As expected, the provincial Liberals’ majority government prompted two mayoral candidates to declare that the debate on the Scarborough subway is, at long last, finished.
“The debate over the Scarborough subway is over,” said Karen Stintz at Monday’s debate on transit and transportation. “It is over. It is done.”
John Tory echoed Stintz, citing the Liberals’ “overwhelming political mandate” as a reason to stick with the proposal, endorsed by council last year, to build a subway line in Scarborough.
The rest of the debate was just as predictable. Stintz attacked Tory repeatedly, and said his plan to pay for his SmartTrack line doesn’t involve “real money”; Chow attacked Tory and Tory attacked Chow. And all three candidates took every opportunity to avoid the sticky subject of the city using taxes and tolls to pay for transit. They would say what they won’t support, though. For instance, Chow, Stintz and Tory said they would oppose reintroducing a vehicle registration tax and earmarking the proceeds for transit and transportation. “A decision [was] made,” Chow said, referring to council’s 2010 vote to scrap the tax. “Move on.”
And then there was David Soknacki, who was, yet again, the only candidate who spoke candidly and comfortably about the city using taxes, tolls, and user fees to pay for transit expansion. (And we weren’t the only ones who noticed. Here, Marcus Gee writes about the candidates ducking questions on taxes by saying they’re the responsibility of the province.) Soknacki said he would put the vehicle registration tax at the absolute bottom of his list of so-called revenue tools, but insisted that we not rule out any options to generate cash.
“If you want to see what ‘free transit’ looks like,” Soknacki said, “just go to Yonge and Bloor at rush hour.”
Soknacki was full of big ideas, like introducing toll lanes and removing on-street parking from arterial roads in the city’s core. There’s no way to tell whether his candor is the result of principle or just the freedom that comes with being a long-shot candidate. Either way, he’s showing more guts than his opponents.
Candidates promise accessible debates
All four high-profile mayoral candidates promised to push debate organizers to make their events more accessible, but the commitment didn’t come easily.
It started at Wedneday night’s debate on disability issues, where Stephanie Ozorio of the Canadian Hearing Society asked if candidates would try to ensure that organizers of future debates put accessibility measures in place.
Moderator Steve Paikin, not satisfied that the question was sufficiently direct, intervened. “I’m going to take your gentle question and I’m going to rough it up a bit,” Paikin said. “Would you commit to not attending an all candidates’ debate if people couldn’t get to it?”
Awkward hemming and hawing followed. “I will if the rest of them commit to it,” said Chow. Stintz was hesitant. “If we boycott [debates], then that means that everyone is denied,” she said.
Eventually, candidates concluded that they should “insist” with future debate organizers that events be accessible. Chow said she would still prefer to boycott events.
“I was pleased to see that some of the candidates actually committed to attending debates only if they are fully accessible,” Ozorio said in an email on Thursday. But Ozorio also wanted to clarify just what “accessible” means.
“I don’t just mean physical accessibility. I also mean access to information and communication accessibility for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.” Ozorio called for ASL interpreting, real-time captioning, and interveners at future debates.
Candidate to watch: Robb Johannes, mayoral hopeful
Where you might have seen him: In The Grid, where we talked about his strong performance at February’s mayoral debate; singing in the band Paint; coordinating a conflict-resolution program inside prisons; serving as the executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users; plugging a platform that discusses sex work, homelessness, and underemployment
Political affiliation: Independent
Top priority: Surprise! It’s transit. Johannes backs a downtown relief line, and would support reverting to the lightrail plan in Scarborough. But both lines are several years off, and Johannes believes expanded bus service is a more immediate—if temporary—solution to Toronto’s transit woes. This expansion, Johannes said, should include more frequent late-night buses. “We don’t live in a nine-to-five world anymore,” he said.
On taxation: Johannes concedes that he’s not an expert on taxation. But he’d support reintroducing a vehicle registration tax and directing the additional revenue to transit and housing. Speaking of housing, Johannes also wants new developments to include between 20 and 25 per cent social housing.
…and cycling: Johannes thinks that a summertime pilot project would be the best way to show residents that bike lanes on Bloor Street won’t lead to traffic chaos. He wants to reinstall the lanes on Jarvis, too.
…and not being invited to debates: By the end of the election, Johannes will have probably participated in fewer debates than our drunk-driving, crack-smoking mayor. Johannes acknowledged that he and other long-shot candidates have to prove they’re worthy of a spot at debates, and thinks he’s succeeded so far. “I know I need to earn my stripes,” Johannes said. “It’s just a matter of making the best of what space…you are being given.”
For more on Robb Johannes, visit robbnotford.com.
What you might have missed
Alex Mazer, council candidate in Ward 18, held an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit’s Toronto forum. Mazer talked housing, transit, gentrification, and Portuguese chicken. Unfortunately, he stumbled on a question about fighting Rob Ford-sized David Crombies and David Crombie-sized Rob Fords.
Mayoral non-contender Erwin Sniedzins made a poor attempt at hijacking Wednesday night’s debate. When long-shot candidates were given an opportunity to address the audience, Sniedzins used a walker in an attempt to illustrate how debate organizers and the media had “crippled”—his word—him by treating him as a fringe candidate. Audience members heckled Sniedzins, who spoke well over his allotted time and had his microphone cut off. He left the debate immediately after finishing his idiotic tirade.
Olivia Chow announced the members of her advisory committee, a group that includes figures in business, the arts, government, philanthropy, and journalism. Among the committee members are actor-director Sarah Polley, author and activist Michele Landsberg, and former MLSE CEO and president Richard Peddie, who endorsed Chow before she’d even entered the race.
Rob Ford (or whoever writes his letters for him) has informed the city clerk that he’ll be resuming his duties as mayor on June 30.
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