By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A mayoral byelection debate took place at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Ted Rogers School of Management on Wednesday, May 31.
Hosted by United Way Greater Toronto, Toronto Metropolitan University, and The Toronto Star, the debate featured candidates Ana Bailão, Brad Bradford, Olivia Chow, Mitzie Hunter, Josh Matlow, and Mark Saunders to discuss their ideas on how Toronto should tackle its problems of affordability, transit, and, social supports for those with mental health issues.
Much of the discussion centred around housing and the Toronto’s lack of affordable options.
“We need to make sure that we look at the process because no one’s talking about the process,” said Saunders. “We have to create the environment so that we can build and create the supply.”
Saunders, similarly to Bradford, argued that the reason rent has skyrocketed is because there haven’t been enough homes built in the city. Although disagreeing on many topics, candidates all agreed that supportive housing is key to making sure people who transition out of homelessness stay housed.
Bailão, the former councillor for Davenport who left council to work as head of affordable housing and public affairs with developer Dream Unlimited Corp, was quick to remind people of her past work on tackling Toronto’s housing affordability.
“Councillor Bradford, thank you for making sure that the work that I started (rooming houses and multiplexes) got completed very shortly after I left,” she said.
To which Bradford responded, “I got it done”.
Like Chow, Bailão promised the protection of tenants against evictions as well as delivering 57,000 units of purpose built rental. She also pledged allegiance to non-profit organizations such as East Toronto’s WoodGreen Community Services, as well as debate hosts United Way, promising to allocate $5 million to help them with staffing in order to provide support for more of the city’s homeless.
Bailão urged the federal government to provide more assistance for the city’s overflowing shelter system as one-third of its occupants, she said, are refugees.
Hunter had a like-minded request from the federal government as she believed the revolving door of homelessness caused partly by mental health issues should be tackled collaboratively.
“From a mental health perspective, we have to coordinate that better,” said Hunter. “It is not a core responsibility of the city. It’s really a provincial health issue, but as a city we have to act when people are hurting.”
The debate included a segment in which each candidate had the opportunity to ask one other candidate a question.
Bailão kicked off the segment by inquiring about Chow’s stance on property taxes. She demanded an exact figure of how much Chow intends to increase property taxes for Toronto homeowners.
Although Chow made her intentions to avoid directly answering the question clear, Hunter, Saunders, and Bradford followed up with the exact same question to which Chow reiterated her initial idea of a “modest” tax hike that will come with exemptions for seniors and low-income earners.
“Those people that can afford to buy a new home that is five, 10, 20 million dollars with a private squash court, they can afford to pay a little bit more,” said Chow.
Chow, on the other hand, directed her question to Bradford who she confronted for his statement about Toronto’s crisis being caused by years of inaction by the City of Toronto even though he has been a councillor for the past five years and a member of the Executive Committee and the Chair of Planning and Housing Committee.
“Under your watch, (approval times) have grown longer, especially in the planning department,” said Chow. “You’re a planner. If you can’t get that job done, why would you deserve a promotion?”
Bradford acknowledged that Toronto has one of the longest approval timelines in the nation before reminding Chow that he only became the Chair of Planning and Housing Committee five months ago.
“You’re right. The bureaucracy can be very challenging. It can be very frustrating,” said Bradford.
“We don’t need more bureaucracy. We need to cut the red tape. We need to streamline the process. We need to work with the not-for-profit sector and remove the barriers to make sure that we can deliver housing, especially affordable housing, for Torontonians.”
Matlow was the only candidate who didn’t ask Chow a question about taxes. He chose to discuss budget cuts with Saunders in a back-and-forth that saw Matlow accuse his opponent of having similar ideologies as Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford.
One of the cuts Matlow highlighted revolved around transit – a decision he described as “stupid”.
“It’s a really bad business model along with being unfair to riders,” said Matlow. “Can you imagine if a restaurant decided to give you really crappy service and then up the price of the menu.”
Matlow was referring to the recent decision to reduce transit services while simultaneously increasing TTC fares as a way to make up for the lack of ridership post COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not only am I going to reverse the cuts to TTC, I’m going to be investing in the TTC,” said Matlow.
Hunter, similarly, called for increased TTC service suggesting that services start at 5:30 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. “so that shift workers can get on transit and leave their cars at home and help out our environment as well”.
Towards the end of the debate, candidates were asked questions to which they could respond with one-word answers. During this segment, we discovered that Saunders and Bradford agree that Toronto City Hall has a spending problem. All other candidates agreed that it had a revenue issue. To be fair, candidates, during this segment, did not have the opportunity to elaborate on their responses to a very complex question.
Asked whether there is any scenario in which they would utilize Strong Mayor powers, Saunders and Bradford said yes, while all other candidates said no.
There are a total of 102 candidates registered to run in the Toronto mayoral byelection. For more information on the candidates and how to vote, please go to https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/elections/by-election/
Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.