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Chris Selley: Tory wins easily, but Toronto’s mayoral race was a bizarre missed opportunity

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Chris Selley: Tory wins easily, but Toronto's mayoral race was a bizarre missed opportunity

Source: NP

This campaign was supposed to be about whether and how we could do much better, much faster. Instead, it was very nearly a non-event

Chris Selley Chris Selley October 22, 2018 Goodness knows Toronto has had odd mayoral election campaigns before. John Tory lost one 15 years ago in which the most memorable issue was whether or not to build a bridge across a 150-meter channel between the Island Airport and the mainland. But the campaign Tory won Monday night, with a thumping 63-to-24-per-cent win over former city planner Jennifer Keesmaat, takes the biscuit. In 15 years, people will struggle to explain what on earth this campaign was supposed to be about. The 2003 campaign wasn’t really about the stupid bridge, of course. The bridge stood in for the relatively pragmatic conservative and urbanist liberal worldviews of Tory and eventual winner David Miller, respectively. The MacGuffin this year was “standing up for Toronto.” Keesmaat and the progressives who rallied behind her insisted that’s what Tory failed to do when Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to slash city council in half. Ford went so far as to invoke the notwithstanding clause — which is pretty compelling evidence of how determined he was to get his way. But Keesmaat insisted she would have done … well, something more than Tory. For reasons no one has managed to articulate, Ford would have caved. That was literally the impetus for her campaign. While Keesmaat worked closely with Tory on many of his key accomplishments at City Hall — and indeed endorsed his re-election not so long ago — it was always clear she preferred a more ambitious approach to city-building. It wasn’t until more than a month after her campaign launch, though, that she gave her supporters anything to chew on besides “standing up for Toronto.” She vowed she would tear down the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway, which Tory championed rebuilding as unobtrusively as possible. The left didn’t so much rejoice as exhale. Here, finally, was a symbolic issue around which a narrative could form: Tearing it down would express Keesmaat’s forward-thinking agenda of densification, parks, reprioritizing cyclists and pedestrians and transit over the automobile. Keeping it up would express Tory’s penny-pinching small-mindedness. Only that was pretty much all we got. Keesmaat threw in the towel on the other bane of Toronto progressivism, the Scarborough subway. She argued Ford was determined to build it anyway, so Toronto should take its contribution and focus on more useful projects. It was a defensible stance to a point, but her entire campaign was predicated on standing up to Ford, and for Toronto, against terrible decision-making of precisely the sort that is giving us the Scarborough subway.
Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat speaks after losing to incumbent John Tory on Monday, Oct. 22, 2018. Dave Abel/Postmedia
Most amazingly, but for the $500 million in alleged savings for her Gardiner East teardown and a “property tax surtax” on homes worth more than $4 million, she essentially adopted Tory’s fiscal plan. The mayor’s re-election campaign came in hot after Keesmaat’s surprise entry, accusing her of planning to jack up your taxes. That’s precisely what her core supporters wanted her to do, of course, and in the past she had always argued the city needs more revenue. She countered by pledging to keep property taxes at or below inflation, with no other big revenue play to pay for progressive ambitions. To the NDP campaign machine that scooped Keesmaat up, that no doubt seemed like the safe, professional play. But Keesmaat was never going to win this thing. And she did significantly worse than it was reasonable to expect, not even pulling the 30-per-cent that’s generally thought of as Toronto’s baked-in progressive base. For heaven’s sake, she did almost exactly as well as Olivia Chow did in 2014 in a three-person race! Could she really have done any worse being truer to herself? Speaking of which, congratulations to John Tory. As head of CivicAction, he went around cajoling GTA mayors to support new “revenue tools.” In his first term he supported a special levy on property taxes for his “city-building fund,” raising land transfer taxes and implementing a (no-brainer) hotel tax. Most remarkably, he did what was once considered unthinkable: getting both Queen’s Park and City Council (in a 32-9 vote!) to approve tolling the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.
Toronto mayor John Tory celebrates his re-election victory at the Sheraton Centre Toronto hotel on Monday, Oct 22, 2018. Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia
Even at a paltry $2 per trip, that would have been an estimated $200-million annual windfall. It could have been far more. Now Tory boasts of the $170 million in gas tax revenue he got from Premier Kathleen Wynne after she reneged under pressure from her doomed 905 caucuses. Fair play to him — and the incident is to Wynne’s enduring shame, not Tory’s — but that’s money Ford could cut off with the stroke of a pen. Tory knows just as well as Keesmaat that the city needs more cash, and needs to raise it itself with tools it already has at its disposal. His attacks on her non-existent plans to do just that leave him no better placed to address roughly $30-billion of the capital projects council have approved but not funded. Toronto could do a whole lot worse than Tory — has done, in fact, very recently and for most of its post-amalgamation history. But with Kesmaat’s entry, this campaign was supposed to be about whether and how we could do much better, much faster. It could and should have been a valuable reality-based democratic exercise. Instead, it was very nearly a non-event.

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Webmaster Savas Can Altun Teknoloji Bilgisayar Google s4v4s ASk Question Webmaster Sitesi Webmaster Forumu
Webmaster Savas Can Altun Teknoloji Bilgisayar Google s4v4s ASk Question Webmaster Sitesi Webmaster Forumu