In My Opinion: Toronto residents need to examine their priorities when choosing next mayor

The mayoral byelection in Toronto is set for June 26 and now is the time for voters to start thinking about what their priorities are, writes Amarachi Amadike in his In My Opinion column.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

What do Toronto residents care the most about today? Is it their safety, or food and housing affordability?

As we inch closer to the mayoral byelection as a result of — well we’re not going to delve into that — it appears quite a few candidates would argue that community safety is at the forefront of most people’s minds.

But, I believe the answer to that question highly depends on where you lie within the tax bracket. Residents who are living comfortable lives, sheltered from the food insecurities and affordability issues faced by many in the city, will probably say security is their main concern. I don’t blame them. Voters tend to lean towards candidates whose mission aligns closest to their own interests.

However, just because a resident isn’t plagued by thoughts of food security, or how they will afford the upcoming rent, doesn’t mean they are not directly affected by it.

Earlier this year, Toronto Council approved a $48-million increase in the police budget bringing it to a total of about $1.1 billion.

There has been a noticeably fearful aura amongst Torontonians as of late. Our streets are coated with conversations of crime and mayoral candidates have happily hopped aboard the fear-mongering express, reiterating talking points about TTC safety — the lowest hanging fruit.

It’s an easy way to galvanize voters, but almost insulting. Are they actually trying to scare residents into voting for their next “saviour” who will clean up the streets of Toronto?

Candidates in this mayoral race speak so often about TTC security — barely touching on other pressing issues — that one could almost forget that the unsafe climate being experienced by Torontonians today is a direct byproduct of the city’s growing affordability crisis.

In its 2022 Who’s Hungry Report, Daily Bread Food Bank, in partnership with North York Harvest Food Bank, recorded that 1.68 million food bank visits were tracked in the City of Toronto — 16 per cent higher than the previous record of 1.45 million the year prior.

I find it poetic that Daily Bread Food Bank is now hosting a mayoral debate on May 15, because the city has come to rely on such organizations for support rather than effective government policy. But with donations now reportedly running low, perhaps it’s time for Toronto Council to pull their own weight. But here lies the problem.

As one official recently told me, “Toronto is just a creature of the province”. And I couldn’t agree more. What they meant by this is that Toronto Council’s powers have grown increasingly limited. With the provincial government lurking with its own agenda, many of which contradict that of the city, it’s easy to see why much hasn’t been accomplished in Toronto’s recent history.

The Strong Mayor legislation has muddied these waters even more, further extending the provincial government’s reach into municipal affairs.

The most obvious example of this is the Doug Ford government’s reversal of Toronto Council’s Inclusionary Zoning framework that mandated new developments to reserve 22 per cent of its units for affordable housing. This decision was due to the Ontario Progressive Conservative’s aim to seduce developers into building more housing in the province.

The provincial strategy to entice developers also included scrapping the Rental Fairness Act in 2018, instead allowing newly built units, or units being occupied by new tenants, to be exempt from rental increase restrictions.

Ever so often at Queen’s Park, we’re reminded by Progressive Conservative MPPs that they have “created the climate for developers to invest in the province”.

Unfortunately, they have simultaneously created a climate that breeds criminal activity and increased mental health demands. The policies of the provincial government, albeit mixed with hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, has led Toronto down a path of uncertainty.

Food banks are now accustomed to empty shelves as even people with full-time employment are finding themselves needing assistance to offset the shortcomings of their income. Landlords are bolder with their rental increases, evicting people in order to capitalize on the loosened rental legislation.

The skeptic in me wants to say that it doesn’t matter who becomes Toronto’s next mayor. If we’re discussing bike lanes or a street sign you don’t like, then sure, they can help. But if we’re discussing security, then we must discuss affordability. And conversations on affordability will always lead us to the steps of Queen’s Park.

All we can hope for is that Toronto’s next Strong Mayor isn’t just strong by title, but by character. An individual that isn’t simply an extended arm of the provincial government, but rather an advocate for the people.

Amarachi Amadike’s reporting for Beach Metro News is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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