Toronto·Analysis

Voters gave John Tory 4 more years. Here are 3 issues he'll be focused on

John Tory was elected for a third term as Toronto mayor on Monday. Here are three issues that will be at the top of the city's agenda for the next four years.

Housing, transit and the city's finances will be among the mayor's top priorities for next 4 years

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He's the new mayor, same as the old mayor.

Voted in largely on a promise to keep Toronto "on course" by building on what he and city council accomplished over the past eight years, John Tory will have no shortage of major issues to address in his third term.

"We've made so much progress on getting transit and housing built and growing our economy, and now we have a strong mandate to continue with that progress," Tory said in his victory speech Monday.

So what will the next four years look like?

Here are three issues that will be at the top of the city's agenda.

Boosting housing supply, bringing down prices

Addressing Toronto's housing shortage and affordability crisis will likely be Tory's main focus. 

While council can do very little on its own to bring down home and rent prices in the short term, it can help boost the housing supply.

According to the city, council approved an average of 28,170 residential units per year between 2016 to 2021, but only 15,303 units per year were actually completed. Around 18,480 affordable and supportive rental homes have been approved since 2015, with only 2,940 completed.

The speed of both approvals and completions is going to have to increase if the city is going to meet the needs of a growing population.

Tory's five-point plan includes allowing "more types of housing in neighbourhoods" by reforming or eliminating restricting zoning rules that have prevented "missing middle" housing types from being built in many areas of the city.

Long called for by housing affordability advocates, this change will allow more duplexes, triplexes and low-rise apartment buildings to be built in neighbourhoods currently dominated by single-family homes, and more mid-rise apartment buildings and condos on major roads served by the TTC.

Other parts of Tory's plan include creating a "one-stop-shop" growth and development unit within the municipal government to handle applications; providing incentives for the construction of rental housing and allocating city-owned land to be developed by non-profits as co-op, supportive and affordable housing. 

Mayor John Tory smiles after casting his ballot in the Toronto municipal election on Monday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

"We're going to get housing built, much more housing and much more affordable and supportive housing in many more places across our city," Tory said Monday. 

The mayor will have an ally in the Ford government, which has made boosting housing supply and bringing down prices a major priority.

He will also have new authorities to make these policies a reality, after the province granted the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa "strong mayor" powers earlier this year.

While Tory has said he will use these powers sparingly, if at all, they could help him ensure adequate funding for housing-related priorities and allow him to reverse any decisions council may take to oppose a housing project or policy.

Transit, transit and more transit

Tory's main campaign promise on this file is to be "laser-focused" on ensuring that the many transit expansion projects currently underway actually get finished.

"We've got to move forward and use my experience to make sure the transit plan gets done," he told CBC Radio's Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa on Oct. 19.

The major rapid transit projects in the works include the Ontario Line subway, designed to provide relief to downtown commuters; the three-stop Scarborough subway extension that pushes the Bloor-Danforth line deeper into Scarborough; the Yonge North subway that extends Line 1 from Finch Station into York Region; and the Eglinton Crosstown West extension to Pearson International Airport.

Tory often touts his success securing full funding from all levels of government for the $28-billion plan, although that doesn't tell the whole story.

Tory has promised to be 'laser-focused' on making sure Toronto's $28-billion transit expansion plan gets built. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The Ford government took control of these four projects in 2019. They are being built by Metrolinx, not the TTC, so the city will have little direct control over how they progress.

"How exactly Tory, or any other municipal politician can advance these, other than standing out of Premier Ford's way, is something of a mystery," transit advocate Steve Munro wrote on his blog about Tory's election promise on transit.

By taking ownership of the plan, Tory runs the risk of being blamed for any problems that arise.

That could include further delays to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT or the Finch West LRT, both of which are expected to open next year after multiple delays.

Tory also pledged Friday to make progress on the planned Waterfront LRT and the Eglinton East LRT, which council recently voted to make a priority. Both projects are in the early planning stages and aren't yet fully funded.

Filling the $1B budget hole

One of the most pressing issues for Tory and the new council will be plugging a nearly $1-billion funding shortfall in the 2022 budget.

According to an April staff report, the city was on track for an $857-million deficit mostly due to the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report warned that without funding from other levels of government, the city would be forced to dip into a COVID-19 emergency fund and put off $300 million in infrastructure projects. 

Tory is promising to tackle the shortfall with property tax increases below the city's rate of inflation and finding budget efficiencies, while still maintaining services. He positioned himself as he candidate most capable of working with the province and the federal government to secure the additional funding.

"I will not be imposing big tax increases on people already in the middle of an affordability crisis — it's just not the right thing to do," Tory said Friday. "It does mean that the challenges in front of all of us ... is to work together to find better ways to do things."

Toronto's new city council will have to tackle an $857-million deficit shortly after it's elected. The costs are largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

But critics say Tory has contributed to the city's tight financial position by keeping annual tax increases below the rate of inflation for the past eight years. 

And there are already signs that the city's finances are under stress. They include asking the Toronto Public Library for a zero per cent budget increase, recent cuts to recreation programs and constant complaints that the city is falling into disrepair.

Even if Tory raises property taxes higher than he has so far — which he could do next year while keeping his campaign promise due to the highest inflation rate in decades — it probably won't be enough to stabilize the city's finances over the long term.

Experts say the city needs to secure additional long-term revenue tools, like a sales tax or bringing back the vehicle registration fee, to avoid major cuts to services. 

Tory has said he is open to considering additional revenue tools. Last week, he re-floated the idea of tolling drivers on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway. 

But the Ford government quickly shot down that idea, showing how big a challenge Tory faces as a mayor with few options for raising revenue. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan is a reporter with CBC Toronto. He has also worked for CBC in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Ottawa, filing for web, radio and TV. You can reach him by email at ryan.jones@cbc.ca.

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