Top candidates talk transportation and city’s financial health
Forum at Board of Trade moderated by John Tory
By Kris Scheuer
(Written June 21 for Town Crier.)
Six top mayoral candidates faced off on development, transit and city-building at the Toronto Board of Trade this morning.
John Tory moderated the debate that was hosted by the Urban Land Institute and attracted over 150 property owners, investors, developers, lawyers, architects, planners and engineers.
Less than 10 minutes into the debate came one of the first heated exchanges between mayoral candidates Rob Ford and George Smitherman seen as the frontrunners in recent polls.
“I can’t believe George Smitherman would have the nerve to come here and run for mayor of the city when he blew and squandered $1 billion when he was the health minister?” Ford said.
Smitheman retorted, “The allegations of $1 billion expediture on E-health counts the time when your father’s (Douglas) colleague Elizabeth Witmer was the minister of health in the province.”
Ford, “My dad passed away three year’s ago. Thanks.”More on topic, the candidates focused on their transit plans.
Rocco Rossi said, “We have the world’s best 1970 subway system yet it’s 2010. It’s high time we did something about the transit system.”
But he said subways would take a long time to build. First he wants to pay down the city’s debt and then, along with the province, build new subways.
Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone said it’s time to move forward now with the current Transit City plan or light rapid transit with new European style streetcars.
Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti said the city could save $700 million by uploading transit to the province. If that fails, then create private-partnerships to run transit.
Ford focused on ways to save money while still building subways rather than streetcar lines.
“For the St. Clair right of way, we budgeted $43 million and we are now at $120 million. For the largest purchase in the Toronto’s history of the subway cars we sole-sourced to Bombardier for $750 million when Siemens could have done it for $550. We could have saved the taxpayers $200 million right there,” he said.
Sarah Thomson also pushed for subways rather than LRT, which she’d pay for with rush hour tolls on the Gardiner and DVP, provincial funding, developers building subway stations and a city subway bond for dedicated funding.
A big focus was on streamlining the development process.
Mammoliti has promised to reduce the city’s planning department.
“There’s no reason we can’t use the planners of the developers instead of City of Toronto planners,” he said.
But he also touted that Emery Village in his ward is a successful city within a city.
Ford lauded the Woodbine Live project in his ward.
That’s when Thomson, the only woman on the stage, piped in.
“Has anybody noticed that they all have the biggest project? Which is quite funny I find,” she said to laughter and applause.
Ford said if communities don’t want development, it shouldn’t happen.
“I am opposed to Lawrence Heights (redevelopment),” said Ford, who attended a June 20 protest about the proposed revitalization project, adding that the protesters are absolutely opposed to government housing in their backyard.
Smitheman interjected, “You misstated the intent of what Lawrence Heights is all about which is taking the existing foundation of rent geared to income units and adding a mixed (housing) environment, which we have done in Regent Park.”
Mammoliti, chair of the affordable housing committee, said he has championed these issues and Smitherman is trying to take credit for something he hasn’t done.
“You are a piker on this,” Mammoliti said to laughter.
Smitherman took another parting shot at Ford, who likes to talk about how he’s running the family business Deco Labels & Tags.
“You said today speaking of red tape (you) deal with it everyday as a businessman. I think for $100,000 a year you should be a fulltime politician,” Smitherman said. “Maybe you owe the people a repayment for something.”
There are dozens more debates to come before the election is Oct. 25.