Voters in Ward 36 could be in for a close call.
In 2010, Gary Crawford was elected councillor for Scarborough Southwest with just 422 more votes than the runner-up, Robert Spencer.
Both are running again this election, alongside six other candidates.
But unlike the race in 2010, when 26-year councillor Brian Ashton had just stepped down, one of them now has four years at city hall.
Speaking at an Oct. 12 all-candidates debate hosted at Oakridges Community Centre, Councillor Gary Crawford said he has worked hard to keep Toronto in good fiscal health, which he said is “vital” for the city’s future.
A painter, former school trustee, and former food industry manager, Crawford served on Mayor Rob Ford’s executive, although he recently endorsed John Tory’s campaign for mayor. For the last two years, Crawford served on the city’s budget committee.
“We stopped using the previous year’s surplus to balance the next year’s budget, which has been an incredibly important part of how we manage the city,” he said.
By holding costs to the rate of inflation, Crawford said the city has been able to invest in priority services, such as childcare, extended library hours and 27 new school nutrition programs.
Locally, Crawford said his office has resolved some 7,000 constituency issues in the last four years, and he has made express bus service on Kingston Road a priority at the TTC.
Looking city-wide, Crawford said if re-elected he would support the extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Scarborough Town Centre, rather than a previous plan for light rail.
“I do support the extension of the Scarborough subway,” he said. “It’s a decision that council has already made, the funding is there from all three governments. It’s time to move on getting something built.”
But Spencer was not convinced.
“I oppose the three-stop subway,” he said, noting that the light-rail plan had seven stops.
Spencer said if city councillors had stuck with a 1980 policy of building one subway station a year, “we wouldn’t be having this discussion about a subway that is on the wrong alignment, that is probably not going to get easy environmental approval, and won’t be completed until some around 2025.”
“I do not want to waste that billion dollars,” Spencer said. Instead, the city should look at electrifying the CN rail corridor that is the northern boundary of Ward 36, he said, adding that his own team’s research shows the $60 million project could move 30,000 people an hour at rush hour.
Spencer, a former school trustee, former executive director of the Ontario Association of Food Banks, and the manager of Bluffs Advocate, a progressive newspaper, said the city would do better to invest in the 40,000 children who regularly go to school hungry in Toronto.
Spencer also floated plans for afternoon care programs for older autistic children and young adults whose parents can no longer rely on public schools for help.
“I’ve seen the stress that they face when they have to do 24-hour a day, seven-day a week care for their autistic children,” he said.
Crawford, Spencer, and most other candidates at the debate agreed Kingston Road needs better bus service, including express buses and night service.
All the candidates said they would like to cut the city’s land-transfer tax, but they also agreed it would be hard to replace the $358 million the tax brought in last year.
“I consider myself a fiscally responsible person, and on the budget committee I’ve attempted to do this,” said Crawford.
“We started at 10 per cent, we couldn’t do 10. We attempted five, but we couldn’t do five. The reality is, unfortunately, it is here to stay until we really make some changes.”
Spencer has said he would like the city to look at California’s “welcome, stranger” policy, where property taxes only change when a home is sold, allowing people on fixed incomes to stay at home even if there is a surge in surrounding property values.
Ultimately, Spencer said Toronto needs to look at new ways of serving its fiscal needs, noting that New York City has its own income tax, while other cities have sales taxes.
“If you want the services, you have to pay for them,” he said.