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Politics

Canada election: Toronto’s 25 councillors reveal top priorities for city

WATCH ABOVE: Mayor John Tory said it’s still too early to support any of the political parties ahead of the election. While he commended the parties' approaches to several issues, Tory said he wants to see more long-term commitments made to keep Toronto healthy. Matthew Bingley has more. (Sept. 4)

With this fall’s federal election now well underway, battleground Toronto will likely help decide the balance of power in Ottawa.

Global News asked every city councillor in Toronto’s 25 wards what issues they would like to see addressed over the next four years.

Nearly every councillor identified secure transit funding, affordable housing and tackling gun violence as the top issues. Several others said preparing the city for the effects of climate change, along with helping establish employment opportunities and keeping the city affordable are just as important for the next federal government.

GUN CRIME

WATCH: How Toronto is coping with gun violence (Aug. 28)

How Toronto is coping with Gun Violence
How Toronto is coping with Gun Violence

A rise in gun crime in the city, including several shooting deaths during the writ period, has many calling for real change to tackle the issue. Eglinton-Lawrence Coun. Mike Colle said this should be the next federal government’s top priority.

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Colle thinks stricter punishments for illegal firearm possession need to be adjusted. But he’s also looking to the next federal government to solve the issue at the border.

“They’ve got to stop these guns from flowing across the border right now,” Colle said, comparing it to a sieve.

READ MORE: Toronto police chief says recent string of gun violence in city related to street gangs

All the programs and schools won’t be able to make a difference in people’s lives if guns keep showing up on Toronto streets, said Colle.

“All the good things we do in our ward or in our city all go to ruin because there’s another shoot-up,” he said.

More funding for police can only do so much, he said, pointing out that investigators are left to deal with the issue at the bottom end.

“They can arrest these guys all they want, but if the guns keep coming in, we’ve got more shoot-ups.” – Councillor Mike Colle

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Some, like Coun. Cynthia Lai, think an increased federal commitment to neighbourhood police officers will solve the issue.

Coun. Frances Nunziata, meanwhile, wants to see Ottawa commit even more to reducing the root causes of gun crime. Nunziata wants a lot more funding for youth agencies, which help provide opportunities to youth and give them aids to seek out opportunities and employment.

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Whatever money is put into social programming, Coun. Shelley Carroll said it needs to be committed on a longer time frame.

“What we need is true partnership and sustained types of programming so that that eight-year-old young man knows what’s going to be there for him as a teenager,” said Carroll.

READ MORE: Toronto police chief pledges more resources after 17 people shot over Civic Holiday long weekend

Mayor John Tory and Colle have also been hoping there will be movement on bail reforms.

Coun. Michael Ford also thinks that the path forward won’t be just through spending money on police and programs. Ford is looking to Canada’s next PM to take charge by leading legal reform.

“When you’re caught with an illegal firearm when you partake in gang activities,” said Ford, “that the law comes down harder on you.”

While Ford wants the courts to be tougher on criminals, Coun. Paula Fletcher wants the government to go further on the gun issue.

“I don’t know why leaders are so skittish when it comes to this,” said Fletcher, who wants automatic weapons are banned within the city.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

WATCH: Parking versus housing: Toronto’s mayor voices concern over proposed parking lot (July 23)

Parking versus housing: Toronto’s mayor voices concern over proposed parking lot
Parking versus housing: Toronto’s mayor voices concern over proposed parking lot

Nearly every city councillor who spoke to Global News said that affordable housing should be a top priority this election.

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The Trudeau Liberals committed more than a billion dollars for the backlog of Toronto Community Housing repairs. But while Coun. John Filion said that was a first step, he’s not alone with hopes future governments will continue the trend.

Deputy Mayor Ana Bailao said her Davenport ward is now so crammed with new development, it’s squeezing out those who used to be able to afford it. New immigrants and working-class people are feeling pushed out, said Bailao.

Bailao said the $1.3 billion in Toronto Community Housing has helped, but she wants the next federal government to free up some of its surplus Toronto properties to build new lower-income housing.

READ MORE: Money laundering and housing affordability in GTA

Several councillors want taxes lowered to help families dealing with growing bills. Others like Coun. Michael Thompson want more direction from Ottawa for first-time buyers.

Thompson said the government needs to start looking more seriously at helping young people deal with student loans. With affordability already an issue, Thompson said working off education debts only makes finding housing even more prohibitive.

Thompson, as well as Stephen Holyday, would also like the government to look at making it easier for first-time homebuyers to get a mortgage.

Coun. Gord Perks and Shelley Carroll think the path forward is by a federal recommitment to coop housing. Perks also said Ottawa hasn’t come close to paying for the state of good repair backlogs at TCHC buildings downloaded to the city.

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“When the federal and provincial governments got out of housing, not only did they stop funding new housing, but they also dumped their housing on us not giving us any capital reserves,” said Perks.

TRANSIT

WATCH: TTC board discusses $1.1B loss at Wednesday meeting (May 8)

TTC board discusses $1.1B loss at Wednesday meeting
TTC board discusses $1.1B loss at Wednesday meeting

TTC board chair and Coun. Jaye Robinson said transit is the most talked-about issue of this election. With overcrowding on transit lines, plans to expand the network, and more than $30 billion in state of good repair funding needed, Robinson said people have a good reason to care about it.

“People want to see really predictable and sustainable funding on an annual basis, not this one-off approach,” said Robinson.

Whether it’s called the Ontario Line or the Toronto Line, Beaches-East York Coun. Brad Bradford just wants to see the funding come. He said it would play into federal commitments to addressing climate change at the same time.

“One of the best ways we can reduce emissions is by addressing single-occupancy vehicles and getting people involved in active transportation or choosing transit,” said Bradford.

READ MORE: TTC puts first all-electric bus into service on Toronto roads

Coun. Anthony Perruzza said the transit file is more than just a congestion issue. In his ward, he said it becomes an anti-poverty initiative that the federal government should be addressing through affordability.

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“The bulk of our riders are people whose incomes you know wouldn’t be able to keep pace with 15, 20 per cent increases in TTC fares over time,” said Peruzza.

Mike Layton agrees.

“There is so much instability in Toronto’s public transit; it’s becoming increasingly unaffordable and difficult to ride,” said the University-Rosedale councillor.

“There’s no way the road network can handle it” – Councillor Mark Grimes

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But Etobicoke Lakeshore’s Mark Grimes added that federal funding is a necessary part of keeping up with Toronto’s growth. “The densities that we’re putting in here, there’s no way the road network can handle it,” said Grimes. “We have to keep up with the boom that’s happening here.”

CLIMATE CHANGE

WATCH: Flooding event causing delays, cancellations of Toronto Islands events (June 3)

Flooding event causing delays, cancellations of Toronto Islands events
Flooding event causing delays, cancellations of Toronto Islands events

With a city full of ageing infrastructure, not to mention the need to adapt and change, many councillors hope climate change will get a lot of attention this election. Replacing overtaxed storm drains and meeting emission reductions, are both issues they think Ottawa should be helping with.

Gord Perks, councillor for Parkdale-High Park, said the cost of moving the city away from carbon emissions is far too high for a municipality to tackle alone.

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“The cost of transforming all of our infrastructure so that it is decarbonized is something that no municipal government has the money to do by itself.” Councillor Gord Perks

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Coun. Joe Cressy, whose ward includes areas susceptible to flooding like the Toronto Islands, said this has already become a huge issue for many Torontonians. “Many of the areas most at risk to accelerating climate change are already being drowned out,” he said.

Cressy said there are costed plans to react to climate change-related events, but that Ottawa needs to help pay for them.

”These are huge projects,” said Cressy, adding that the future prosperity of the area is at risk without federal aid.

READ MORE: Student protesters worldwide skip class, hit the streets for Global Climate Strike

James Pasternak, councillor for York Centre, echoes the need to tackle ageing infrastructure to reduce the impacts of flooding following extreme weather.

“It’s not going to slow down or stop climate change,” said Pasternak. “It builds up our infrastructure so that we are prepared for extreme weather events and we can protect homeowners.”

But Scarborough-Rouge Park’s Jennifer Mckelvie wants the feds to help the city do its part to reduce emissions.

“We made a commitment,” said Mckelvie, referring back to the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “I’m looking for a federal government that’s going to help Toronto meet their commitments,” she said.

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WATCH (Sept. 19, 2019): Getting out the Youth Vote

Getting out the Youth Vote
Getting out the Youth Vote

Layton said many people will be voting on less traditional concepts this year. Layton said climate change will affect a lot of Toronto voters looking to preserve clean air, water and biodiversity for future generations.

While there is the feeling that climate change should be addressed by the next government, there’s also a concern that paying for it could be an issue.

Etobicoke Centre Coun. Stephen Holyday said he was worried about keeping his area affordable. Paying into a carbon tax remains a sticking point for him.

“If a tax is going to drive behaviour changes, we want to see options to exact those changes,” he said.