Today I’ll be live blogging from this year’s Housing Symposium, organized by the Housing and Homelessness Partnership. Sponsors for the event include Halifax Regional Municipality and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

We started with a panel discussion on the state of housing and what’s expected from the National Housing Strategy with Brian Giacomo (Tawaak Housing), Karen Brodeur (Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada), and Claudia Jahn (Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia). Giacomo noted that their two main challenges were the potential expiration of operating agreements between CMHC and non-profit housing associations, and that 25% of their units were in poor quality–the organization does not have the funds to repair and rent them. Tawaak Housing’s main long-term issue is sustainability as they will be forced to sell some of their units in the future–since 1993 they no longer have access to an annual fund from CMHC to improve units. Brodeur noted that we have 74 housing co-ops in the province, which offer permanent affordability and are mixed-income communities. However, they are small (on average 27 units in size in Halifax and 41 units nationally) and therefore have limited reach, are subject to more financial risk, and have fewer members for leadership roles. Jahn noted that Halifax is tenth on the list of percentage of people who need affordable housing. They’re expecting the new National Housing Strategy to include an indigenous stream (with inherent treaty rights to housing, maintaining the number of units, providing funds for rehabilitation/renovation), funding to protect the current co-op housing stock and help create new units, and long-term consultation on the strategy to ensure it’s working over time.

The second panel on new affordable housing developments/lessons learned included Rich Gant (Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia), Shaun MacLean (Pathways Cape Breton), and Colleen Cameron (Antigonish Affordable Housing Society). MacLean talked about the relationship between Pathways to Employment program, social enterprises (including wood shop, laundry, property maintenance, private cleaning services) that provide opportunities for employment for people with mental illnesses and other barriers, and their housing component SHIMI which provides high-quality, secure supportive housing for people with mental illnesses. There are 39 SHIMI units are scattered throughout the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Cameron spoke about the four units her volunteer organization built in Antigonish using land provided by the town, and the challenges they encountered in understanding the regulations, process funding, and programs that were available to create the units and obtain charitable status. Volunteers built the four units through fundraising, despite people telling them it wasn’t possible for a new organization or that there was no need for affordable housing in Antigonish (they had 50 applications for the four completed units, and intend to build another ten as soon as they can). Gant is overseeing construction of a 92-unit development in Spryfield through Habitat for Humanity. He noted that families often need to get over the stigma of getting a “handout”, and that once they know they will be putting in 500 hours towards building their home and then have a mortgage, they view it as more acceptable. Habitat NS had built just 46 units in the province before the Spryfield project.

In the afternoon, two of my students, Juniper Littlefield and Adriane Salah, and Grant Wanzel (Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia) discussed homelessness and poverty. Wanzel has been involved with AHANS since its establishment, and both Littlefield and Salah worked with the organization this summer. They researched Halifax to identify communities or housing resources that were at risk of falling into housing poverty or out of affordability. Littlefield examined four Census Tracts in Dartmouth North, an area that has long been of interest with a high percentage of residents living in poverty; Salah’s work was in Spryfield. Between the two of them, they covered about 250 sq. km (the CMA) while Wanzel examined the rest of HRM which includes quite a few towns and rural areas (about 25% of the population of the regional municipality). Their reports are available on the AHANS website. Littlefield’s work on Dartmouth North (Burnside/Pinecrest, Tuft’s Cover, Ocean Breeze Census Tracts) found that the vulnerable populations were female lone parents, single women and young heads of households, there are issues with mental health and addictions, and the neighbourhood has some of the lowest housing costs in the region influenced by residents’ very low incomes. The shelter-to-income ratio is between 25-43 percent. Salah’s study of private rental units in five neighbourhoods (Spryfield, Clayton Park, North Peninsula, Dartmouth South and Dartmouth East) found that the first two had an increasing number of households in core housing need, while the others had increasing housing costs (Dartmouth South, Clayton Park) but are accessible to more services nearby. In the HRM, Wanzel said the ratio of owner/renter is 60/40 in the CMA, but in the remainder area it’s just 8.2/91.8; 28% of renters and 5.5% of owners in the area were in core housing need, but there is quite a lot of diversity: in areas like Halifax County East, 56% of renters were in core housing need.

A second workshop on access and alternative models of service delivery features a panel with Ali Shaver (Mobile Food Market), Becky Marval (MOSH), and Dawn LeBlanc (Community Homes Action Group). Shaver discussed the Halifax Mobile Food Market, which addresses  food security in low-income neighbourhoods. The Market initially provided pop-up markets in six communities (e.g. East Preston) using a Halifax Transit bus. Partners include local producers, Atlantic Superstore, community associations, United Way and non-profit organizations. After two evaluations of their project, 90% of their customers say that the price and location make it easier for them to buy fruits and vegetables, 89% say it’s easier to buy those that meet their family and cultural needs, and 76% say they’re eating more fruits and vegetables. Marval introduced us to Mobile Outreach Street Health (MOSH), a primary health care team working with homeless or at-risk people in the city who either don’t have a physician or are unwilling to visit one due to drug use or other perceived stigma. They also have a Housing First program to find housing for their clients. The Community Homes Action Group work towards finding housing for people with intellectual disabilities (e.g. require support with daily activities).

We’re all looking forward to the announcement about CMHC’s new National Housing Strategy shortly!

We can all rest easy. Despite many studies showing increased income inequality and a shrinking middle class in Canada, a rags-to-riches story is more likely to happen here than in the “land of opportunity.”

University of Ottawa professor Miles Corak, a social policy economist and former director of family and labour research at Statistics Canada, and his co-authors Lori Curtis (Professor of Economics, University of Waterloo) and Shelley Phipps (Professor of Economics, Dalhousie University) found that Canadians are three times more economically mobile than those in the US. The difference is largely due to those at the very top and the very bottom of the income distribution. In Economic Mobility, Family Background, and the Well-Being of Children in the United States and Canada, the three researchers found that social supports such as the Child Tax Credit, paid parental leave benefits, and schools funded through provincial income taxes help ensure that children receive better care and schooling than in the US, where these supports are absent and schools are funded through local property taxes, leaving poor neighbourhoods with failing schools. With sky-high tuition fees at universities, the richest Americans can buy their children the best educations and tutors. These differences between rich and poor mean that if you’re born poor in the US, you tend to stay poor; this also applies to the 1%–the very top of the income pyramid. For example, although “the average Canadian child is not as affluent as the average American, the poorest Canadian is not as poor in an absolute sense as Americans at the bottom of the income distribution.” This may help explain why discussions of class are more prevalent in the American literature and popular press.

The authors caution that rising income inequality rates in Canada could erode the high rate of economic mobility that we see now. Indeed, a look at their graphs shows that we still have issues: 15% our poorest children may still grow up to have incomes in the lowest decile (Figure 3, p7), but they have a better chance at the 7th, 8th, and 9th deciles than they do in the US. More Canadian children are born in the lower income deciles than American children (Figure 8, p33). But Table 1 (p21) shows some clear differences in the characteristics of families and parents. In Canada, 2.1% of children are born to teenage mothers; in the US, it’s 8.3%. In Canada, 14.9% of mothers are single compared to 22.1% in the US. Far more mothers and lone mothers in Canada have completed some post-secondary education or a post-secondary certificate (but oddly, more American mothers have completed degrees). Health problems among the poorest mothers are also more prevalent in the US, likely due to the cost of health care. As the authors suggest, Canadians must protect policies such as paid parental leave, the right to return to their jobs after the birth of a child, tax-transfer programs that help reduce the severity of poverty, and funding for schools through provincial income tax, ensuring a more equal distribution of resources across municipalities and neighbourhoods. Although we have fewer barriers to health care, we need to ensure the lower-income population has sufficient knowledge on navigating the health care system and can pay for prescription medication.

Corak, Curtis and Phipps write that “The citizens of both countries have a similar understanding of a successful life, one that is rooted in individual aspirations and freedom. They also have similar views on how these goals should be attained, but with one important exception: Americans differ in that they are more likely to see the State hindering rather than helping the attainment of these goals. Yet, at the same time the citizens of both countries recognize the need for public policy to contribute to reaching this ideal, with Americans believing more than Canadians that a whole host of interventions would be effective in improving the prospects for economic mobility. One interpretation of these findings – an interpretation that only becomes evident in a comparative context – is that in some sense this need is going unmet in the United States.”

Obviously, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford only has a cursory knowledge of economics. He was, after all, elected to “trim the fat” from a city budget that he considered overflowing with “gravy”. He said he could do this without cutting city services. And yet, while city services get hacked to the bone, high-profile citizens like Margaret Atwood campaign to save Toronto library branches from closure, and nearly 1200 City employees await pink slipsFord has personally wasted about $65 million.

As many of you know, Ford’s first order of business when he was sworn into office last December was to cancel Transit City. I leave aside the insanity of refusing to implement provincially-funded transit infrastructure in the largest city in the country. I won’t go into the fact that increases in TTC ridership actually resulted in a $60 million budget surplus in 2010 and the system even saw a 3% increase in 2011 (in what world is high transit ridership rewarded with intense cuts to transit services?) I won’t even dwell on the Scarborough LRT riders who will now be forced to ride buses for four years while their crumbling line is rebuilt. I will concentrate on just one fact: the man who said he could save taxpayers’ money already cost them millions of dollars in cancellation costs. In a single day: his first day in office.

Now, I’m no economist. But clearly, neither is Ford. The false duality between services or no services is a device often raised by the balance-the-budget crowd to enable cuts. Canada’s largest public-sector union recently slammed the federal government for forcing Canadians to make an “absurd choice” between a balanced budget and strong public services. Among the services provided by the Public Services Alliance of Canada are environmental protection, food inspection, infectious disease tracking and search-and-rescue. After years of fiscal restraint, PSAC is concerned that a government-wide austerity program will seriously disrupt services in communities across the country. Do we really want to risk increases in E. coli or Avian flu in our cities just to save a few bucks? As we enter the winter months, does decreasing search-and-rescue funding make sense? PSAC insists that balancing spending and services doesn’t require an either-or choice (check out their hilarious videos at ThirdChoice.ca).

As Jim Stanford writes in The Globe and Mail, running a government like a corporation cannot possibly work: while Canadian corporations have retained strong profit margins and benefitted from tax cuts, they’re too spooked by recent financial chaos to actually spend their growing cash hoard. Their reticence is deeply damaging to the system as a whole. Stanford argues that governments shouldn’t focus on decreasing their own spending and debt, but on getting people back to work. And for that, they need more spending, not less. Increased government spending during recessions has been a staple since the Great Depession. You would think Mayor Ford might have learned that over the course of multiple recessions in Ontario.

Talk about timing. A few weeks ago, in time for provincial elections in Ontario, Manitoba, PEI, and Newfoundland and Labrador, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released a report urging the federal government to support public transit and affordable housing in cities. This in itself is nothing new: FCM has long advocated stable funding for public transit and affordable housing in municipalities, who have been struggling to pay for new infrastructure and operating costs. The twist: FCM maintains that better transit and affordable housing can actually help immigrants integrate, and that municipalities should offer them along with services such as English language training (download their report: Starting on Solid Ground: The Municipal Role in Immigrant Integration). This echoes the findings of my Ph.D. dissertation, which found that flexible approaches to housing and transportation increased community resiliency.

This week, FCM and the Canadian Urban Transit Association met with members of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to discuss the idea of a National Public Transit Strategy. They argued that fast and efficient transportation connections through public transit are crucial to strengthening the economy. MP Olivia Chow, NDP critic for transport and infrastructure, introduced a private member’s bill on September 30th (Bill C-615, An Act to Create a National Public Transit Strategy) calling for the federal government to work with municipalities in the creation of a national transit strategy and create a stable source of funding for municipalities. She noted the economic benefits and the disadvantages of long commute times: Canada’s big city mayors have been pushing for a national strategy since 2007. In the CBC’s unofficial poll on this topic, 88% of readers agreed that Canada needs a national transit strategy. I needn’t go into this issue here in Vancouver: this week, an Angus Reid poll of 504 Vancouver residents showed that 85% want improvements to transit service and 75% felt those improvements should be funded by the provincial government. As I wrote in my last post, the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation votes today on the adoption of the Moving Forward strategic plan, which includes a 2% hike in property taxes and the beginnings of a new provincial-municipal funding agreement to help pay for transit improvements.

It looks like public transit is becoming a hot issue among cities of all sizes. The Regional Municipal of Waterloo is in the process of constructing an LRT line (currently in the planning process) funded by the provincial and federal governments. A strong motivation for the Region, which includes the municipalities of Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo, was increased immigration to the area, a point they raised at this year’s Metropolis Conference on Immigration and Migration in Vancouver. It’s very humbling to see the recommendations I made in my Ph.D. dissertation being echoed at the municipal, regional and federal levels. Considering the numbers of immigrants settling in Canadian cities every year (approximately 250,000 Permanent Residents and 200,000 Temporary Workers), governments need to do a better job of helping them integrate, and that includes more housing and transportation options. Maybe after decades of research and policy innovation in municipalities, we’re finally reaching the tipping point: let’s keep a close watch on Bill C-615 and Bill C-400, the bill creating a national affordable housing strategy (Bill C-304, the former private member’s bill of the same title and wording, was scrapped after the May 2011 election).

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was elected last fall on a promise to “trim the fat from City Hall”. Easier said than done, as Royson James of the Toronto Star reports (“Rob Ford’s gravy train running on fumes”, July 12, 2011). The Mayor commissioned internationally-reknowned consultants KPMG to review the city’s expenses and determine what services could be cut. The results were far from surprising: in the public works and infrastructure department, the City could save money by:

  • keeping blue boxes out of apartments and condos
  • reducing snow clearing, grass cutting and street sweeping
  • ending fluoridation of Toronto’s drinking water

 

And that’s it…in fact, the City of Toronto considers each of these options regularly and has decided time and time again not to implement them because they’re political powderkegs. KPMG wrote that 97% of the City of Toronto’s expenses in the public works and infrastructure department were core municipal services. G. Michael Warren, in a Toronto Star editorial (“Ford Nation’s grim future”, July 6, 2011), outlines the reasons why the inner suburban “economically challenged members of the Ford Nation”, who depend heavily on city services, are the most likely to suffer from service decreases. I’m pretty sure cutting back on snow clearing isn’t an option: the 1999 “Snowmageddon” storm dumped 118 centimetres of snow on Toronto and Mayor Mel Lastman was forced to call in the army to clear 5000 km of roads. Another major storm hit Toronto this January.

Seven more reports on the city departments, efficiencies and room for “fat trimming” will be released shortly.

The Mayor has made headlines recently for voting against six wildly popular community grants (he was defeated 43-1 on the first four programs, 42-2 on the fifth, and 41-3 on the sixth). He ruffled feathers by refusing to attend Toronto’s Pride Parade. After Ford shut down Transit City, the Province of Ontario even blames “municipalities like Toronto and politicians like Rob Ford”  for traffic gridlock (“Fed up with traffic gridlock? Not our fault, Liberals say”Toronto Star July 12, 2011). Rookie councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, citing “the current administration”, recently commissioned a private-sector revitalization plan for Yonge Street. Although she agrees that it could set a dangerous precedent, there was no way a new plan would have been approved in the current mood of fiscal restraint.

As promised, new Toronto mayor Rob Ford has taken significant steps to kill Transit City, Toronto’s plan to build several new LRT lines in the coming years. Ford’s most recent move has been to encourage an extension of the Sheppard subway, which has only slightly more ridership (about 46,000/weekday) as the Finch bus line or the Spadina streetcar. Among the many problems with Ford’s proposal: a subway extension would cost much more, serve fewer people, cost the city and province a lot of money in plan redevelopment, and it would not be built until Ford loses what is left of his hair…not to mention the next municipal election.

The Sheppard subway extension would cost more than ten times as much as the LRT line proposed under Transit City.  The mayor’s office is proposing a $13 billion extension to the existing subway line, instead of the $1.1 billion LRT line adopted in the Transit City plan. At least $5 billion would be raised through development cost levies and tax increment financing (TIF). TIF has been used extensively in the US, normally in areas that have suffered disinvestment for years, have a majority of low-income residents, low land values and often, an under-used rail line. When the state DOT takes on a transit-oriented development in the area, TIF is used to leverage funds: the city floats a bond and the money from the increased property values upon completion is used to fund the development. However, TIF hasn’t been used in Canada; to use it in Toronto, the proposed subway development would have to be approved by the province of Ontario. The laws governing TIF and development-cost levies would need to be updated. None of this is likely to happen before this year’s provincial election, and in Canada, governmental regime changes are death knells to public transit proposals.

There is a whole literature around public-private partnerships (or P3s), which have been very common in the past two decades. State infrastructure is expensive, whether it is hospitals, highways or LRT lines. In order to finance these projects, all three levels of government have become accustomed to contributing a part of the capital costs, while the private sector carries the majority of the burden. This in itself is not unusual in Canada: Vancouver’s Canada Line was built this way. While they seem to be good for the municipal budget, P3s often speed through crucial stages such as public participation. Private companies are not elected officials or state authorities; they aren’t as concerned about involving local residents in the planning process. This is part of their appeal for state authorities: a more streamlined process (as former BC Minister of Transport Kevin Falcon put it, when he eliminated TransLink’s elected board in favour of one made up of his private-sector appointees). Councillor Doug Ford, Rob Ford’s brother, recently said that he believed in the strong mayor system, where the mayor “should have veto power…he should have enough power to stop council.” Any P3 has the potential for less public control and less accountability.

There’s also the issue of ownership and maintenance of the line after its construction, and this is where things get a little sticky. Vancouver transit passengers complain to TransLink, for example, when they can’t find maps of the station, they want more security at stations, etc. But in fact, the British Columbia Rapid Transit Company (a subsidiary of TransLink) runs the Expo and Millennium lines, and ProTrans BC runs the Canada Line. This complexity is invisible to the frustrated passenger, and as a result TransLink, as a provincial body, bears the brunt of the criticism; it takes longer for TransLink to implement changes in customer service, orientation and other operational issues since it must go through an intermediary.

Ford argues that P3s using private funding are commonly used in Hong Kong (skeptics have pointed out that there might be a slight discrepancy in the densities between Toronto and Hong Kong). The Sheppard-Yonge corridor has attracted condo development, as John Lorinc and Kelly Grant point out (“What it will take to make subway plan a reality”Globe and Mail), and there may well be developers interested in backing a new subway line. But the fact is that development has been much slower than either Mel Lastman or Rob Ford would like, and the ridership of the Sheppard line is no higher than the city’s busiest bus and streetcar lines. If the Sheppard extension is built and new development doesn’t happen as quickly as planned, the public will have to provide the funding shortfall.

A Sheppard subway extension would probably serve fewer people than the proposed LRT: the subway line would be 8km long and have 7 stops, while the LRT would be 12 km and have 26 stops. Anyone who’s driven or taken the bus along the busy section between Kennedy and Morningside will tell you that better transit is definitely needed here; a subway line would bypass this section altogether. Despite the Province’s (and Premier McGuinty’s) lackluster support of Transit City, the plan did propose much better service for Toronto’s suburbs, where the immigrant population is high; immigrants in Toronto have a much higher transit commuting rate than non-immigrants. Ford’s argument that “everyone wants subways” doesn’t fly either…despite the miniscule amount of subway infrastructure in the inner suburbs, there is barely any difference in ridership between the suburbs and the downtown. David Hulchanski’s “Three Cities” report, tracing thirty years of income polarization in Toronto, showed that 31% of those living in the inner city travelled to work by transit compared to 33% of those who lived in the outer suburbs.

Outside of the thorny acronymous issues of TIF and PPP, there is the incredible amount of taxpayers’ time and money Ford is wasting on forcing the TTC and Metrolinx to drop the plans they’ve been working on for years and instantly come up with a new subway plan. Everyone has been frustrated at the slow pace of building and financing expensive subway lines, and that was the appeal of the Transit City plan. Ford’s proposal, even if it made any financial sense, would take years and years to get off the ground, and by then Ford and McGuinty won’t be in power any more (remember the proposed Queen subway line?) Transit City, for all its criticisms, was adopted and funded by the Province. Ground has been broken. Contracts have been signed. We have only to recall the tumultuous history of the original Sheppard subway to know how rare this is, and how hard Toronto residents, councillors, and transit advocates fought to get a plan that worked for the growing inner suburbs. Bringing all of this momentum to a screeching halt has left Toronto with one hell of a concussion; Transit City languishes in a tangled heap. When your skeptics are people like Dr. Eric Miller and former city budget chief Shelley Carroll, you might want to call in the paramedics and do some damage control.

New Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been making headlines: and not in a good way. Ford has long been a controversial figure, and this summer’s mayoralty race was no exception. Echoing Mel Lastman, a similarly polarizing figure, Ford seems an odd fit for such a multicultural, cosmopolitan, and diverse city. He’s at best a pompous blowhard with insights into the political process; at worst, depending on your information source, he’s a racist homophobe who doesn’t support affordable housing, public transit, or any of the other pressing needs of the burgeoning city. But like Lastman, who was in office for six years, Ford will likely have a lasting effect on the City of Toronto.

In Canada’s biggest city, where 22% of the population takes transit, Ford has decided that transit is the enemy. On December 1st, his first day in office, he managed to kill the city’s proposed vehicle registration tax, freeze property taxes, and get council’s approval to have the Toronto Transit Commission deemed an essential service. With this designation, the TTC will be unable to strike, and union leaders say they’ll fight the decision, which will be made by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

McGuinty and regional transit planning authority Metrolinx also have to deal with Ford’s tyrannical attack on Transit City, an initiative that was seven years in the making and is already being built. The province, after approving the construction of four LRT lines, announced this spring that they may not be able to fund the entire plan at this time. Ford wants to scrap Transit City entirely, arguing that streetcars cause traffic congestion, and everyone prefers subways anyway. He wants to extend the Sheppard subway line to meet up with the Scarborough RT instead, even if the high cost of this option means that no other transit infrastucture can be built in Toronto. Perhaps he isn’t aware that one of Transit City’s approved lines was a retrofit of the Scarborough RT, which is rapidly deteriorating, and another was a Sheppard LRT that would extend much farther than the subway will? In vain, Metrolinx tried to convince Ford that many other options were more suitable and affordable than subway extension, but surprisingly, the man who claims to be so concerned about taxpayers’ wallets wants the most expensive option. The main beneficiaries of Transit City were to be the inner suburbs: Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York. Neighbouring municipalities like Mississauga also strongly support Transit City. David Hulchanski, who just released an update to his popular “Three Cities within Toronto” study, says that building LRT is the answer to slowing or reversing the segregation of the city by income. Doesn’t Ford feel a responsibility to represent the suburban “working man” that elected him?

Electing Ford represents frustration: residents are frustrated with the way their city is run. Suburban residents see traffic congestion, unreliable public transit, job losses, and rising taxes, and they want things to change. What they don’t see is that municipalities are chronically underfunded by the provincial government in ways that matter: it is the provincial government that funds transit and road infrastructure, and a good proportion of job creation also comes from provincial initiatives. This underfunding leads the TTC to strike, since they rarely have the money for either their capital or operating costs, and also requires the city to raise money in other ways, usually new or increased taxes. Canadian cities have precious few mechanisms to generate money, and unfortunately taxes are among the few. The vehicle registration tax would have raised $64 million for the City of Toronto; Ford has not announced another way of raising the money. Opponents claim that it is “mathematically impossible” that these two tax losses won’t cause any service cuts for City residents. Cancelling Transit City could cost the province fees for broken contracts: $137 million has already been spent on Transit City and $1.3 billion is committed. In fact, for a pro-business, right-wing mayor, Ford doesn’t seem to be very good at managing money. Perhaps his 2011 budget review will inform him that transit actually makes money for the City of Toronto: former budget chief Shelley Carroll says that high transit ridership contributed to a year-end operating surplus.

Both Lastman and Ford came into office at a time of economic recession. Both came to power after a period of progress for the City of Toronto: Barbara Hall (1994-1997) preceded Lastman and David Miller (2003-2010) preceded Ford. Both Lastman and Ford claimed to appeal to suburban “ordinary people”: indeed, the voting maps of Toronto illustrate the pervasive divide the media loves to play up (the Globe and Mail included). We know from US elections that the maps don’t tell all: as Joshua Kertzer and Jonathan Naymark wrote in the National Post,

“This attempt to create a downtown versus suburb cleavage is at best a distraction, and at worst, sets a dangerous precedent.”

Toronto's 2010 Election Results

Toronto's 1997 Election Results

Perhaps most tellingly, both Ford and Lastman faced a slew of opponents for mayor: Lastman was one of over thirty candidates, while Ford was one of 40. According to the City of Toronto’s website, 383,501 voters elected Ford: 813,984 actually voted in the election. So, 47% of voters, who represented 35.3% of the City of Toronto’s population, elected him: that’s 16.7% of the city’s population. Lastman, the first mayor elected after Toronto announced its amalgamation with five suburban municipalities, won by a slim margin of about 41,000 votes. In times of discord and recession, the appeal of the right-wing, cost-saving, businessman is strongest.

The next three years will be momentous ones in Canada’s biggest city. Ford will have to make allies in the provincial government if he wants to keep taxes low. Let’s hope that Ford has a fight on his hands, at least as far as transit is concerned: it takes very little to kill programs and policies that have taken years to approve. As Councillor Janet Davis said, “For the first time [we’re] expanding transit across the city that we waited generations for — the mayor can’t walk in on Day 1 and say, ‘it’s gone.’ It doesn’t work like that.” If anything, Ford’s rising star only proves how little power cities have over the issues that really matter to them, and how limited their sources of funding really are. The problem is that Ford’s blustery, and logic-free, decision-making will have long-term consequences on the City of Toronto: Lastman managed to have the Sheppard subway built, against the TTC’s advice. The result was a white elephant, no funding for additional services that the system badly needed, and at one point the streetcars running at very low speeds to cope with deteriorating tracks. While Vancouver is no stranger to provincial wrangling over transit infrastructure, at least we have a mayor who cycles to work and strongly supports sustainable transportation.