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The Debate

In Canada's most-watched municipal election, which candidate offers the best long-term investment? We've brought together Toronto mayoral hopefuls Olivia Chow, Doug Ford and John Tory and asked them each an open-ended question that focuses their attention on long-term planning: "The population of the Greater Toronto Area will grow by more than 2 million in the next two decades. How would you, as mayor, make Toronto a place that can handle a growing population and receive this influx of newcomers?" Toronto itself will add 500,000 newcomers, and its suburbs, which remain Canada's top immigration destination, will put extra pressure on the city's already strained transit, housing, social services and infrastructure. Who has the best plan for future generations? Read all three responses, comment, and select your favourite in the voting box on the right.

The Debaters

Debate contributor
Olivia ChowFormer Toronto city councillor and former federal NDP Member of Parliament
A growing city needs more than just a transit plan
Debate contributor
Doug FordBusinessman, Toronto city councillor from Etobicoke
Toronto's prosperity depends on transportation infrastructure
Debate contributor
John ToryFormer MPP and former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party
Toronto must be livable, affordable and functional

The Discussion

Debate contributor

Olivia Chow : I know the draw of Toronto. Like thousands of families before, mine arrived in 1970 from Hong Kong, and thousands have arrived since — from around the world and across the country. Together, we’ve created a diverse, accepting and talented city. But we’re at a crossroads, and need to decide the path ahead.

Growth brings opportunities. Our diversity is a source of pride and enjoyment, and also helps the economy by connecting us with cultures and markets world-wide. Growth also brings challenges that we’ve ignored - or made worse - over the the last four years; we can’t do the same for the next four.

At the time of writing, only I have a full platform. This is important, because we need a plan to get where we’re going, not a bumper sticker. I have a plan that is specific, costed and makes a difference right away.

Mr. Tory and Mr. Ford should explain their lack of specifics. As the candidate with the most experience getting things done at city hall, I’m glad to talk about my specific plans. Here are four highlights:

One downside of growth is higher living costs, which hurts working families, young people and seniors the most. But imagine if the building boom we’ve seen also created affordable housing along the way. Think of the change if we’d made sure that some of the new units were affordable.

That’s what I will do. We can create 15,000 new, affordable homes by deferring development charges on new units. If they stay affordable, the charges stay deferred. It’s a practical way to help create mixed-income neighbourhoods, and avoid the ghetto-ization that plagues other cities.

Another consequence of growth is it becomes harder to raise a family. For some, child care is more expensive more than housing; this can’t continue without creating more inequality, which in turn creates more social and criminal problems.

Throughout my career, I’ve put children first. Working with others, I’ve started programs to give kids things to do after school, like arts and sports. I led the charge for nutritious food in schools, so more kids have at least one healthy meal a day. These are practical ways to help working parents and deal with the almost one-in-three kids who live in poverty.

Child care helps in ways beyond providing good care. It also improves economic equality, by supporting women who work. That’s why I will create 3,000 new spaces, with half of them subsidized. The alternative is to let chronic shortages continue.

Children, like cities, grow and become young adults. Many parents have expressed their worry to me about a child who has finished school and is now staying at home for lack of a job.

Let’s use our growth to create jobs for young people, investing in them as we build infrastructure. I will use community benefit agreements, which worked in the Vancouver Olympics and Regent Park’s revitalization. They are simple. If a company has a big city contract, we require them to hire and train young people. It helps social inclusion and they are proven successes.

Premier Kathleen Wynne endorsed them, and Metrolinx is using them on the Eglinton Crosstown project. I leave it to Mr. Tory to explain why, instead of engaging on substance, he dismissed them as mere “NDP bureaucracy.”

On each of these — and many other — areas of social policy, my opponents are silent. Instead, they speak only about transit: Mr. Ford and subways; Mr. Tory and his discredited, back-of-the-napkin scheme.

So let me end on transit. To prepare for growth, we need a change from Mr. Ford’s and Mr. Tory’s approach, because we know it fails. If we only draw lines on maps or use risky schemes to avoid honestly talking about taxes, we’ll never improve service today and will choke on gridlock.

Like David Soknacki, my plan resembles what the TTC and Metrolinx are working towards. I won’t reinvent the wheel. I will invest immediately in the TTC’s own priorities: boosting bus service now and a subway relief line.

This isn’t sexy, but it is honest and leads to an integrated plan that values all modes: buses, streetcars, LRTs and subways. It’s built by paying for it. Nothing comes free. And we need it planned by experts, as Mr. Tory’s mistakes underline.

These four things all improve equality. They help people who can’t afford cabs or cars get moving and they take practical steps, right now, to leave fewer people or neighbourhoods behind.

People come here for a better life. I am glad my parents chose Toronto because there’s nowhere else I would rather live. But we are at a crossroads, and need to decide what kind of city another family — from India or Mexico or small-town Ontario — will find. I will be a mayor who will make sure it’s one where everyone counts.

Debate contributor

Doug Ford : Asking where Toronto will be in 20 years is an extremely serious question for voters to consider in the upcoming election.

Imagine our City in 20 years, with a significantly higher population, if we fail to make the proper investments in a better subway system today.

I believe that investing to maintain and upgrade infrastructure is the key to keeping up with Toronto’s population growth and staying competitive and viable. This is why increasing infrastructure investment has been a key focus during our first term of office.

In fact, we have undertaken one of the largest infrastructure renewal programs in Toronto’s history. On average, we are investing $800-million more each year on maintaining and improving critical infrastructure, like our roads, water mains and our transit system.

What we desperately need is a long term vision and a bold plan to build a world class underground transit system that will unlock countless opportunities and connect our city.

Decades ago, Toronto took great pride in having one of the world’s best subway systems. Today, years of underinvestment have left us far behind other global cities like London, Paris and New York. These are cities that we compete with every day in the global economy. Having proper transit connections are crucial to keeping our city competitive.

Under this administration we have worked hard on underground transit projects like the Eglinton Crosstown, the Spadina Subway extension and of course the Bloor-Danforth subway expansion to Scarborough, all currently moving forward. This is a great start. Better transit is coming.

I am committed to building on this success. I want to undertake the largest subway expansion Toronto has seen in decades. I have a plan to build 32 km of new subway lines that will connect Toronto communities, stimulate our economy and create countless new jobs.

I am the only candidate committed to building on our existing subway network. I believe there is the political will to make this happen at City Hall and I also believe that the people of Toronto overwhelmingly support building a better subway system.

My competitors are both on the record supporting LRT (Light Rail Transit) projects that will reduce lanes of traffic and create congestion havoc. If we are spending the money to upgrade our transit system, it makes no sense to build the cheap option. We need to make wise investments, keeping our focus on where we will be in 20 years.

I believe that expanding our underground transit system is the best possible investment we can make today for future generations. We can build transit that will benefit Toronto for decades to come. Imagine if our City’s forefathers didn’t have the backbone to stand up to the naysayers and build our current subway system.

Another important area that we must invest in is our roads and expressways. In the last four years we have spent billions of dollars to maintain and resurface roads and we have allocated $500-million to repair the Gardiner Expressway, a key artery of our city. In fact, we have resurfaced almost 900,000 potholes since 2010.

Investing in our roads is critical to keeping Toronto viable and competitive, but we also need to invest in traffic fighting technology that will ease congestion. This term we invested millions of dollars to upgrade Toronto’s Traffic Coordination Centre, we replaced technology that was 30 years old with state of the art traffic fighting systems. Another extremely important investment we are making is implementing traffic signal coordination at more than 1,500 of Toronto’s busiest intersections.

If we fail to make these critical investments now, I believe the prosperity our city enjoys today will be at risk. We are competing against the other great global cities, all of which have invested to build extensive transportation systems with subways at their core. This is why I am running on the promise of expanding our subway system.

Debate contributor

John Tory : Like many Globe and Mail readers, I grew up in Toronto the Good. But like so many more now – especially those who have come here and chosen to make this city their home – I live in a place that could become Toronto the Great. I want to be the mayor who makes that happen, who takes us from good to great.

What does that mean? To me, making Toronto great means focusing on improving the livability, affordability, and functionality of our city. From the outset, I have offered Torontonians a mayor who will keep relentlessly engaged in these matters, with the sound, steady management that is required for a large organization to achieve big goals.

This kind of solid leadership has always been important in Toronto. Our population is expected to grow from five million to approximately seven million in just 20 years, so strong management is a must to make the city livable, affordable and functional.

That’s why I’ve proposed a focused set of measures that I think will address the biggest challenges our City faces as we continue on this path.

1. Tackling our transportation problems with SmartTrack. Some of North America’s leading transit and urban development experts are hailing SmartTrack’s surface subway solution as the right answer for our fast-growing city. I’ll build 55 km of line with 22 new stations in just seven years, providing congestion relief on our roads and existing subway lines. This initiative will be essential to helping accommodate the growth of our population.

2. Jobs and opportunity that will keep the growth going strong. That means investing in transportation that connects people to jobs and jobs to people. It means creating the places that make global companies want to invest in Toronto. It means ensuring livability, so that the human talent that drives a city’s growth in the global economy wants to come live and work in Toronto.

3.Keeping taxes down and modernizing City administration. I will hold property taxes to the rate of inflation. I will use the property tax increase passed by Mayor Rob Ford to fund the Scarborough Subway Extension as was intended, not divert it to other uses. I will contract out garbage collection west of Yonge Street. I will take waste and duplication out of city administration and modernize customer service.

4. Bringing people and governments together to tackle our housing problems. We need to overhaul the Toronto Community housing Corporation. We need to work with the private sector to ensure more affordable housing being built on infill properties. We need to work at getting homeless people out of the shelters and into stable housing.

5. Healing the political divide between the old city and the suburbs, with better transit connections, economic development in Scarborough and the city’s northwest, a focus on youth unemployment in the suburbs, and an end to divisive battles and name-calling.

The one indispensable element in delivering these commitments is working with others to get things done. More City Councillors, MPPs, and MPs have endorsed my candidacy than any other by a wide margin. That’s because they know that in the Council Chamber, at Queen’s Park, or on Parliament Hill, I have the relationships and the experience to bring people together to achieve our goals. I have the same capacity with the leaders of the regions that surround our city – Toronto’s interests don’t stop at the 416-905 boundary anymore, and I know how to bring the entire area together to meet our common objectives.

I don’t just talk about working together to get things done; I’ve done it. My track record in business, politics and community leadership is one of collaboration and achieving results. Many is the time I have been called upon to help clean up a situation, or turn one around. Whether it’s a large telecom provider, a football league, or a fundraising campaign. I am proud of my record of service, and it backs up my promise to run the city this way on your behalf.

Toronto has done well in the past decades, but we can do so much more. We can be the city we want to be: 7 million strong, prosperous, diverse and tolerant, socially inclusive and environmentally resilient. And we can retain the core attributes of livability, affordability, and functionality that got Toronto to our envied place in the world. With the right leader of our City, and the hard work and patient co-operation that achieves real results, we can take Toronto from good to great.