The next question from the audience was about why the TTC is so expensive.
Nunziata said he's a big TTC supporter and showed us his metropass. He said the TTC is inefficient because they mail him a metropass every month instead of giving him a rechargeable card. He says he wants to build the Eglinton subway line that was cancelled and thinks it is the best link to the airport. His second priority is the York University extension. He says it takes vision to build and he feels "build it and they will come". (I.e., ridership and development will be attracted.) The federal government should play a role in investment. He also says he supports public-private partnerships, more-regular buses, and a higher subsidy in order to reduce fares.
Hall said transit is a big issue that the city must deal with or find itself in big trouble. She wants a new federal/provincial deal. We need to improve existing lines before new ones. Expansion should be based on need, not politics. "Build it and they will come" won't work. She says we can't keep raising fares.
Tory said the provincial support we have counted on is gone and all the TTC gets is a pittance based on begging. This is inconsistent with the rest of the country and the rest of the continent. He said "Even George W. Bush" has promised to spend $80 billion on transit. He said we must effectively negotiate with the province. We should go to provincial candidates meetings and make noise. The TTC is a priority, not a train to the airport. The city gives ten billion more to federal and provincial governments than we get back; we're for sharing with others but we need to invest to keep our city healthy.
Miller said "John Tory is right, his PC friends in Queen's Park are the biggest part of the problem." Miller voted for 4 expansions which were all killed. The provincial government must recognize their responsibility. They've slashed their funding from 75% of capital and matching operating subsidy, to zero and zero in the Harris years, back up to 33% of capital and no operating subsidy. Miller said we can do things like reserved lanes for buses that don't require provincial money. He told us he is a TTC councillor and told us about the new VIP Green Pass that allows employers to make bulk purchases of metropasses.
Jakobek said he disagrees with John Tory that there are no plans -- in fact there are lots of plans and Miller "voted for all of them". Jakobek said "build it and we'll go bankrupt". He won't support a new subway for 3 years. The Sheppard subway is losing money. Right after it was approved, North York council down-zoned the area. It's economics -- building costs money and drives up cost, which then reduces ridership. We should have gone with the GO smartcard, New York has made money doing it. As a former budget chief, Jakobek has a plan for how to approach the province. Instead of asking for new money everyday, the city should have a single precise plan. He will ask the feds for housing and infrastructure and Queen's Park for a shelter increase and capital costs for transit.
The next question dealt with how the candidates would handle a garbage strike. There was also a question about extending transfer station weekend hours, which no one had much to say about, and I'll skip.
Hall said there wouldn't have been a strike if she was mayor. When she was mayor there were no strikes because she involved employees in bargaining. If there was a strike, we'd need an emergency way to get rid of the garbage, like sending more of it to Michigan.
Tory said he can't comment because he's not familiar enough, but strikes happen and Hall can't promise there wouldn't be one. The province always ends the strikes and sends them to arbitration, but arbitration creates a bad environment.
Miller said the strike was Mel's fault. There's a basic problem at City Hall where they see the employees as the enemy. Our public health nurses were derided during the strike and now they are heroes. The city can be more efficient if we use our talent. This strike could have been settled with a better deal than we got through arbitration. Modern private companies don't behave this way.
Jakobek said the city budget is 84% salaries so we should be wary of union-funded candidates (i.e., Miller). Garbage labour problems are caused by the bureaucrats saying it cost too much. It's true, which is why we should adopt his central sorting system instead of having garbage trucks, blue box trucks, grey box trucks, and green box trucks coming down the same street.
Nunziata said the mayor should protect the city's interests. He's management. Garbage collection and TTC should be essential services and prevented from striking. He'd ask the provincial government to make it so. He wants a system with final-offer binding arbitration. He said we need to rebuild labour relations and mutual respect. He thinks some things should be out-sourced but union-backed Hall and Miller say no. He claimed garbage collection is outsourced in Etobicoke and works well. (Some people in the crowd yelled "no it doesn't.")
Next question: The city has been hurting since amalgamation. How will we get funds?:
Tory said we have huge problems and they won't be solved through "efficiencies"; we need a new deal. We can't get out of our crisis without a new arrangement. Tory admitted that he has been a PC supporter, but is critical of them. Meanwhile, he said Miller's chief strategist works for Ernie Eves. (Miller just grinned.) Scandals like MFP have cost the city a lot of money so we need better day-to-day management. Property tax can't afford to pay for all this because it is regressive and because it doesn't grow with the economy. Going back to efficiency improvements, he says you can always find them and he did at the office, but a new deal is the top priority.
Miller said we need not just managment, but leadership. The past 6 years have been embarrasing. Cronyism is the problem, and it's both wrong and inefficient. Second, we can't rely on the property tax and need a new deal. It won't come from asking -- Mel did -- we need a smart political strategy. We need to mobilize our allies -- mayors across Ontario, and local voters. I think Miller said he has a list of priorities that Torontonians should challenge provincial and federal candidates with, but I can't find it on his lousy website.
Jakobek has a plan to decrease our debt to free up the money we spend on financing. Amalgamation creates costs but you can unload assets. He wants to sell 5 city halls, the parking authority, golf courses and surplus land and apply it to the debt. As for efficiencies, he pointed out his garbage idea again.
Nunziata said that Toronto's city government had no respect when he was in Ottawa. Problems like MFP and tech consultants getting millions make us look irresponsible. We have to show upper levels of government that we can manage our own affairs. He wants to outsource things like the city's tech division. He's committed to a 0% tax increase. Our taxes are among the highest in North America. To solve our problems we need a new deal. It's about fairness. Paul Martin has promised us a share of the gas tax and it makes sense. Nunziata says he's independent so he can make it happen. The problem is all the costs "John's government" has downloaded onto the city. (John Tory said, "I bet you didn't know I was the premier.")
Hall said it's clear property taxpayers can't bear the costs of what Toronto needs. She says we need "leadership, experience, and integrity" at City Hall. We need to regain control because the scandals at City Hall have let the federal and provincial governments off the hook. She'll work with other GTA mayors, unlike Lastman. We need new sources of revenue like the hotel tax that the hotels want but has been banned by Queen's Park.
The next question was about empowering the community councils.
Jakobek said planning issues should be within the power of community council and should only be over-ridable by a super-majority in city council. Community council shouldn't be able to do whatever they want regardless of financial impacts.
Nunziata said the Board of Trade has issued 6 principles of good governance that we should read. Nunziata advocated 4 equal community councils with 4 deputy mayors, and an executive council of 9. He wants local issues decided by local councils. (Does he mean a form of de-amalgamation?)
Hall said that amalgamation has been a tragedy because people have lost touch with local government. The challenge is, "How can we be big but also small?". The answer according to Hall is to increase community council's power and make it hard to overturn their decisions.
Tory says he'd support a requirement that community council decisions can only be overridden by a super-majority. But he also said that the more clear and specific and firm the official plan is, the more it won't matter. The rules will apply everywhere, equally.
Miller said the broader problem is that post-amalgamation people are cut out of City Hall. Community councils should be more involved in the budget and different areas should be allowed to opt in or out of different services, such as sidewalk snow clearing. City Hall should be for people not lobbyists, so there should be more meetings in the evening for organizations like the Committee of Adjustment.
The final question was asked about whether candidates would accept aerobic digestion of garbage if a plan was presented to reduce garbage to the point where a Southern Ontario landfill could be used.
Nunziata said he's not an expert. But we should have a process with corporations presenting ideas and having them tested. City council should decide and he won't prejudge. Long term, we need a plan.
Hall will look at new technologies and support green industry.
Tory doesn't know the technology but he's open to any new technology. It would be responsible to rule things out. We should look for best practices in other parts of the world.
Miller will not support incineration or any form of incineration wearing a different suit. But we should be open to new technology... just not burning.
Jakobek said his central sorting idea will work. Burning is wrong and he shut down an incinerator in 1988. Absolutely no to incineration; we don't want cancer-causing dioxins, etc.
Finally, candidates were allowed their closing statements.
Miller lambasted the lack of leadership at City Hall and asked us to judge him on his record -- the TTC ridership growth strategy, bulk TTC metropasses, York University commuting alternatives, fighting City Hall rot. He says it starts at the waterfront, since this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Expanding the Island Airport is wrong. It is foolish and undermines everything. The island airport is the single most important decision facing us. If we want to be great we've been settling for mediocrity too long.
Tory promised results you'll be able to see in 3 years. He has a plan to manage more professionally. He pointed to his experience with the United Way and the CFL. He said it's a shame we have to pay fees to use the schools after hours. We must have a better relationship with other governments. He has moved into a condo on Bloor Street and when he looks north he sees trees. Those are neighbourhoods and we don't want to turn them into Manhattan.
Hall says she is running because of the potential, not the problems. We used to know how to do things better. She has the track record, energy, ideas and passion so that we can be prosperous, safe, healthy, and clean.
Nunziata promised to put constituents first. His principles are openness, transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity. We need a strong mayor who is articulate, a plan for the waterfront, and the homeless. All the other candidates have been insiders. Past methods don't work. Nunziata believes in tough love and wants to take homeless people off the street on nights when it is -20C. He follows the Broken Windows crime reduction theory. He will eliminate pan-handling. His transit, litter, and waterfront campaigns will come later in the campaign.
Jakobek spoke last and said that this has been a rough couple months for him. He wants to be known for integrity and honesty and people are implying he's void of it because of a horrible error. He will be straight and honest. He'll say what his vote is going to be. He doesn't support candidates who try to get around the election law. He promised to fight for neighbourhoods. He's not guessing, he knows all about the budgets. He can soundly promise a 0% tax increase because he actually has a plan.
It was a good debate and one thing I know is that the next mayor will be better than the current one. I'll try to write some commentary later.