Toronto

5 issues to watch as Brampton approaches a 'watershed' municipal election

With the city's exploding population and a growing desire for radical transformation, Brampton residents say the upcoming municipal election could shape the future for decades to come.

Brampton's booming population will present a major test to the city's next government, voters say

People in Brampton say the city's next mayor and council will have a long list of issues to tackle over the next four years. (City of Brampton)

With an exploding population and growing desire for radical transformation, Brampton residents say the upcoming municipal election could shape the city's future for decades to come.

"It is a watershed time for Brampton," said San Grewal, a journalist who has covered the city for more than a decade. "The voters will determine what the future is going to be."

Those voters will go to the polls on Oct. 22 to select a winner in a high-profile mayoral race that includes incumbent mayor Linda Jeffrey and former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown.

These are the issues most likely to determine how voters casts their ballots.

Dealing with growth

With more than 600,000 residents and a population growing at 2.5 times the national average, the Toronto suburb is on pace to become one of Canada's largest municipalities. Beyond 2040, city planners anticipate Brampton will eclipse 1 million residents.

Engaged citizens tell CBC Toronto that successful growth will require major upgrades and expansions of existing infrastructure, including everything from commercial areas to hospitals and housing.

Local journalist San Grewal says Brampton's rapid growth and the problems it creates will be a big issue in the upcoming municipal vote. 'The time for Brampton to keep waiting is over,' Grewal says. (Submitted)

"It just does not look like the city centre — the core area for business and commercial activity — of a major Canadian city," said Grewal, who recently launched The Pointer, a Brampton-focused online news site.

Candidates will have to convince voters they can secure more funding, and attention, from the provincial government, he said.

"This election is sort of a defining point in whether Brampton just sort of continues as it was for so many years, or whether it actively tries to better itself," added Skyler Roberts, who moderates the Brampton community page on the social networking site Reddit.

Crime and shootings

Longtime residents say the city appears to be in the midst of a dangerous spike in violent crime, causing a perceived crisis in community safety.

"People are really concerned," said Sukhjot Naroo, a local real estate agent who is active on a Facebook page that covers news in Brampton.

So far in 2018, there have been 12 homicides in the city, compared to seven in all of 2017. Peel Regional Police also reported a 38.2 per cent increase in shootings and a 56.6 per cent increase in total rounds fired in the force's most recent annual report.

"We're not at Toronto levels yet … but for Brampton, it's more than we've historically seen," added Roberts.

Peel police investigate after a man was shot and killed at the Slumdog Bar and Grill in Brampton on July 12. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

Transit and traffic

While public transit ridership has decreased in Toronto, Brampton saw an 18 per cent ridership bump in 2017. Those numbers have continued to climb in 2018.

Roberts calls the growth "astounding," and says the next mayor and city council will have to find new solutions to keep up with the growing demand.

That work could prove difficult, after city council voted down a controversial light-rail transit (LRT) line in 2015 that would have connected Brampton to Mississauga.

While transit ridership has grown, people in the city say they're also spending more time stuck in traffic. The fact that an estimated 60 per cent of Bramptonians work outside the city is making the congestion worse.

"People in Brampton are finding that they're just spending way too much time in their cars," said Grewal.

Grewal says the next city council could push for increased GO Transit service, and possibly re-open the debate on the LRT, which incumbent mayor Linda Jeffrey supported.

With no promised funding from the province, Roberts says the city could instead look at introducing new bus rapid transit lines to accommodate new riders and reduce congestion.

Skyler Roberts says crime and transit have been hot topics on the social media page he moderates. (Submitted)

Property taxes

According to the online real estate brokerage Zoocasa, Brampton homeowners pay some of the highest property taxes in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

In 2018, the owner of an average Brampton home — priced at $695,904 — paid $7,207 in taxes. That 1.04 per cent tax rate is higher than Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, Vaughan and Richmond Hill, although most municipalities in Durham Region pay even higher rates.

While Grewal says tax hikes have been necessitated by the city's rapid growth, others say the city needs to find new avenues to raise money.

"People are confused," Naroo said. He's calling on the city to reconfigure what he calls a "lopsided" taxation system.

Jobs and economy

There is a growing belief that Brampton has lagged behind nearby Mississauga in terms of job creation and in the development of a economically vibrant city centre.

For its part, the city has released a plan to create 140,000 new jobs over the next 20 years. Brampton will also be home to a new Ryerson University campus due to open in 2022.

The new strategy is "transforming [Brampton's] approach to economic development," according to the city's revamped economic master plan.

But as of 2018, Grewal says the city has not been successful in making itself a destination for large companies to provide high-paying, white collar jobs for the city's well-educated population.

"What tangible action has been done; what results have there been?" Grewal asked.

"I think that question is still unanswered."

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