Friday, April 20, 2018
This is the first in a series of open letters to Mayor John Tory regarding the serious issues facing the city of Toronto. until this fall's municipal election.
You are widely expected to win re-election as Toronto's mayor in the municipal election scheduled for Monday, October 22, 2018. At the moment, there are few obstacles on your path to re-election. Doug Ford has left the race and is now the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, although I don't know what's "progressive" about the party under his leadership.
Registration of candidates for the office of mayor will officially open on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Unless a popular candidate with strong credentials decides to enter the race, you might as well be acclaimed for a second term. This would not be a good situation for the city of Toronto and it would not be a good situation for you, Mr. Mayor. For the sake of democracy, you need to be opposed by a capable opponent. You need to really defend your record in order to be worthy of a second term. This election should not be a cakewalk for you.
There are many issues in this city that ought to be addressed. I fear that if you do not have a strong challenger, these issues will not come to the forefront. If Torontonians are resigned to your re-election, they will be apathetic and voter turnout will be extremely low. The fact is that turnout for municipal elections is already traditionally low and will be even lower if voters are not engaged in a competitive campaign. "Tory is going to win anyway, so why should I bother voting." they will say. What a shame that would be! As you well know, Mr Mayor, municipal issues are closest to home and they affect people the most in their everyday lives.
This 2018 election will decide Toronto's future for the next four years. It will be sad if people regard it as such a snoozefest that they don't even consider the problems facing our city. Mr. Tory, I realize that you have no control over who decides to become a candidate for the office of Mayor of the City of Toronto. However, no matter who runs against you in the coming election, there are many pressing issues that will not magically disappear and must be dealt with carefully.
I have lived in Toronto my entire life and I am concerned about my city. Here are the the three issues I consider of paramount importance. There are countless other issues, but these need to be highlighted.because they require the most attention.
* Homelessness, poverty and addiction: In my view, this is by far the most pressing problem facing Toronto. On April 12, 2018, the Toronto Star published a piece about a report by the city's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen De Villa. Dr. De Villa stated that "Homelessness remains a significant issue in Toronto, affecting some of the city's most vulnerable residents." She exhorted local hospital to join efforts to track homeless deaths. De Villa's report revealed a shocking statistic: 100 homeless people died across the city in 2017. How accurate is that number? Well, it is based on the city's first year of collecting death data on the homeless. Dr. De Villa said that although Toronto's continued effort to collect homeless data is among the most comprehensive in the country, hospital participation is needed for more accuracy. Still, the number is reasonably accurate and it is alarming.
Beggars and homeless people are scattered all over this city. They are ubiquitous. They can be seen both downtown and in the suburbs. They are ensconced on sidewalks and on the steps of subway stations. They are outdoors in the bitter cold, in the searing heat and in all kinds of inclement weather. They can be found in food courts and in front of shops and theatres. They remind us that all is not well in Toronto and that there is a lack of affordable housing and services for the mentally ill and the addicted.
The degree of homelessness and poverty in Toronto is unconscionable and unacceptable. It is truly a disgrace for the largest city in a resource-rich country such as Canada to have so many people without shelter.
* The environment, health and cleanliness: In 1987, English actor and writer Peter Ustinov described Toronto as "New York run by the Swiss." By that, he meant that Toronto was a clean and efficient big city. I regret to say that Ustinov description no longer applies. This town could be so much cleaner. I see food containers and toxic cigarette butts everywhere. There is much too much litter on our streets and inside and outside our subway stations. You can bet tourists notice. Visitors are always impressed by a clean city.
* Transportation: I believe in public transportation. I travel by TTC almost every day. Unfortunately, however, the system is deeply flawed. It is not reliable and dependable. There are far too many delays and service suspensions. I realize that some delays are unavoidable, but TTC. Commuters do not feel confident that they will arrive for their appointments on time. In addition, almost every weekend, some portion of the subway is closed for repairs. Why weren't improvements made years ago? Why wasn't the York University subway built years ago? Our leaders have been penny-wise and pound foolish.and it certainly takes along time to get anything done in this city.
The desperately needed downtown relief line is a case in point. There is so much overcrowding at Bloor and Yonge and Bloor and St. George that someone may be crushed to death or seriously injured some day. Do we need a tragedy to occur for some action to be taken? The City of Toronto has proposed building such a line, in one form or another,since 1910 - that's 108 years ago! The UrbanToronto.ca website displays a map that appeared in the Evening Telegram on November 25, 1911, It outlines a streetcar subway along Queen Street and future connections along Pape Avenue. There has been some progress recently. For example, last month the TTC's board of directors awarded a contract for designing the tunnels of the Relief Line South. Still, the project has been moving at a snail's pace.
Don't even get me started on the renovations to Union Station. They keep taking longer and longer to complete and costs are escalating.
Then there is the debate over the controversial Scarborough subway extension. Mr. Tory, I respectfully disagree with your stand on the Scarborough extension. The proposed one-stop subway is not worth the expense to taxpayers. Its cost may exceed a whopping $3.35 billion and I have little doubt that it will. We don't know the updated cost yet, but as you confirmed to reporters, we may have the answer by September. Does the anticipated ridership really warrant that kind of grandiose expenditure? I think not. The money can be put to better use for the residents of Scarborough.
Despite its problems, Toronto is a vibrant city with much to offer. It is my home. That's why I want it to be even better.