In what was surely the most-anticipated municipal mayoral race of my lifetime, October 27th marked the finish line: election day. With Rob Ford registering his intent to run again on January 2nd, the 10-month race was on. Ford’s two foes in this race, John Tory and Olivia Chow, were the only others in that mattered–although dozens of other candidates ran for mayor. The debates were focused on these three from the get-go–and when the Ford brothers’ shocking last-minute switch occurred on September 12th, Doug Ford merely stepped into his brother’s place as Rob ran instead for the Etobicoke North riding he had represented for a decade (2000-2010). Would Ford Nation embrace Doug as they had embraced Rob?

Tonight’s results were a resounding “No!” With a record-breaking 60% voter turnout, Toronto has chosen John Tory as mayor.

From the Globe and Mail: Voter turnout last night was highest in the central and west sections of the city

From the Globe and Mail: Voter turnout last night was highest in the central and west sections of the city. Turnout was markedly higher in Toronto than its adjacent cities–just 38% in Mississauga, 36% in Brampton, and 26% in Oshawa.

How did Tory win? Or rather, how did the Fords lose? The public had gotten sick of the drama that was city hall, ironically from a mayor who was elected to reduce government waste and inefficiency. For many, the last-minute substitution of one Ford for another was simply too much to take. Suspicious voters turned out in droves to force the Fords out–but only in the mayoral race. Rob has been re-elected as city councillor in Ward 2 Etobicoke–cancer treatment and all. Olivia Chow entered the race strong, but many analysts and journalists say that she began to lose traction in the summer–for reasons nobody has been able to figure out. Tonight on CBC, journalists said she ran “too sensible” of a campaign, “always took the high road”, and noted that the twin spectres of racism and sexism had reared their ugly heads during the past few months; ironically a female journalist covering the results criticized Chow as “too nice”, a descriptor that would likely not be applied to a male candidate. Indeed, in the male-dominated arena of debates (or shouting matches), it was difficult for an intelligent and sensible woman to win over two candidates who alternately proposed pipe dreams and vague ideas with equal amounts of bluster–difficult, as well, to withstand members of the public who taunted her ethnocultural background or gender. By summer, the race had become about one issue: transit. Tory introduced his SmartTrack idea which, although vague and lacking a realistic funding strategy, gained remarkable traction with the public over Chow’s simpler, cheaper plan–by the time Doug Ford developed a plan for relieving congestion, late in September, the voters had already decided.

Those voters who may have liked Rob Ford’s fiscally prudent promises the first time around, but blanched at his drug and alcohol abuse issues, may have also been drawn to Tory as a fiscal conservative. In this area, leftist Chow stood no chance–even though in many cases her proposals were fiscally responsible (more so, in some cases, than her opponent Tory), the public knows her as an NDP Member of Parliament, which in their eyes means spending on socially relevant causes instead of balancing the budget. As Toronto Star columnist Royson James wrote, “They wanted Ford without the drama.”

Finally we have the polls, which beginning in August, have traced Tory’s rise to power. In many races in recent history (including the 2011 federal, 2012 Alberta provincial, and 2014 Ontario provincial elections) polls have been wildly inaccurate. It is worthwhile to note that polls did not correctly predict the winners of any of these major races–but they did tonight. Those who remained undecided until around Labour Day, which in Toronto circles seems to be when the race shifts into high gear, were subjected to a barrage of convincingly scientific-sounding polls that told them Tory was in the lead. Numerous articles urged Chow to give up the race in order to avoid splitting the vote, and many urged Torontonians to vote strategically against Ford.

Tory was the least controversial in comparison to Chow or Ford. Freelancer John Barber calls Tory “as boring as Nebraska” under the headline “Boredom replaces noise and strife at city hall.” Like others before him, Barber describes Tory’s program as “comfortingly vague, building on his natural strength as an inoffensive character.” As so often happens in politics, it was an election based on who the public didn’t want in office, rather than who they did want. As many have written, this race always had to be about getting rid of Rob and restoring Toronto’s internationally tarnished reputation–the highest voter turnout since Toronto’s 1998 amalgamation illustrates this. Neighbouring municipalities, with less spectacular, media-hogging candidates, had voter turnouts as low as 23% tonight. Tory inherits the difficult task of bridging a divided Toronto–less divided than in 2010, perhaps, but divided nonetheless–a task he promised to undertake as the Great Healer.

The Globe and Mail published this election results map showing John Tory's support in blue, Olivia Chow in purple and Rob Ford in green

The Globe and Mail published this election results map showing John Tory’s support in blue, Olivia Chow in purple and Rob Ford in green. Ford largely swept the eastern and western suburbs with 34% of the vote, leaving Tory and Chow to pick up the urban votes (40% and 23% respectively).

Toronto map 2010

Four years ago, the urban-suburban divide was even greater than it was today, showing almost exactly the divide between the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto (in purple) and the suburbs that joined it in 1998 (East York, Scarborough, North York, York, and Etobicoke, in blue).

Passengers line up for the bus at St. Catharines' Brock University

Passengers line up for the bus at St. Catharines’ Brock University

In this era of public spending scrutiny, transit construction cost overruns, pilot projects have become an ideal way for municipalities and regions around the world to experiment with a desirable planning alternative. In 2009, the City of Vancouver experimented with installing bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge, which became permanent a year later after one million cyclists had crossed the bridge. Toronto is currently experimenting with bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide Streets.

Just over an hour south of Toronto in wine country, Niagara Region initiated an intermunicipal transit pilot project back in 2011, granting $3.7 million to the municipalities of Welland, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls to connect to each other with new buses. The Region also provided additional funding to the program annually. The pilot program has been successful–though it was due to end this fall, the Region has extended it until September 2015. Last week, Niagara’s public works committee approved guiding principles for intermunicipal transit developed in consultation with the Region’s 12 cities and towns, and agreed to remove the words “pilot project” from any reference to an intermunicipal transit system linking the cities. Regional councillors also approved route improvements of $1.34 million in 2015–pending approval of the 2015 budget to support a system linking Welland, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Grimsby, Lincoln and West Lincoln.

Regional councillors say the project would also be key in convincing the province to extend daily GO Rail service to Niagara. A survey of 4,700 Niagara residents showed that 48% would be willing to support intermunicipal transit with higher taxes. Support was highest in St. Catharines at 60%.

Funding shortfalls are common among cities, as this year’s municipal elections have shown. While many governments are turning to public-private partnerships to fund expensive projects, they also work with community organizations, social enterprises, and non-profit groups to implement projects and run programs such as affordable housing for seniors and job placement services for youth. Crowdfunding could represent another aspect of cost-sharing that municipalities could use to help pay for services and projects that have strong support of municipal staff and the public. I’ve written before about participatory budgeting in Vancouver, Calgary, Guelph, and Toronto and posted last month about a crowdfunded bus proposal originating in Toronto’s Liberty Village.

RaiseanArm.org is a civic crowdfunding website created by Abdullah Mayo and the Hamilton Stewardship Council to give the public more of a say in public spending. Building on crowdsourced models common among start-ups and entrepreneurs which allow innovative ideas to find funding from many small donors online, the website aims to allow citizens to suggest ideas for the city. Spacehive in the UK, the world’s first civic crowdfunding site, currently has 359 projects such as recreation facilities, public art, and building restoration projects–50 are now fully funded. Citizeninvestor in the US features projects from $2,500 bike rack installations or tree planting all the way up to $200,000 public parks.

RaiseanArm has worked with the City of Hamilton to investigate the feasibility and legalities of crowdfunding in Ontario. RaiseanArm staff will bring ideas to the City to find out if the project is feasible or already being done in the Hamilton. If the idea were approved by the City, the project would be posted in the website and citizens would be able to pledge financial support or volunteer their services to get the project completed. While Mayo is excited to begin with local projects, he would like to gather support from across Canada and eventually expand to projects across the country.

For those of you confused by the plethora of candidates in Toronto’s upcoming election, Women in Toronto Politics has developed an easy to understand Position Primer. Simply type in your postal code and you’ll be able to instantly compare candidates’ positions in your ward on a number of key issues:

  • Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Employment
  • Affordable housing
  • Newcomers
  • Poverty
  • Public services
  • Taxation
  • Infrastructure
  • A key ward issue

 

The Position Primer is based on a survey that asked candidates for their positions on 10 issues in 350 characters or less. The unedited answers are yet another method for residents to learn about the key issues in their local areas before election day, October 27th.

 

A couple of enterprising folks are proposing a crowdfunded bus from Liberty Village to Union Station in Toronto, to provide an alternative to the overcrowded 504 King streetcar. The King line, the busiest streetcar line in Toronto, carries 60,000 commuters daily.

Taylor Scollon and Brett Chang have founded Line Six, aiming to run a pilot project from October 6-10th. In less than a month, they have raised $1,450 of the $2,500 cost of bus insurance and rights. The TTC has exclusive rights to charge for transit in the city, so Line Six will not charge a fare and will operate as a chartered service would. This type of “bottom-up” service aimed at solving a pressing need that the transit authority cannot (or will not) address is common in other parts of the world. For example, in the Philippines, two-wheeled and three-wheeled vehicles, as well as larger jeepneys, are family-run businesses that run informal routes throughout metropolitan areas, even in rural and suburban settings. They offer an alternative to the extensive bus and train network in larger cities. New York City’s dollar vans were born during a 1980s transit strike. Many of the routes are set up to meet the needs of immigrant workers in the metropolitan area, operating in areas where gaps exist in existing transit–they are not permitted to pick up passengers on MTA’s bus routes. Journalist Zoe Rosenberg (Curbed) reported in July 2014 that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has issued 481 licences to dollar vans since 1994, and many more operate without licences. When Hurricane Sandy forced the MTA to shut down operations, dollar vans kept running.

Such solutions can be legally difficult in Canada because of monopolies. Two years ago, students set up a cheap bus service for students to get from Toronto to Kingston during the holidays. They were forced to stop because Coach Canada has an exclusive contract for bus service between the two cities. When the students aimed to start a Toronto-London service they received a sternly-worded letter from Greyhound Canada, which holds the exclusive contract. Years before, a student-established bus service eventually resulted in a new Greyhound route to the University of Waterloo.

However, private solutions can work–residents in a group of condos on Queens Quay pay for shuttle bus service to various destinations within the city through their condo fees. The service has been around for 30 years. Employers in far-flung locales have also been known to pony up for shuttles if their employees all live far from the area–Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s headquarters on Montreal Road in Ottawa once offered this service to employees.

crosstownroutemapThe Province of Ontario will issue green bonds to help raise money for construction of the Eglington Crosstown LRT, making it apparently the first government in Canada to use such a funding tool to pay for infrastructure. Premier Kathleen Wynne mentioned green bonds as a possible funding mechanism in her spring campaign.

Green bonds were pioneered by the World Bank in 2008 and can be issued for a specific project, a combination of projects, or to contribute to a fund for interrelated green investments (e.g. water treatment facilities using green technologies). The Economist reported in July 2014 that over $3 billion in green bonds were sold in 2012, skyrocketing to almost $20 billion in the first half of 2014. Although this is still only a fraction of the bond market, The Economist noted that “compared with most streams of income for environmental purposes, it is huge” and that the green bond market “appeared out of nowhere”.

The Ontario green bond program will be used to fund a range of sustainable projects across the province:

  • public transit
  • clean energy
  • energy efficiency and conservation
  • forestry, agriculture and land management
  • climate adaptation

 

The Eglington Crosstown, part of Metrolinx’ 25-year, $50 billion strategic plan The Big Move, is expected to be finished in 2020 at a total cost of $5.3 million. About $500 million is expected to be raised through green bonds.

rob-fordMayor Rob Ford has dropped out of Toronto’s mayoral race following this week’s shocking news on his health. Following severe abdominal pain earlier this week, the mayor was hospitalized on Wednesday and underwent a biopsy of a large mass in his abdomen yesterday. Results won’t be known until next week, and Ford could have remained on the ballot if he so chose. However, he seems to be playing it safe and attending to his health–something he has historically avoided doing. During the past two years of drama over Ford’s addiction issues, he steadfastly refused help until this spring, when he spent some time at a rehabilitation facility addressing alcohol dependency.

The mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, will run instead, but will may not have the same polling numbers as Rob. Doug had been a councillor representing Etobicoke North (Ward 2), but Rob will now replace him in that race. Rob Ford was the Ward 2 councillor from 2000-2010.

Today was the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the race–low-polling candidates David Soknacki and Sarah Thomson withdrew last week. Candidate John Tory, currently polling in the lead, will face off with Olivia Chow, who until today polled in third place after Ford.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA bike_lanes.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoThe City of Toronto officially opened separated bike lanes on Sherbourne Street in June 2013. Six months later, The Grid examined the success of the lanes and found that several barriers still existed for cyclists: the curb separating the lanes from traffic could be easily driven over, and cars and delivery trucks routinely blocked the lanes despite the threat of a $150 fine. Conflicts with pedestrians and right-hand turning cars were also an issue.

But today’s news yielded different views. The Toronto Star reported that since opening, the number of cyclists using Sherbourne Street has tripled to an average of 2827 daily, up from an average of 955 daily in 2011. Even after subtracting the 800 daily riders who may have switched from Jarvis Street since its lanes there were removed, that’s still double the riders on Sherbourne post-lane separation.

Cycle Toronto, which advocates safe cycling as an essential part of a sustainable transportation network, would like all the mayoral candidates to commit to building 100 km of separated bike lanes on larger streets (like Eglington, Richmond, and Adelaide) and 100 km of designated lanes on smaller residential roads. They would like to see Toronto’s cycling mode share increase from 1.7% to 5% by 2016.

Municipal elections are still over a month away, so voters have plenty of time for a little light reading. I thought it important to highlight a few key resources for Torontonians caught up in the Ford-Tory-Chow- race for mayor. This past month has yielded a wealth of information that should inform your political choices for the largest city in the country.

  1. The City of Toronto is very financially healthy. To quote a report released a couple of weeks ago from the University of Toronto Institute for Municipal Finance and Governance, “Toronto does not have a spending problem.” For those who don’t remember, in his bid to “stop the gravy train” Mayor Ford commissioned independent audits of the city’s services. Internationally recognized firm KPMG found that most city services were mandatory or essential, and there were few opportunities to cut costs without cutting services. The rhetoric that we must constantly cut costs and avoid spending on essential services or projects has had a damaging effect: it has caused us to delay spending on important infrastructure, services, and projects necessary to the city’s functioning. All voters should check out IMPG’s report, Is Toronto Fiscally Healthy? A Check-up on the City’s Finances, an excellent primer on municipal governance and finance, answering questions like “How much influence do politicians have on the economy?” (Answer: Not much).
  2. Toronto Star comparison of the candidates' transit plans

    Toronto Star comparison of the candidates’ transit plans

    Public transit has emerged as the leading issue in this mayoral race. Every newspaper has spelled out, in mind-numbing detail, the plans of each candidate: here’s a summary from the Toronto Star. The Toronto Sun went so far as to break down each of Rob Ford’s campaign promises in “10 problems with Rob Ford’s transit plan.” Yeah, that’s right–the Sun, people. Voters need to be informed on what are realistic plans versus empty promises. Do your homework and don’t be distracted by the beautiful technology.

  3. What this city needs is a long-term vision. If you want to see what a transportation vision might look like, check out TTC’s August 19th report Opportunities to Improve Transit Service in Toronto, which outlines their futuristic vision for Toronto. Read about The Big Move at Metrolinx. Think about your own needs, and those of your family members, ten or twenty years in the future. Check out the Toronto Board of Trade’s discussion paper, Build Regional Transportation Now, to get some ideas of how municipalities could work together to achieve common goals. Among the more revolutionary of their suggestions are: reviewing governance options for improved coordination and integration of transportation related planning, management and operational functions; integrating transit route planning and creating one regional network, fare system, schedule and public transportation brand; depoliticizing transportation decision-making; applying dedicated revenue tools to manage transportation demand; and including fairness and equity in the application of revenue tools. In terms of a housing vision, most candidates haven’t gone into much detail: Toronto Life examined Olivia Chow’s affordable housing plan in “Would Olivia Chow’s affordable housing plan work as advertised?”, particularly the concept of inclusionary zoning.
  4. Don’t read too much into opinion polls: they are often inaccurate. Polls did not accurately predict Kathleen Wynne’s majority win in June, as the media often portrayed the difference between Wynne and Tim Hudak as merely in the single digits (the result: Wynne won 48 seats, Hudak 28). The same thing happened in Alberta two years ago, when the race between Conservative Alison Redford and Wildrose Party’s Danielle Smith was considered too close to call (the result: Redford won a majority with 62 seats compared to Smith’s 17 seats). Vote for the candidate who has the best chance of fulfilling your vision for Toronto.
  5. Look for overlapping goals. Canada doesn’t have an Obama, a leader whose 2008 election strategy focused on pointing out shared ideas and beliefs, and suggested “yes we can”. Increasingly, Canadian politics are divisive, pitting owners against renters, old against young, the native-born against immigrants. Voters have to look for common goals themselves, e.g. the fact that even Rob Ford, a poster-boy for conservativism, is spending his final weeks before the election coming up with plans for public transit tells you something about this city. The fact that the city has needs far greater than it can address with its own paltry revenue streams (e.g. infrastructure, housing) says something about the division of powers between municipalities, provinces, and the federal government. Voters need to be reminded that we do have common struggles, ideals, and aspirations: politicians are extremely skilled in wiping these commonalities from our memories as they try to define themselves and their platforms.

 

I urge all who are able to vote to register or just bring identification with your local address on voting day, October 27th. Students, you can vote in the city where you live as a student, or in your hometown.

A couple of months ago, I reported that vehicle licensing rates among youth and young adults in British Columbia had decreased. Now Alberta is reporting a similar trend (“Driver’s licenses not a priority, say young Albertans,” CBC News, August 5, 2014). Alberta Transportation reports that the rate of licensed drivers aged 15 to 24 has decreased by 20% in the past 20 years, from 90% to 75%. While this isn’t as great a decrease as that seen in BC (ICBC reported a 70% decrease among 20-24-year-olds from 2004-2013), it’s pretty big news in Canada’s oil-producing province.

As in other younger populations, Alberta researchers have cited the prevalence of social media for interacting with friends and the higher cost of living that today’s young people must incur in rent and tuition. But access to transit is also mentioned, aligning with the results of several high-profile studies in the US, Great Britain, Japan, Sweden, and North Korea. Rather than just suggesting that car ownership is merely delayed a few years while millenials establish themselves, Dr. Alex de Barros from the University of Calgary suggests that young people may opt for more sustainable transportation options now and in the long run.