Vision Zero 'not working,' Mayor John Tory says in year-end conversation with CBC Toronto

He made the comments in a wide-ranging year-end interview, amid a conversation about his first term in office and his priorities going forward.

Tory talks gun violence, council appointments, and his relationship with Premier Doug Ford

Mayor John Tory in his office on Dec. 19, 2018 following a year-end interview with CBC Toronto. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

The city's Vision Zero strategy to end road deaths is simply "not working," according to Mayor John Tory.

He made the comments in a wide-ranging year-end interview with CBC Toronto, amid a conversation about his first term in office and his priorities going forward.

"It's been incredibly frustrating . . . I'd say it's not working in the sense that you can't quibble with the numbers," he explained.

Despite more than $100 million in funding over five years, and dozens of targets hit in 2018 for implementing safety zones, design changes and bike lanes across the city, there have been more than 60 deadly crashes on Toronto roads so far this year, including more than 40 pedestrians and cyclists killed.

Pedestrian deaths alone topped those of the year before by early December.

While Tory doesn't believe in applying a "blanket solution" to the entire city, he's open to strategies proposed by road safety advocates, be it banning right turns on red lights or developing a stronger bike lane network.

He also said he's asked city staff to analyze police reports tied to deaths in Scarborough to figure out why a high percentage of road incidents are happening in the east-end suburb, and to potentially find a solution. 

But he maintains there is still an onus on people, and drivers in particular, to change their behaviour. 

"If people are not going to stop distracted driving . . . then you are going to see numbers that continue at unacceptable levels," Tory added.

Mayor John Tory in conversation with CBC Toronto city hall reporter Lauren Pelley. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

Investments in youth needed to prevent violence, Tory says

On the gun violence front, following another wave of shootings in December and a record-setting year for homicides that claimed the lives of nearly 100 people, Tory reaffirmed his commitment to ridding the city of handguns.

"But I think that as important, or even more important than that, is to work with the other governments to invest in the neighbourhoods and the kids and families where the crime is happening," he added.

His remarks followed a recent provincial announcement to slash $25 million in funding for specialized programs in elementary and secondary schools, a move expected to cause student job losses.

"That poses a challenge," Tory said, adding he hopes the cuts aren't indicative of other changes from the government of Premier Doug Ford.

The pair's relationship underpinned much of Tory's year as mayor, thanks to Ford's surprise move to chop Toronto's council nearly in half and his plan to takeover the city's TTC subway infrastructure.

Relationship with Ford 'a work in progress'

Speaking of his relationship with the premier, Tory called it a "work in progress."

"People think that there's this relationship going on where we're both sitting at our respective desks, where I'm putting pins in a Doug Ford doll and he's putting pins in a John Tory doll... it's ridiculous," he added. "We have a business-like relationship."

When asked about the criticism of how he handled the council cuts — a conciliatory approach described as "dithering" by his mayoral race rival Jennifer Keesmaat — Tory maintained that he aimed to "stand up for Toronto every single day."

At the same time, he stressed the continued need to work with the premier, something he calls a "balanced approach."

So what does that mean for the province's planned subway upload?

"I've been very clear in saying that I would not agree, I would not say yes to any deal that was not good for TTC riders, TTC employees, and for the people of Toronto," Tory said.

But he's not ruling it out either, saying he would "certainly" listen to an idea that allowed Toronto to retain control of the subway while receiving more money to build transit projects faster. (It's not clear what, if any, impact Tory's stance would have on Ford; the premier has vowed to deliver on his campaign promise to take over the subway and appointed a special advisor on the project over the summer).

Mayor John Tory calls his relationship with Premier Doug Ford business-like, but also a "work in progress." (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Tory defends council appointments

In the roughly hour-long conversation, Tory also defended his record on inclusivity at council, saying his choices for committee appointments this term reflect a desire to bring voices from across council into key roles.

Coun. Paula Fletcher heading to CreateTO and Coun. Joe Cressy to help lead Waterfront Toronto are two key examples, he noted.

The mayor also questioned the concern over budget projections for land tax revenue being around $100 million lower than the city was expecting. "It's not entirely unexpected," he said, adding the city's overall budget could wind up with a surplus.

Regardless of the final outcome, Tory said, one thing is certain: He won't bring a budget to council with tax increases higher than the rate of inflation, nor would he bring forward a budget with service cuts.

While noting his other top priorities to build more affordable housing, boost transit, and improve community safety, Tory reflected on the legacy he hopes to leave following this four-year term.

"When I leave office, if people can say that I really made some meaningful strides on addressing the disparity that exists between people who are comfortable and those who are struggling in different neighbourhoods of the city — I will feel really good about that," he said.

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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