Weekly Campaign Update, 18 August 2014: Transit, Police and Fiscal Management

This post will be the first of the weekly news updates featured here. We intend them as quick, bite-sized updates on campaign-related news you might have missed during the course of the week, and they will be distinct from posts updating our readers on our own research and findings. This week's campaign news pertains mainly to the themes of transit and transport in Toronto, the Toronto Police Service, and various perspectives on the city's budget under Mayor Ford and under prospective new mayors.

Transit and Transport

Mayor Ford's intention to bury the Scarborough portion of the Eglinton LRT attracted attention and criticism from other mayoral candidates, while the mayor himself admitted the plan would cost $1.4 billion in addition to the $5.3 billion already projected for the LRT and suggested that moving the LRT system underground could be paid for in part by cancelling planned upgrades to Eglinton Avenue that include bike lanes and wider sidewalks. Mayor Ford cited willingness to fund underground transit as a reason that the federal and provincial governments would likely provide most of the funding, but provincial Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid explained that he did not believe Ford could accomplish the project without raising municipal taxes.

In other transit news, Olivia Chow was critical of John Tory's SmartTrack plan, suggesting that it would require unacceptable levels of expense to be paid for through borrowing and property taxes, and that its benefits would mainly be felt in the suburbs and not in Toronto; she said that the money could be used more productively within the city to build a downtown relief subway line, for example. TTC chief Andy Byford's proposal to institute rear-door honour system boarding on streetcar lines across the city, meanwhile, has conditional support from Public Works. David Soknacki introduced a campaign promise to bring cellphone service to the TTC's subway stations and tunnels. Finally, Mayor Ford mentioned during a discussion of the city's most pressing issues that the unemployed do not need public transit.

Other transport issues included the city's reversal of its earlier reversal of a promise to include physical barriers separating bike lanes from motor traffic on Richmond Street and on Adelaide Street, David Soknacki's proposal to change the rules regarding high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to match those at the provincial level, and in the wake of the collision that killed six-year-old Georgia Walsh, Don Valley West councillor John Parker suggests changes for Leaside traffic rules, including prohibiting right turns on red lights at some intersections as well as 30 km/h speed limits on all Leaside roads. Ward 22 (St. Paul's) incumbent Josh Matlow supports a similar speed reduction on all local streets in that ward.

The Police

The debate over the Toronto Police Service's budget and whether Toronto is over-policed continues; this comes in the wake of the recent Iacobucci report on the Toronto police. Per Shannon Kari, writing in the Globe and Mail, "a four per cent reduction in the number of uniformed police officers" would furnish sufficient savings to pay for the city's share of the Scarborough subway extension.

Meanwhile, the controversy between city councillor Doug Ford and outgoing Chief of Police Bill Blair has entered the legal sphere; last Monday, Blair served notice of defamation litigation pertaining to Ford's comments suggesting that the Chief of Police had political motivations in making public the intent to issue Mayor Ford a subpoena to testify in criminal proceedings against his former associate and driver, Alexandro "Sandro" Lisi. Councillor Ford offered an apology that Mayor Ford insisted was sincere, but Blair has said through a spokesperson that he will not accept it, and will pay for the litigation out of his own pocket.

City Budget

Mayor Ford suggested that he was unable to achieve almost $65 million in savings because councillors voted against him, and that he could save over $100 million in a potential second term provided that enough "Ford-friendly" councillors are elected to vote in favour of his agenda. While Ford also insisted that any property tax increases must remain below the rate of inflation, city manager Joe Pennachetti said that municipal tax increases must be commensurate with inflation in order to balance the budget, a claim echoed by the city's budget committee chair, councillor Frank Di Giorgio. In the wake of reports claiming that Toronto is not broke and has a revenue problem rather than a spending problem, Pennachetti refuted Mayor Ford's claims that Toronto faced a "fiscal cliff" before he was elected. The University of Toronto report in question notes that the city will face serious infrastructure funding problems should new revenue tools not be considered, a conclusion which prompted Mayor Ford's "fiscal cliff" comments. On a similar note, Ford suggested that if elected he would re-introduce his proposed budget cuts after their rejection by the previous Council.

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