Editorial Archive

Mayor John Tory’s Keynote Address, Building Up Toronto, at the Canadian Club of Toronto on Dec. 4, 2019

12/8/19 10:59 PM

It’s a pleasure to be here this morning to address the Canadian Club.

I want to acknowledge the Councillors who have joined us here today, including:
> Deputy Mayors Michael Thompson and Ana Bailao;
> Budget Chief Gary Crawford;
> Councillors Paula Fletcher, Cynthia Lai, Jennifer McKelvie and Brad Bradford;
> Along with City Manager Chris Murray, Deputy City Managers Giuliana Carbone and Josie Scioli and CFO Heather Taylor.

A year ago this week, I began my second term as Mayor of this great city.

It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as your Mayor and I embrace the job with the same enthusiasm today that I had when I first walked into the Mayor’s office five years ago.

I was re-elected in 2018 in every ward across the city with a strong mandate to get things done. To get transit built. To get more affordable housing built.

And to continue the prosperity and stability that our city has enjoyed – stability created by a responsible and accountable approach I have tried to take personally combined with an unwavering determination to work with the other governments even when it has been difficult.

A year later, we have a transit agreement with the province that will see almost $30 billion from the provincial and federal governments invested in transit expansion and I want to thank Premier Doug Ford and Minister Caroline Mulroney for working with us and with the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop this major transit expansion plan.

We have a Housing Now plan that will add 11,000 housing units – including more than 3,000 affordable rental units – on 11 city-owned surplus land sites, an initiative that is three times the size of the St. Lawrence Market development.

This is a plan I introduced the day after I was re-elected and we’re already proceeding to market on many of these sites to actually get housing built in an expeditious timeline.

People will be living in these new rental units – many of them affordable – as early as 2022.

We have secured $1.3 billion from the Government of Canada to invest in social housing repairs and, at our City Council meeting just last week, we approved a plan to make sure Toronto Community Housing is adequately funded and self-sustainable for the first time since it was downloaded onto municipal taxpayers, ensuring that no units will close.

This was a sensible, business-like decision that allows proper planning by TCHC and by us.

The new permanent funding formula between the City and TCHC results in the largest single investment in TCHC since social housing was downloaded by the Province two decades ago.

That is not to say the Ontario government shouldn’t be stepping up and taking more responsibility for TCHC, but for now it will mean better and safer buildings for our most vulnerable residents.

We have moved ahead with increased investment and focus on road safety to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths through road redesign, lower speed limits and increased enforcement, including automated speed enforcement and more red light cameras.

We have increased investments in community safety to deal with what I believe we can all agree has been an unacceptable amount of gun violence in our city.

And we had a $1-billion construction season this year to upgrade infrastructure across the city – continuing to make the long overdue investments we must make in our city’s aging transportation and water infrastructure.

How overdue are some of these projects?

Right now on Jarvis Street, our crews are replacing a water main with parts that are 161 years old. Imagine pieces of pipe that are older than Canada and we were relying on it for critical infrastructure in the heart of our city.

But we’re finally replacing it so that growing neighbourhood will have reliable, modern water service and we are repeating that important state-of-good-repair work underground and above ground across our city.

These are all good, responsible and necessary steps forward that we are taking.

And I believe they are important to protect the quality of life here in Toronto for our residents, now and in the future.

We are the fastest growing city in North America, with 70,000 new people arriving in the last year alone; almost one million more people expected by 2041.

To put this into context, Toronto grows by the size of Burlington every seven years.

We have an urgent need to address that growth and build a city that can continue to be a great home for everyone who wants to live here.

But as prosperous as our city and region is, we know that there are still issues and increasingly, Toronto residents alone are footing the bill to address the issues of our entire region.

An efficiency study that will be released today from Ernst and Young notes that Toronto has taken on an outsized role in the region, bearing a disproportionate burden for a number of services, including public housing, transit, transportation and social services.

Toronto provides 90 per cent of the public housing in the GTA and 27 per cent of the total social housing in Ontario – in respect of which the Province pays nothing.

Close to 40 per cent of all trips on the Gardiner and DVP – roads owned and maintained entirely by the City – begin and end outside Toronto, and yet the City receives no financial help with the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in those very same roads.

Close to 13 per cent of all TTC trips either begin or end outside the city of Toronto and yet we receive no outside financial help with TTC operating costs.

In the past five years, unlike the rest of the region, we have massively increased shelter and homelessness programs – we’ve gone from just over 4,000 shelter and respite spaces to more than 8,000 shelter and respite spaces, and I regret to say those spaces are occupied.

Almost 40 per cent of the spaces in our shelter system are occupied by refugee claimants and asylum seekers.

And while we have advocated relentlessly, and have been successful in obtaining more than $70 million in federal funding for those costs, at the same time as we have been successful in moving people through the system and into housing, a steady flow of people arriving in our city continues.

We expect it will be a $76.9 million pressure in the City’s budget in 2020 and I will again be urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino to fund this cost that should not be borne by Toronto property taxpayers alone.

These facts are important. They show we as a city are leading the charge in addressing income disparity and the issues that come with it across our region, as best we can. These issues land on our doorstep and cannot be ignored, but our ability to continue to fill the gap created by the inaction of others is not infinite.

I highlight it only to show the important role that the city plays and the work I will continue to do to make sure other governments come to the table to address regional, provincial and national problems. And these things represent only the beginning of the major pressures our city’s budget is facing.

We have a TTC state-of-good-repair budget for the existing system, which is at $33 billion over the next 15 years – $24 billion of which is just to upgrade and maintain our existing subway system.

We came to office facing a $3.2 billion Toronto Community Housing state-of-good-repair backlog and the real threat of housing units closing.

Through hard work and determined negotiations, we have obtained $1.3 billion from the federal government and put forward $1.6 billion from the City to tackle this head on.

And though the Government of Ontario slowed cuts to our budget and reversed retroactive cuts, we know there is less money coming from Queen’s Park, including the loss of promised, committed gas tax money, which we had expected to bring in $1 billion over 10 years.

These are major pressures, and in response, each and every year that I have been Mayor, we have worked to find efficiencies to keep the cost of the city government low so we can invest in key services like transit, recreation and community safety, while keeping the annual property tax increase low, particularly out of deference to lower income residents and seniors who might well have an affordability issue.

Every year, we make a concerted effort to find efficiencies in order to maintain property tax increase at the rate of inflation while investing more, not less, in the most important services.

I am proud to say that each and every year that I have been Mayor, we have all at one in the same time found efficiencies, held the property tax increase at or below the rate of inflation, and significantly expanded services.

The international credit rating firm Moody’s Investors Service credits the City’s “sound governance and prudent fiscal planning” as they maintain our strong credit rating.

While limiting the property tax increases for the day-to-day operating budget, three years ago we did introduce a separate city building levy to help invest directly and only in major transit and housing capital initiatives.

This dedicated levy ensured we have the funding to partner with the other governments to build SmartTrack stations within the city and transform Bloor-Yonge Station for increased passenger capacity – something we need to do as we expand our transit system and make up for years of inattention.

But we know the work to make sure our house is kept in good order is never done.

That’s why I’m proud to share with you this morning that the Ernst & Young study we commissioned with financial help from the Ford government, to find further efficiencies, has in fact identified millions in efficiencies that we will be implementing in the 2020 budget, and that will lead to tens of millions in repeated and expanded savings in the following years.

These include measures such as contract compliance and changes to how we purchase and procure services.

But our work to save residents money doesn’t just stop at the budget. Earlier this year, I announced, and City Council unanimously approved, ModernTO – a plan to save the city millions of dollars a year by modernizing and maximizing our office space. Over 25 years, this program will save us around $750 million by reducing the number of properties we use from 52 to 20.

We will get out of expensive leases and make much more efficient use of the space we own. We will maximize the use and value of other lands we own.

This is a good common-sense initiative that will save money and help make our government work better.

But what the E&Y report also shows and what we are hearing from our professional City staff is that despite our continuing efforts to run an efficient and responsible government, we need to do more to make sure we are actually building up our city.

We are saving millions a year, but we still need billions to build for the future and to invest in maintaining what we have built so far, and I will not, as Mayor, carry on the old practice of just postponing these investments, sometimes indefinitely.

Building up the city will take investments from the federal and provincial governments, and I am committed to continuing to work to secure billions more over time from both those governments to move our city forward, But it will also take us doing what we can at the municipal level to make these necessary additional investments.

Three years ago, I introduced the idea that road tolls on the Gardiner and DVP would help us raise millions to invest in transit and housing. That idea – once controversial – was widely accepted in most quarters.

It was ultimately rejected by all three political parties at Queen’s Park and then by Premier Kathleen Wynne. And while I still believe that is a viable solution and that not allowing us to proceed was wrong, I don’t believe it is going to be something we will be permitted to proceed with in the current political climate.

As I mentioned earlier, an increase in gas tax funding that would have provided an additional $1 billion over 10 years was offered to all municipalities as a substitute when road tolls were cancelled. That increase has since been cancelled by the current provincial government despite a campaign commitment to maintain it.

That decision too was wrong.

The City of Toronto simply cannot wait for road tolls nor can we wait for a return of additional gas tax funding.

We cannot lament the current political climate as a reason for inaction in our city.

This is at present one of the most successful cities in the world and is recognized as such and I intend to lead it in making the investments, which will keep it that way.

Specifically, we must take action in order to continue to invest in our transit system and in affordable housing – these are crucial economic and social priorities.

That is why at the next City Council meeting I will be asking to extend the city building fund further into the future.

By approving an increase in this levy – one per cent more – and extending it over the next five years, we can raise needed funds that will be dedicated to improving our existing transit system and building more affordable housing across our city.

Ensuring this is dedicated funding, unlike our general property tax revenue, will protect it through this term and beyond so that it is collected and spent for one purpose and one purpose only – building up and investing in our transit and housing infrastructure.

This funding is absolutely needed.

It is the only way given the limited current tools available to us and the current political climate, that we can raise the billions of dollars we need to invest in the future of this city.

It will help raise the approximately $5 billion we need to invest in new subways, new subway signal systems, new streetcars and station upgrades as part of the almost $30 billion transit agreement with the Province.

It will help fund affordable housing projects so that we hit our target of approving 40,000 housing units within the next 12 years.

We are at a key point in the history of our city where we must invest in our infrastructure to move the city forward.

Right now, we have a provincial government ready to invest billions in transit.

And we have a federal government that remained in power thanks clearly to pledges it made to invest in the city of Toronto and its residents.

With this initiative, we will ensure we are a partner at that government table with a reasonable portion of the funding to get these things done.

And it will ensure we are in a position to continue advocating to those governments, that increased, sustainable investment in Toronto is good for the city, the region and the country.

Three years ago, I said it was time to build – that’s still true and it’s more urgent now than it was three years ago.

I am determined to build up our city, to build up our transit, our housing, our future.

I believe City Council is ready to move forward as well and I am confident that this is the best way forward to protect Toronto’s prosperity, which – given our economic power and the need for that prosperity to continue – is good for our city, our province and our country.

Office of the Mayor
John Tory
December 4, 2019

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