rush hour, stopping the kind of insensitive construction schedule that kind of tears up every street in the city at the same time and this kind of thing. Including technology as well, we are backward when it come to technology to move traffic in Toronto when in fact some of the best technology in the world has been in fact invented here and we have not bought it and implemented it. So that is challenge number one. Challenge number two is to build more public transit. So that you give people an option.
The reason why a lot people drive their cars and add to the traffic is because they have no easy, convenient transit option available to them either where they live or where they work. One of the reasons why I am so committed to “smart track” is because it actually on a city-wide basis offers people a new transit option. 22 stations on a line that goes all the way from Etobicoke to Scarborough and I think it will make a huge difference not only in terms of people who don’t have to go on the crowded Yonge Street subway, but also for people who presently don’t take transit at all and who will take their car, but now will have a way to get to Scarborough to work, or Markham, who will have a way to get to downtown from Scarborough, which presently have to get on a couple of buses and a couple of trains.
So I am really optimistic that all the transit measures that I propose, the centre piece being “smart track”, plus getting the traffic moving, is going to be the best we can to fix a problem that has become very acute, I agree. But I just don’t think there are many opportunities to build new roads. If you look at downtown in particular the land is pretty much all taken up with the existing roads and buildings and you don’t really have an option to build more roads. So I think we have to address it with transit and getting traffic moving on existing roads.
Are you planning to place new tax on the residence of Toronto.
No, what I did indicate is that I would keep the property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation, I think that we will look at tax increases up to that level up at/or the below inflation if we needed to make sure we can keep the programs for the kids and families and the programs to support public transit going and going well but beyond that, I have not indicated any plans to do anything with other taxes or charges so the answer is no I have no plans. My platform speaks to property taxation by saying specifically that increases will be keep at or below the rate of inflation.
what about social programs, how will make the social programs stronger?
Well, I think it is going to be by funding them as best as we can and I did mention earlier on, attacking waste in the government, so I think that could free up some money because people read and hear about projects that go way over budgets. But in the end Thomas, I think that we are going to have to do a really good job of convincing the other governments that they will have to step up in the most complex city in Canada, it is not just the biggest and it’s not just the economic engine, but it’s a complex city because its so big it has a lot of different social programs, it could be child care, it could be poverty, it could be housing, it could be lack of access to economic opportunities to jobs and I think in this city because there are so many people here and they are so diverse, there is extra investment that’s needed.
it’s not because people are playing favorites with Toronto it’s simply because they are acknowledging the fact that this city is different, it is more complicated its problems are more complex because it is so big and so diverse. And so I just think it will be my job and an important part of my job that I talk about all the time, is to go to those two other governments and say look, you have to step up because it is the country biggest city, so much tax revenue comes out of this city to your two governments, Federal and Provincial and invest back into this city so that it stays healthy and strong, which is in Canada’s best interest and in Ontario’s best interest. I think that the way you make sure that those social programs not only remain good but get better is by increased investment. Some could come from the city through these modest inflation or below tax increases, but more should come from these two levels of government.
Thank you once again for your time.