Toronto has launched a “recovery and rebuild strategy” with a sweeping mandate to consider how the city might function differently as it comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Board of Health chair Joe Cressy saying the analysis would include everything from how transit might work, to city operations, to whether road-space needs to be divided up in new ways.
This work is being guided by a pair of long-time bureaucrats with backgrounds in government and public health, who will help inform what Mayor John Tory is warning will be a protracted process.
“There is no on-off switch,” Mr. Tory told a briefing Friday. “The plan will take a phased approach. We will communicate this plan as widely as we can to residents and businesses as soon as it is ready, so everyone knows the path of our recovery.”
Toronto has been under a state of emergency since March 23, part of city efforts to prevent a widespread outbreak of COVID-19, and has taken an enormous economic hit in the month since.
As of Friday morning, there had been 238 known COVID-related deaths in the city. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, expressed cautious optimism this week that the city was flattening the curve of new infections, but warned that efforts to contain them would need to continue.
The two individuals who will guide the recovery effort revealed on Friday have already been hired on short-term contracts.
David Mowat, a former provincial medical officer of health, will report ultimately to the city’s board of health. Saad Rafi, who ran the 2015 Pan Am Games and has served as deputy minister of several Ontario ministries, including health, will report to the city manager and through him to city council.
Mr. Cressy framed Dr. Mowat’s responsibility very broadly, saying he would be looking at both government operations and the private sector through the lens of public health.
“His mandate is to provide all advice to the city of Toronto,” Mr. Cressy said in an interview.
“How do we use public transit in an era when COVID-19 continues to circulate in the absence of a vaccine? How do we re-allocate space on our streets, on our sidewalks and in our bike lanes? How do we use our restaurants, go to restaurants? All of these factors need to be considered and need to be planned for.”
The question of road space has become a particularly sore point for pedestrians over the weeks of the pandemic. Unlike more than 100 other cities that have moved to allow safer walking and cycling on roads, which in many cases are barely being used, Toronto has resisted such calls. On Friday, though, Mr. Tory signalled that a shift was coming.
“We are working with Toronto Public Health … and with our Transportation Services department, to identify key hot spots where there are lineups or pinch-points on sidewalks,” he said. “We will roll out a plan, early next week, to address that.”
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