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Summary of Toronto Waterfront Mayoral Debate -- September 16
Tuesday I attended the Waterfront Mayoral Debate at the Harbourfront Community Centre. I wrote an initial commentary already. Here are my notes on all the questions and answers.
Hall talked about the importance of the waterfront and her pride in having helped build the Harbourfront Community Centre. Toronto deserves a healthy and vibrant waterfront. It doesn't have to be an either/or decision -- it can be beautiful and economically successful. New parks and homes and businesses. The waterfront is blocked by toxic empty lands and by roads. Hall will build new north-south pathways. Soon we will have a new mayor, perhaps a new premier and a new PM. Hall will host a waterfront summit to hammer our commitments and renew their pledge. Remember 80% of the port lands already belong to us. It's time to stop the silly bureaucratic games and immediately give all lands to the Waterfront Corporation. This large space gives us an amazing opportunity to create communities well served by transit. Can be a proud legacy.
Miller is focused on creating a clean city -- air, streets, government -- including a clean, green waterfront. But this is not possible without clean government. Miller has seen MFP, and the Island Airport backroom deal. This deal is about the city giving the federal government $50 million that it doesn't have. It will be stopped when Miller is mayor. This is about more than downtown neighbourhoods. The entire waterfront can be a showcase for Canada and the world. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 500 acres of parks, 500 acres of promenade, and 1000 acres of beautiful new community. But you can't do it if you're expanding the airport from 10 to 100 flights per day. Jane Jacobs says that you build a city one neighbourhood at a time. Miller will build the whole city neighbourhood by neighbourhood, not airport by airport.
Jakobek says we should look at history first. It has been a difficult one for Harbourfront. Mayor John Sewell fought for densities of 2-3x. Instead we have these towers. Jakobek brought forward a bylaw to stop development south of Queen's Quay. It's not too late. We have one waterfront but too many organizations. There are 9 government agencies involved, Jakobek wants to bring them under one umbrella with one game plan. He also wants to buy back some properties to prevent mega tower projects. To have a water-front pathway not intermingling between buildings. Jakobek has closed incinerators. He says he knows people are attending this debate for one issue. Jakobek has no problem with a bridge to the island, to make it easier for service vehicles. He opposes expansion. There are too many vacant retail uses in the area. Condo taxes are outrageous, four times what renters pay. Shops can't compete with Wal-Mart at a 5.7 mil rate. Nine years of experience with 0% tax increases. Jakobek will bring in a fair and equitable tax code.
Nunziata is running because he has a young family and wants a safe, clean, prosperous city. He believes in Toronto and he can make a difference. We can recover from SARS, West Nile and the blackout. The spirit of Toronto is alive and well. Nunziata believes in the ability of the people of Toronto. Homelessness is not just about social housing, it is a complex issue. We need to innovate ways to deliver services more efficiently. We must do the best with what we have before asking other people to do with less. Tolerance, boundless creativity are what can help Toronto build prosperity.
Tory was not able to attend until 8pm.
Q for Barbara Hall: You have made different statements to different people about the airport issue. You say you support the bridge for safety reasons but the deputy minister of transportation would not allow the airport to continue to operate if it wasn't safe. On the other hand a Bombardier-CAW press release shows that you support the airport expansion for economic reasons. Then Bombardier and the CAW supported you. What is your true position?
Hall claims she is 100% opposed to jets, extending the runway, or increasing the caps on the number of flights. She supports the fixed link for safety issues. She says she does not apologize for supporting jobs if they are not harmful to other things. Hall cares about the waterfront. She has tried to clean the water, built a school and the music garden, helped provide funds to improve the water's edge and protect island homes. She supports a fixed link and jobs if they are not harmful and she supports a healthy waterfront.
Q: Retail businesses in the area are having trouble. The area is pedestrian non-friendly, seasonality is a factor, as are taxes. What will the candidates do to help businesses in the area?
Miller says he will create a separate small business retail tax rate. Toronto neighbourhoods are great because you can meet your daily needs within walking distance. Waterfront revitalization is key to local businesses. If people across the city see this area as "theirs" it will help business here.
Jakobek says (perhaps pointed at one of the other candidates) that you can't say you understand tax issues if you vote to increase them. He has fought to control taxes. It is possible to have special retail tax rates, even seasonal rates. He commits to rolling back the commercial tax rate over 3 years. Also condo owners are hurting because of tax rules.
Nunziata says Toronto has commercial tax rates among the highest in North America. We can't afford any increases. There is waste and duplication at City Hall. The budget is over six billion dollars, it must be possible to save. Nunziata will freeze taxes. The difference between his platform and the other candidates is only $30 million and he can find it by reducing the size of government. It is outrageous that we have 823 more employees after amalgamation compared to before. Nunziata will reduce the size of government and council. We will find new ways to rethink municipal government. Outsourcing, privatization. Unions must cooperate. We must bring down the tax burden.
Hall agrees on having a separate tax category for small businesses. She will keep the cap on commercial and industrial taxes. We need new revenue for transit, homelessness, and marketing the city. For example, a hotel tax has been requested. Harbourfront has special issues. It is seasonal. We need to work harder on design and attract businesses that complement each other to get people down here year round.
Q for Miller: My name is Roly Klein (?) and I work at Bombardier and I'm part of the CAW. We have 3,000 workers but 1,800 are on layoff. Working men are losing their homes I support airport expansion to create jobs, sustainable jobs. Mr. Miller, you said the airport business case doesn't make sense. You also said planes will be taking off every 5 minutes. Which is it?
Miller says that the airport developer's own figures call for an increase from 80,000 passengers to 900,000 and from 10 flights per day to 100. He promised that he would need no public money. This is not true. City Hall is giving $48 million to the federal government to support this project. This is wrong. This money should be used for other things like making sure there are no user fees in this gym, not to subsidize a private business.
Q for Miller: You stand on a platform of honesty, but when you came to speak to us at CAW/Bombardier you told us you will not stand in the way of expansion within the tripartite agreement. Why did you now say you will arbitrarily stop it? Why do your ads have jet airplanes?
Miller denies the allegation and the allegator. He talks about jets in his ads because everyone understands that there is more to this than just buying planes from Bombardier. If this is built, there will eventually be jets at the island airport.
Jakobek jumps in to point out that this whole mess started when the city took land from the federal harbour commission and got themselves into a lawsuit. Now we're paying the legal bill. How we got into this situation is important. Jakobek opposed it.
Nunziata says that council passed a motion and minutes of settlement have been signed. You can't unravel a legal decision. It is irresponsible to claim you will do it. And the legal mess created by doing so will stall waterfront development over 600 acres.
Q: My name is David Donnelly (?). Urban sprawl is destroying our heritage rivers and contaminating our headwaters. We export clean water to the northern suburbs and get dirty storm water in our rivers. What do you propose to do to protect our headwaters outside the city? I consider this a test of your knowledge.
Miller says he worked with former councilor John Adams, and involved the City of Toronto in the Oak Ridges Moraine fight because it matters here in the city. The Humber River is in his ward. They recently discovered a 1000-year-old aquifer in High Park and it is the purest water around, filtered through the moraine. Miller would get involved in planning issues outside the city's borders.
Tory says he will work on a regional basis. He was recently at a ten year anniversary of Don River remediation. Despite what has been going on in Toronto, it is barely adequate. Meanwhile in King Township there is a dispute about whether or not to install sewers. The debate is about development but should be about cleaning up the water. Tory would get involved with these things and help get successful Toronto initiatives like the downspout program implemented north of the border.
Nunziata admits he is not informed on the issue and offers to take the questioner's name and number.
Hall supports citizen's initiatives on the Don and Rouge Rivers. These go right up the river outside the city into the moraine. Council did the right thing fighting for the moraine. Hall will build alliances with other municipalities -- greening programs, trees, etc. -- and work for truly smart growth. She will implement conservation in partnership.
Jakobek says he wants to get an 'A' on the test. The test results at the headwaters shocked him. However, we can't ignore that Toronto is still the greatest polluter of the rivers. There are places like Scarborough where we still haven't separated our combined sewers. The Don River's biggest problem is the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant. Jakobek wants it closed. The city does not have the proper amount of funding to deal with these issues. Too many legal polluters like the breweries are allowed to dump into the rivers. Jakobek would be vigilant in the upper water course and is committed to cleaning the areas he described. It is horrible what you see floating in the lake after a rainstorm.
Q: My name is Barry Lipton and I want to talk about democracy. Since the forced amalgamation our representation has gone down and citizen participation has been eliminated. Access to councilors is only for lobbyists. What will you do to increase citizen's participation in government?
Miller says that he could not agree more. This was all predicted before the amalgamation. In the MFP scandal someone got a $1 million commission. He had no experience but was hired because he was friends with someone who is a friend of Mel Lastman's. This is unacceptable. City Hall should be open for all of us, not lobbyists. Miller would involve people in decision making and have neighbourhood plans drawn up in the neighbourhoods. And he would apply scrutiny at City Hall to ensure integrity. He would have an integrity commissioner.
Nunziata says that you better walk the walk. At Yonge and Eglinton, some councilors like David Miller sided with the developer. Democracy does not exist nationally or provincially. Those governments are run by a dozen people, half of whom are unelected. In the city at least we have some democracy. On November 10, get out and vote. There is no integrity at City Hall -- MFP, Union Station. The new mayor will change that and bring accountability, honesty, etc. Nunziata is in favour of strict lobbyist rules. We can restore more democracy.
Hall is shocked by the lobbyist industry growth. She would move to appoint an integrity commissioner and a lobbyist register. She claims the broadest integrity package of any candidate. She would enhance community council. Strengthen them, not make them larger and more distant like the recent reduction from 6 to 4 community councils. Community council decisions would not be simply reversible at City Hall, but would require a double majority or something. She would make it harder to have private meetings. Technology makes it easier to have public accountability. We need a Hansard at City Hall. Integrity starts at the top.
Tory calls for clear rules. Playing golf with a supplier 30 times is not right. This is common sense. We need stiffer penalties. He has an integrity package that includes a lobbyist register. Barbara Hall did not put one in place when she was mayor, after the previous mayor removed it. Tory wants an OMB override for elected officials. The people in the suburban parts of the megacity feel more remote than ever. He advocates moving council to other places to hear local concerns. Toronto should be able to get on with doing things. It is pathetic we need to ask Queen's Park for permission.
Jakobek says that the OMB is a major problem. The other problem is that half the councilors are absent. Go replace the councilors. People with good councilors are not complaining about democracy. Go replace the bad ones. Calling one person a lobbyist and ignoring other special interests isn't right... Unions represent a major portion of the city's expenses. As for Barbara Hall, she should return the money she raised through the Friends of Barbara Hall. She is saying one thing and doing something else.
Q: When I first moved to Toronto, Harbourfront was beautiful. The area and the city have declined. Consider Harboufront as a microcosm. We wanted to hold a festival here but the government was too impenetrable. Something Nunziata said earlier impressed me. Tell us how will cut red tape and fix the city.
Nunziata says Toronto has great festivals like the CHIN picnic. We should market this city as the city of festivals. Organizers are not supported by City Hall. Instead, barriers. Multiculturalism is the essence of Toronto. This is what we should market. I would make a Festivals Office to support organizers. Harbourfront is a great venue.
Jakobek says festivals are great but they won't do it for Harbourfront. Businesses here need big tax breaks. The Antique Market used to bring people down here but it can't survive in this tax environment. 0% tax increase is not doing it. We need to charge special rates for retailers. Here there is paid parking vs. free parking at Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Jakobek would take 10% of parking revenue and send it to the local business associations for marketing. We need to make the place pedestrian friendly and cut taxes.
Tory says the fundamental problem is that having more customers trumps cutting costs. We need more people down at Harbourfront. We should market to the region to have people patronize the shops. What is pathetic is the government competition over festivals like Pride and Caribana. This is symbolic of the waterfront as a whole. There's competition and nothing gets done. Tory would open Events Toronto which would handle marketing, near and far. We need a hotel tax for marketing, including some spent locally. Unfortunately we need to go begging for this at Queen's Park.
Miller says there is too much red tape. We need a hotel tax. Miller challenges the Premier. He doesn't support Eves' idea of tax referendums but Eves has the power to put a hotel tax on the ballot in the municipal election. "Ernie, live by your word."
Hall says tourism has been declining over 5 years during which time there has been a lack of marketing. The hotel tax is important. Property taxes can't support marketing. We do have exciting things coming in this city, major cultural investments. We need a place in them for community groups and community festivals.
Q: I live at the east end of the bay. When discussing the secondary plans, the community wanted three things: 1) the highest environmental standards, 2) a good social mix, including affordable housing for families, not just singles, and 3) public land kept in public hands. The official plan is vague. Where do you stand on these issues?
Hall says she supports all those things. Clean land, a mix of housing. Public lands need to stay that way.
Nunziata says the wall of condos is a mess. There were deals made. The eastern docks are an opportunity. But Nunziata is concerned about slow progress. The waterfront belongs to the people.
Tory says the official plan is fine but we need more specific plans for specific areas. We can achieve all the questioner asked for an more. Environmental standards second to none. We are 30 years behind Vancouver. Look at False Creek... they have mixed uses, etc., because the governments got together there.
Miller says that's right, and if we expand the island airport we will be 60 years behind Vancouver! If we care about environmental standards then we should have no airport downtown. The new developments should have a public transit focus. We can build to a model of sustainability that will be recognized around the world. We should renaturalize the mouth of the Don. The water's edge is for people. We know how to do affordable housing right: options for homes. Public land should remain in public hands, that's why the Toronto Port Authority has so bothered him.
Jakobek says there are more buildings coming to the distillery district. A tall building along the tracks casting a shadow over everything. Density was his concern about Harbourfront. The decision was made when he was in high school. Jakobek is the only candidate who does not support the new official plan. It says we will have 1,000,000 new people in 5 years [sic] but not where we'll put them. "Show me where". Jakobek supports intensification like 4 storey buildings on Kingston Road, not more 30 storey buildings on Harbourfront. We should buy back some of those sites. We should keep the public lands we have an interest in, but also not keep large useless pieces of land, unless they are going to be parks. Otherwise we are losing tax money that could sustain the city.
Q: I am Terry from the Harbourfront Community Association. Harbourfront is not only our backyard but the rest of Ontario's front porch. How will the island airport bridge expansion bring economic and social benefit? How will it affect us adversely in terms of economics and socially?
Miller says that one issue he hasn't brought up yet is the film industry. We were supposed to have big studio developments in the port lands. If we don't have these big studios we'll be losing lots of jobs that we're good at. But you can't build a studio under plane flight paths. The local film makers have come out against this, including an Academy Award winner for sound.
Jakobek says he changed the tax rate on film studios and the big ones aren't down under the flight path. However, on the bridge, Jakobek says he did not vote for expansion of the airport but the fixed link is justified for serving the community on the island.
Tory says that there are 4000 Medevac flights per year. But the bridge is obviously a source of division in the community. We will save money by eliminating the ferry subsidy. Then there is the tourism impact of having 3 airports. The drawback is the question of financial viability. Tory won't spend a dime on the airport if it is not viable. He hasn't seen the business plan yet.
Nunziata says that it is academic at this point to talk about the pros and cons. If we want to talk about democracy, he says, there was already a process with a duly elected council. He asks us to be honest and realistic. The 1980 tri-partite agreement goes until 2033. We can't rip it up. Minutes of settlement have been signed. It is not possible to rip them up.
Hall says we agree on a vision for the waterfront but we disagree on the bridge. Hall says she supports the fixed link for health and safety reasons, emergency measures. Medevac flights bring 4,000 people per year to our university health network. This is a positive social impact. Economically, it will be a resource for our struggling downtown business community. Hall says, "I feel passionately about the waterfront and would not support anything against it."
Q: How will you connect to the provincial and federal governments to help Toronto survive?
Hall says this is essential. But we must get our own house in order. Things like MFP let the other governments off the hook. The mayor should go to build relationships with the support of the Toronto City Summit Alliance. Hall says she would be a mayor that can build strong relationships with the other mayors. Advocacy does work.
Nunziata says Hall had an opportunity when she was mayor and failed. Hall could have talked about outsourcing and downsizing when she was mayor, says Nunziata, but she failed to do so. We must get our fiscal house in order. Rethink municipal government. People here are in the pockets of the unions. We should outsource. A new deal is imminent. We sent $7.9 billion for to Ottawa then we get back. We will be standing on solid ground when we have our house in order and then ask for help. Paul Martin says he believes in cities.
Tory says that conducting the relationship in a civilized, businesslike manner will work. Also we can develop regional cooperation. Mel Lastman and Hazel McCallion couldn't fit both their personalities in the same room, but Tory promises that he would happily let Hazel take the glory. Yes, we need to get our house in order. The debt went way up under mayor Hall, and we can't continue that. We need a concise plan of what we want. Funding for transit, housing and infrastructure, and to be treated like adults allowed to make our own decisions. Tory will open Toronto House in Ottawa and be there once a month himself to hold MPs to account.
Miller says the past 6 years at City Hall have been hard. When Mike Harris killed transit, where was John Tory? It would have been nice if Barbara Hall attended the Adams Mine conferences. What's wrong is politics. It is good politics in Ontario to bash Toronto. We therefore need to be political when we fight back. Be tough and get our agenda across. The TTC board fought back and it worked. We targeted Queen's Park in ads, built an alliance with other mayors and got funding partially restored. If we do it again, it will work. We need the Bill Davis transit deal again.
Jakobek says there are two problems. Campaigners tend to bite people before they are elected and city council is asking for something everyday. Jakobek knows what he wants and will ask the provincial government for a shelter subsidy and TTC capital funding. He will ask the feds for help with CMAC and infrastructure. He will put his request in writing and won't be back asking for other things. Make in clear and concise and it will work. Jakobek says he knows from experience as budget chief having people always asking him for stuff.
Q for Miller: (From another CAW member) Miller, you said that $48 million is being given to expand the airport. Weren't 600 acres of land given to the city? If you rip up the airport agreement when you are mayor and then the city gets sued, what will you say to taxpayers?
Miller says his goal is to uphold the current tripartite agreement, not take it apart. The land in question is about lands that the federal government was supposed to be rejuvenating. It was a bogus lawsuit! When the mayor says that he is elected on a platform to stop the airport, the federal government will listen. The reputed money value of the lands is false. Just before the lawsuit we took lands from Imperial Oil right next to these lands. They paid the city to take the lands because they were so polluted. The land in question has no economic value.
Jakobek says city council started a fight it couldn't win when they did a land grab. TEDCO took TPA land. A lawsuit was predicted. Jakobek and Michael Walker told them not to do it. The bridge and airport and this issue are all intertwined. The federal government isn't ripping off the city, the city was wrong.
Tory asks who was in charge then? There are 2,800 acres and billions of dollars put forward but the results have been just meetings, corporations, etc., leading to the status quo. We are 30 years behind Vancouver and nothing is getting done.
Nunziata informs us that he has been told that the tripartite agreement is going to be signed next week and bridge construction will begin in October. [Hecklers: "over our dead bodies!"] As of next week it will be too late. For those of you who want to stop this, there are legal impediments. The private sector people have invested money. [Hecklers: "it's our money!"] Look, says Nunziata, we have already spend $15 million investing MFP, how far should we go? Should taxpayers have to pay millions on lawsuits?
Hall says our waterfront's potential has been blocked for decades. People have come together and we need to move forward. We can start immediately! Waterfront will be a healthy place to relax. [Hecklers: "with planes over head!"]
Q from a child: How will you get youth involved in the democratic process?
Nunziata says he began at 10 years old, he was elected in York at 23. Voter turnout is bad at all ages.
Tory says it is not easy. It is hard to get tenants involved because they don't see how much property tax they are paying. Students are upset about recreation facilities and transit. They need to know to look to the city government. Participation is bad for young people but it is not much better for older people. What is required are good electoral contests like this one where there is much debate and discussion of ideas.
Miller says it starts with respect from elected officials and listening to young people. Miller says he has gone out and listened to young people. They are incredibly cynical. If you elect the right people in makes a big difference. Young people have needs even if they can't vote. That's why the TTC worked out a special youth Metropass and made deals with York University.
Jakobek says he is the youngest candidate. He was elected at 21. He doesn't patronize young people and he encourages them to run for office. He just gave $200 to a young person running for the school board. He encourages youth to get onto committees, etc.
Hall says she agrees with the previous comments but they are not enough. We need to listen to young people. The feel disrespected and patronized. Hall visits high schools, youth centres and mosques. She supports pathways for young people like internships, mentorships. We need to stop blaming young people with stereotypes. The Toronto Youth Cabinet should be supported more. We need to find serious, meaningful roles for youth at City Hall.
Jakobek says thanks. The bridge is the important issue tonight and he hopes the audience noticed he had concrete, thought-out suggestions. Other issues are cleanliness and homelessness. The most important issue is the city's financial ability and Jakobek spent months and years learning about it. Ten years focusing on it. We have $2 billion of debt. The management structure should be more capable. Jakobek has actually delivered, and asks the audience to consider him. He also asks the audience to pick up his 6-page handout where he answered all advance questions in writing.
Miller says this is about the waterfront and the island airport. Jane Jacobs was shouted down at City Hall. David Crombie was heard, and he said that he doesn't blame the workers because they are fighting for jobs, he doesn't blame the airline promoters because they are trying to make a business, but it is the job of the city councilors to protect the public interest. Tonight, it was hard to stand up against the people here fighting for their jobs and their union. But, the public interest is for everybody. There are only so many opportunities to make a city great, and our opportunity is here. This issue is not just for downtown voters. Anyone who will sell-out the downtown neighbourhood will sell-out any neighbourhood. [Standing ovation]
Tory says the fundamental problem is the inability to get things done. We're behind on developing infrastructure. No transit, no affordable housing, no financial cleanup, no plan for the debt started by Barbara Hall, no steps to improving the relationship with other governments, no progress on the waterfront. The status quo is not good enough. Tory has experience getting things done. We need less talk, less task forces. People are tired of paying more and getting less.
Nunziata says that we need strong passionate leadership for a safe, clean, prosperous city. He is chagrined that we're in decline. [Heckler: "Mike Harris"] The status quo is unacceptable. Lineups at food banks, kids going hungry. What are our priorities? It is important to recognize our priorities. The disadvantaged are the first priority. Nunziata has put forward his homelessness plan. We need a housing plan and a poverty plan. Nunziata is unfettered by allegiances to political parties, unions, etc. He always puts his constituents first, so much so that he had a disagreement with the Liberal party. We need integrity at City Hall.
Hall says she loves and knows this city. She has worked for 35 years to build this city, its economy and health. She is proud of Toronto. She remembers when people used to come here to see how we did it. Sadly, they don't come anymore. Hall went to New Zealand and people asked her "what happened to Toronto?" It was a lack of leadership, amalgamation, and downloading. These turned us backwards. But we have potential. Our diversity can help lead us to be a model of the 21st century global city. The waterfront is key. Hall has a passion to make the city everything it can be.