October 28, 2014 – Anna Mehler Paperny, Global News
The good news: You’re the new mayor of Toronto.
The bad news: You’re the new mayor of Toronto, a city that’s spent much of the past four years making its city hall an international punchline.
More trickily, you’re also mayor of a city that still has higher unemployment than the national average and, years after the recession, worrisome levels of under-employment; amid a condo boom you have a huge shortage of affordable housing and the public housing that makes you the country’s biggest landlord is in gross disrepair; police are under pressure to better address mental illness – within the force and without – even as they seek a new chief; significant sectors of your population still don’t see themselves in their political representatives.
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When Tory takes the mayoral reins in December, he’ll have powers of conciliation on his side, said Wilfrid Laurier University politics professor Barry Kay – and a slate of councillors many of whom are either sympathetic to his priorities or have endorsed him outright.
That should make it easier when it comes to winning over 44 council colleagues – something that remained a challenge for Rob Ford who, while he successfully axed the vehicle registration tax and contracted out part of the city’s garbage pickup, also once voted against his own budget (and lost).
“The right will probably tend to support [Tory] on council, the left will probably tend to oppose him on council, but I think he’s much better positioned to appeal to the centrists,” Kay said.
“Tory will be much more able to appeal to those moderates than Rob Ford ever was. … At least he’s a conciliatory person.”
But the issues United Way President Susan McIsaac saw stratifying the city years ago remain unaddressed.
“Gaps in neighbourhoods, youth unemployment … the quality of jobs – all of those issues existed four years ago, they still exist,” she said.
And some have worsened.
“I think if you spoke to some people across the city, they would say, ‘Yes, it’s worse.’ Because they are struggling more than ever before,” she said.
“And when you hear about families that are holding down many part-time jobs, piecing together employment, I think they would say, ‘Yes, it’s worse.’”
She’d like to see a new city council tackle Toronto’s paucity of affordable housing, its need for good jobs and the neighbourhood inequities that continue almost a decade after the city singled out “priority neighbourhoods” for targeted investment.
McIsaac cites initiatives such as the Regent Park revitalization and tower renewal as ones that have tackled, with some success, areas where poverty has become a blight, then a trap. (Better transportation to transit deserts would also be a huge help.)
READ MORE: Torontonians living far from transit, without a car
“There’s lots of will and resources that are available to us,” she said. “I think what we need is leadership at city hall that pulls it all together.”
McIsaac is a relentless optimist. But “am I getting impatient? You bet. I see lives in the balance,” she said.
“I think all of us feel at least some level of frustration, because we talk about these issues – we’ve been talking about some of them for years.”