Mayoral debate addresses Toronto’s reputation for fairness

Nancy Jenter’s city is no longer Toronto the Good. As a welfare recipient and food bank patron, Jenter says she knows first-hand how Toronto treats its underprivileged citizens.

“Poor people are being left to rot in Toronto,” she said. “The rents are over the roof. Lots of the jobs are part-time. Don’t tell me that Toronto’s such a great city.”

Jenter, 61, voiced her concerns at the “Building A Fair Toronto For All” mayoral debate held at Innis Town Hall on Tuesday night. Jenter and about 100 other citizens packed the hall to ask top mayoral candidates how they planned to ensure good public services for disadvantaged Torontonians.

Before the candidates arrived from other engagements, keynote speaker Hamlin Grange pinpointed the challenge facing the city’s “Toronto the Good” reputation.

“Now it seems that we’re just plain Toronto,” he said. “And if you listen to what’s coming out of city hall, we’re just about broke.”

Moderator John Tory interviewed Rocco Achampong, George Smitherman, Sarah Thomson, Joe Pantalone, and Rocco Rossi about how to pay for the public services that citizens such as Jenter need.

Only Rocco Rossi denounced tax cuts that in turn reduced social services.

“I looked at the numbers and quite frankly they’re trying to bribe you with your own money. And it’s funny money because the city is already in significantly difficult financial straits,” he said.

Candidate Smitherman indicated that Toronto’s fiscal challenges are due to a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

“We need to give people a reprieve in terms of tax increases and demonstrate that we can live within the resources as they’re established now,” he said.

Jenter noted that with a larger income tax break for low-income families, she could put the money towards future rent payments. However, she believed this solution requires a more effective government.

“It shouldn’t involve hiring a million bureaucrats; it should just involve changing an income tax form,” she said.

Thomson promised if she were elected to remove bureaucratic roadblocks that prevent change from occurring.

“There are so many layers of bureaucracy and that’s creating a real communication problem,” she said. “So I want to take this opportunity as people retire to shift the job structure and to shift more people on the front lines.”

Pantalone, a self-proclaimed “city builder,” pledged tax freezes for the poor and an increased investment in what he considered Toronto’s greatest resource.

“You have to invest in our people, our youth, our seniors and our priority neighbourhoods,” he said.

Ultimately Jenter just wants to see a government that reaches out to Toronto’s poor population.

“A lot of changes in Toronto have to happen at a personal level that has nothing to do with politicians or money,” she said. “We need real community life.”

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