Ford or Horwath? What each could mean for Toronto
Polls show either PCs or NDP will win — so what does that mean for Ontario's largest city?
With just days to go before the June 7 provincial election, it's clear a new leader will be taking the reins at Queen's Park.
- Ontario election path to victory runs through the 905
- Will Toronto help give Doug Ford a majority government?
- Poll Tracker: Doug Ford holding on to lead
PC leader Doug Ford will likely land the top job with his party's probability of winning a majority hovering above 80 per cent, according to CBC's Poll Tracker. There's also a chance, albeit a slim one, that NDP leader Andrea Horwath could secure a surprise victory.
In either of those cases, it's a fresh face and a different party from the Liberals running the province for the first time in 15 years — so what does that mean for Toronto?
If the PCs win
Etobicoke is Doug Ford's birthplace, home of his family business, and ground zero for the Ford political dynasty. In particular, the Toronto suburb is where Ford was elected as a councillor, a wave of support he rode into his unsuccessful 2014 bid for mayor.
Because of his strong ties to his community, "Ford will take an extra-large interest in things related to Toronto," says Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto who specializes in Canadian politics.
Already, that's proven true in his promises on the campaign trail. Toronto transit has been a key talking point, with Ford saying he wants to build new subways, including the long-awaited downtown relief line, and add back two more stops to the controversial $3.35 billion Scarborough one-stop subway plan.
The PCs also promise to upload responsibility for building and maintaining Toronto subway lines from the city to the province, while the TTC would keep day-to-day operations and the city would keep the revenue.
The cost to the province, according to the party's website, would be amortized over the life of subway projects once they're operational, plus $160 million per year for existing assets.
However, Toronto writer and transit advocate Steve Munro says uploading subway costs to the province is more complex and expensive than those numbers suggest. The estimate of how much it would save Toronto and cost the province is "woefully below" the roughly half a billion dollars the city spends each year to maintain the subway, Munro says.
As for housing, another hot-button issue in Toronto, the PCs are promising to increase the supply of affordable housing across the GTA "while protecting the Greenbelt," a clear backtrack from his earlier messaging after public blowback.
"It's not enough to say that you want to have more supply — that's great — but how? If you go too far in loosening up the Greenbelt or things like that, you don't have the public support," says Benjamin Dachis, associate director of research at the C.D. Howe Institute.
There's also another little-known area of interest Ford may focus on if elected: Giving more power to mayors of cities like Toronto.
In Ford's 2016 book Ford Nation, co-written with his late brother, he wrote that "municipal affairs" is the first thing he'd want to change if entering the provincial arena. "I think mayors across this province deserve stronger powers," he continued. "One person in charge, with veto power, similar to the strong mayoral systems in New York and Chicago and LA."
Western University political science professor Zack Taylor says that American-style strong mayor system means a mayor doesn't sit on city council, but acts more like a president serving over congress. To achieve that kind of system, Ford would have to change legislation — something that could be doable if he wins a majority.
"If he creates a powerful figure in a Toronto mayor, that could be an alternate power base to the province that could escalate conflict between the two levels, rather than reduce it," Taylor warns.
After June 7, be it changing the municipal structure or building more subways, what's actually achievable for the PCs could come down to who votes them in. Wiseman says despite Ford's focus on Toronto, the party might wind up beholden to its strongest bases of support outside urban centres.
"You're going to have demands in the Conservative caucus that their smaller communities be treated equally, so that Toronto not be given any special status of privilege," he says.
If the NDP wins
Andrea Horwath hails from Hamilton, not Toronto, but her party is still catering to the province's biggest city through a slate of promises tied to housing — including a release all the way back in January promising to "make it more affordable to rent in Toronto."
While both the NDP and PC parties promise to somehow boost housing supply, the NDP's platform dives deeper into the specifics, promising 65,000 new affordable homes over the next decade, a continuation of rent supplements and rent-geared-to-income, and new mechanisms to prevent above-guideline rent increases — potentially welcome news to Toronto renters who pay, on average, more than $1,800 a month.
The NDP also intends to overhaul the government's inclusionary zoning regulations "so they actually accomplish what they set out to do" by requiring a certain number of affordable homes in new housing developments, while introducing a housing speculation tax to "crack down" on speculators who don't pay tax in Ontario and contribute to high housing prices.
Taylor says on this front, the NDP have much more specific targets than the PCs. But while there's a lot of pressure to be seen doing something to fix the region's housing affordability crisis, "there's no easy way out of it."
Horwath's party is also echoing Ford's Toronto transit talk by promising to build the downtown relief line as soon as possible and covering half of the operating subsidy for Toronto transit, something Munro says would take some pressure off the city.
"If that were to come true, that would mean that the TTC would end up having an extra $300-plus million dollars a year to play with," says Taylor. "We can only imagine what kinds of service improvements could be bought with that kind of money."
So would the NDP actually live up to their Toronto-targeted promises?
Time will tell, and at this point, it's unlikely they would have a majority government. Still, Wiseman says it's worth noting that while the PCs typically draw support from rural areas, the NDP is "heavily based" in cities like Toronto, Hamilton and London.
"The NDP has always been more urban-oriented, and its MPPs tend to come from urban centres," he says.
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