Candidates fail to impress with plans for struggling neighbourhoods, resident says

Ward 20 resident Gary Pieters wants to know what Toronto’s new mayor will do to help struggling neighbourhoods like his that aren’t flagged as priorities.

But after he put the candidates on the spot about the topic at the CBC Visions for the City, Toronto’s Vital Signs debate Tuesday night, Pieters wasn’t pleased with their ideas.

“None of the candidates looked at the big picture of what makes a great city,” Pieters said. “When you have a city and you’re trying to build a better city, all citizens need to be empowered, all citizens need to feel like there is some hope and opportunity.”

Though not designated a priority neighbourhood, a high number of people live in poverty in Trinity Spadina, Pieters says. And these people aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

Smitherman pointed out that when he was health minister, the United Way identified Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods and though it was a good start, it was just the beginning.

“I think we have to apply the lessons we’ve learned from priority neighbourhoods,” Smitherman said. “Any time politicians, well intentioned as they are, draw a line on a map the unintended consequences follow.

“I believe we need to find a model where we identify priority people, because not all of the priority people neatly fall into priority neighbourhoods.”

Smitherman cited Lampton, South Etobicoke, as an example.

“The youth are told you can’t have any access to resources to a recreation facility because you’re not a priority neighbourhood, even though there’s a substantial cluster of youth there who are on the outside looking in. I’ll invest $15 million in a recreation renaissance. ”

Rocco Rossi said he thinks the city needs to use the resources it has to build strong communities and use them to provide people with the services they need.

“I was on the United Way board when we did the Poverty by Postal Code that became the priority neighbourhoods and the problem when you stop at 13 is there was always 14, 15 and 16,” he said. “It’s not simply always invest more and more.  … We have to moderate that appetite and one of the ways we have to do it is to work far better with not-for-profits that are doing amazing work today.”

Joe Pantalone retorted by suggesting that priority neighbourhoods should be priority for city hall.

“The problem with what you’re hearing ladies and gentlemen is that these people are saying that anybody who is caught in a problem like in the priority neighbourhoods that is all our responsibility and that means it is nobody’s responsibility and that is a problem,” he said. “Priority neighbourhoods were identified in the most severe situations and we invested $13 million.

“The priority neighbourhoods program ends next year I’m the only one who says they have to be continued and expanded because there is more need for it now than ever before.”

Rob Ford did not offer an answer to Pieter’s question, but repeatedly mentioned that football was the way to keep kids in school and eliminate poverty and violence through education.

“Talk is cheap. I have helped out thousands of kids,” Ford said. “They don’t want to go to school. You’ve got to give them a carrot. That carrot with a lot of these kids is football. I’ve turned kids’ lives around, got them scholarships to the United States.”

Pieter’s said he thinks the city needs a more holistic approach.

“We need more than football,” he said. “We need the social, the economic and sociological, everything. We need much more than sports.”