It’s October 27th. One year ago tonight, Mayor John Tory was elected with 40 percent of the popular vote in a mayoral election where he positioned himself as a more responsible, but equally conservative, version of departing mayor Rob Ford. Former councillor Doug Ford, brother of Rob, came in second place with 33 percent of the popular vote. The overwhelming majority of Torontonians voted for one of two conservative options at the ballot box – mayoral candidates who both pledged to protect and responsibly spend taxpayer dollars.
After one year in office, is Mayor Tory serving the taxpayers who elected him? Is he building consensus on Toronto City Council to build what is needed, eliminate waste, and follow through on what he promised during the election?
We’ll start with the good.
In the summer, we complimented Mayor Tory for declining to pursue a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. It was irresponsible to consider this multi-billion dollar commitment considering fiscal challenges in Toronto and more pressing priorities. After significant public criticism of the idea, Tory saw the light.
Mayor Tory fought back opposition to maintaining an elevated Gardiner East Expressway and won. The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition proudly joined the chorus of commuters and business associations defending highways (we still can’t believe we have to type this).
In recent weeks, Toronto City Council voted to explore ways to regulate the taxi industry to include technology-based companies like Uber. This is a contentious file with strongly held opinions on all sides that packed the council chamber last month. We commend the mayor for attempting to move forward with a solution that is fair for all.
At this point, we must point out the bad. On several files, Mayor John Tory has not respected the wishes of taxpayers and has not followed through on his own election promises.
Tory explicitly campaigned on fixing transit and getting Toronto moving. He presented a 22-stop, 53-kilometre rapid transit plan called SmartTrack that basically puts a Toronto border on electrified GO Transit rail lines. Funding has been secured from higher levels of government. The city must pay for its portion of the project but Tory has not detailed how except saying during the election that he’ll use tax increment financing. Tory promised to build SmartTrack is seven years, and one year is already gone. Increasingly, it doesn’t look like SmartTrack is an independent Toronto transit solution. Instead, it looks like lines on a map and a Toronto headache.
The inability of Mayor Tory’s administration to move forward on this file is taking life away from more urgent and more defined transit projects like the long overdue (and approved!) Scarborough subway and downtown subway relief line.
Shockingly, earlier this fall we saw Tory’s administration defer a decision on contracting out garbage collection east of Yonge Street. The Toronto Taxpayers Coalition doesn’t understand the delay: it was an explicit election promise and the positive effects of privatizing garbage collection west of Yonge Street have already been realized. Even worse, this delay may interfere with upcoming contract negotiations with inside and outside city workers.
Speaking of garbage, the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition must remind everyone of the Tory Trash Tax earlier this year. To recap: we actively took the lead on the solid waste file reminding Toronto city councillors to vote against Tory’s scheme to remove a rebate on new garbage bins. Instead, garbage bin rates were raised 58 percent on top of a property tax hike effectively taxing garbage collection twice.
Mayor Tory directed all city agencies and divisions to find 2 percent in savings in time for next year’s budget. However, the Toronto Police Service is not being held to the same standard. The police budget is the single largest line item in the city’s operating budget – a line that flows north of one billion dollars. 90 percent of that is tied up in salaries negotiated in collective agreement. Earlier this year, Mayor Tory and his police board approved police officer wage increases of nearly 8 percent. This will cost taxpayers an extra 65 million over 4 years, and is simply unacceptable when other city departments and the average taxpayer finds ways to tighten their belts.
John Tory often laments the slow pace of decision making at City Hall. Despite a weak mayor system, former mayors have been able to build consensus early in their term when goodwill is traditionally high. We began by giving the mayor compliments on some items – but these compliments were not based on Tory aggressively pursuing projects in the taxpayer interest but rather him preventing bad projects from happening.
Mayor Tory has brought increased commitment and work ethic to the mayoral office. That is well and good but taxpayers expect the mayor to use his work ethic and the remaining three years of his term in office to follow through on election promises like privatizing garbage collection, fixing transit, and keeping budgets under control.