Toronto’s infrastructure, taxes and transportation were highlights of a spirited town hall meeting involving the city’s mayoral candidates Monday.
Six of the mayoral candidates, Rob Ford, Rocco Rossi, Sarah Thomson , Joe Pantalone, Giorgio Mammoliti and George Smitherman debated some of the key issues Torontonians in front of a packed gymnasium at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough. The event was organized by Coun. Mike Del Grande.
One of the flashpoints between the contenders were ongoing tensions between serving the needs of downtown Toronto and former municipalities such as Scarborough.
Ford stated that the municipal government has often overlooked the suburbs: “Under the mayor Miller regime the downtown core was catered to. Fifty million dollars we give out in grants each year… half of that goes to (downtown) Toronto.”
Rossi also asserted the current city government emphasized Toronto services to the detriment of the other municipalities: “The further you get from downtown, the poorer the services are. A great city is a city that shares.”
Smitherman called Rossi’s comments divisive: “Pitting suburbs against downtown is not a recipe for building a great city that recognizes we are all in it together.”
Rossi also said Toronto’s tax system was inefficient and ineffective. He cited the problem of the tax on plastic grocery bags, which go directly to the retailer rather than to the city.
Ford said that Toronto’s current taxes, such as the billboard tax, have a crippling effect on business: “People are leaving this city in this city (by) the truckload. The commercial tax rate (in Toronto) is higher than any tax rate in the 905.”
Thomson said that the way to alleviate the city tax crunch is to streamline operations, and allowing both private and public sectors to provide services.
Thomson, the only female in the race for mayor, also pushed her plan to bring in rush-hour tolls on major city through ways as a means to bypass the need for provincial funding needed for subway construction.
“We have to stop running cap in hand to the government every time we want to do something, “ Thomson said. “We’re paying now, but we’re paying for the long-term future of Toronto.”
Ford disagreed, saying road tolls would push motorists on to smaller side streets and cause greater congestion.
When the question was posed about tearing down the Gardiner Expressway, Mammoliti received a number of boos for his willingness to demolish route. “ We won’t vote for you!” one angry audience member called out.
Rossi said that to tear down the Gardiner now would be unthinkable: “How would you get across the city if you took the Gardener down? It’s absolutely nuts.”
Bike lanes were also a contentious topic. Rossi said that he does not want bike lanes on major roads. Ford said that bike lanes in Toronto are viable, but calls bike lanes in the suburbs “ lanes to nowhere.”
When asked about bike lanes, Smitherman attacked Rossi, prompting members of the audience to shout, “ answer the question.”
Candidates were also split over the fate of the Sheppard LRT. Thomson said that the municipal government had completely mismanaged the St. Clair LRT system.
“It was a mess. They completely destroyed the neighbourhood,” Thomson said.
Smitherman is convinced the LRT system provides an ideal method of transportation at a very low cost.
Smitherman also called for Adam Giambrone to step down as leader of the Toronto Transit Commission and also asked people to stop trying to embarrass TTC workers.
Ford said that the TTC looked filthy and that it needed a good clean-up.