Seventh in a series: the Daily Commercial News examines the Toronto mayoral byelection through the lens of the city’s construction sector with a look at candidates Mark Saunders and Mitzie Hunter.
Former NDP MP and city councillor Olivia Chow remains the frontrunner in the race to be elected the next Toronto mayor June 26 according to recent polls conducted by Mainstreet Research.
Ana Bailao has settled into a solid second place while a third tier of candidates that includes Mark Saunders, Josh Matlow, Mitzie Hunter, Brad Bradford, Anthony Furey and Chloe Brown lurks further behind.
Saunders was Toronto’s police chief from 2015 to 2020 and Hunter was a Liberal provincial cabinet minister from 2014 to 2018 and an MPP until her resignation from the legislature earlier this month.
Saunders, born in England to Jamaican-born parents, grew up in Milton, Ont. and joined the Toronto Police Service right out of high school. He says in releases the vote for mayor is between someone who will prioritize public safety and professional politicians who have voted to defund the police, have been unable to build more housing and have made Toronto a more dangerous city.
He pledges through his proven collaboration skills he will break through the logjam that has left Toronto with a housing crisis.
“I wish I had eight years to tackle the housing crisis like some of the other candidates in this race,” said Saunders in a release. “We cannot be normalizing $3,000 per month three-bedroom apartments. No working family in Toronto can afford that. Councillors should know better.”
Saunders noted since 2017, council has approved 19,700 affordable rental units but only about eight per cent of those have actually been built.
“It’s clear city hall is the first big barrier to getting homes built quickly,” he said. “I pledge to use every tool and option at my disposal, including strong mayor powers, to tackle this issue.”
The veteran police officer, a former unsuccessful candidate for the provincial legislature running for the Progressive Conservatives, said he will take action to speed up the housing approvals process and build capacity in the construction sector.
He will: cut the time for approving applications to one year; make both builders and the city accountable for project progress by introducing a project tracking system; remove silos between departments; and digitize the planning and approvals system.
Saunders is calling for a change in the definition of infrastructure used by the Canada Infrastructure Bank to include housing and wants to work with Infrastructure Ontario to make it easier for non-profits to secure loans for new rental housing projects.
He singles out Chow and Matlow for their combative attitudes towards the provincial government.
“As police chief I worked well with the prime minister and premiers Wynne and Ford. We didn’t always agree but we kept talking.”
Hunter, born in Jamaica, similarly cites high-level leadership positions she has held during her career including service as CAO of Toronto Housing, head of CivicAction and provincial minister of education and minister of advanced education and skills development.
A centrepiece of Hunter’s platform is the creation of a new Toronto Affordable Housing Corporation (TAHC).
Over its first six years, the new TAHC would build 108 new developments ranging between 10 and 20 storeys on City-owned land. The program would deliver over 22,000 units with 16,500 of the units to be purpose-built rental.
Hunter also unveiled a five-point affordability plan to increase the supply of homes available to both rent and own, using a “shared equity” ownership plan.
“We are in a housing crisis and that’s why we need to unlock public lands, to build more affordable housing for renters and people who want a chance to buy,” said Hunter.
Hunter’s housing plan would also focus on sustainability with green construction practices and family-friendly features such as 34 new child care centres and an additional 34 Toronto Public Library satellite branches.
Her transit plan would accelerate construction of the Waterfront East LRT as well as the North York Scarborough subway and includes several measures to boost TTC ridership such as making transit free for seniors.
“We need to get Toronto moving again,” said Hunter in a statement. “Safe, reliable, frequent and affordable transit is the best tool we have to get Toronto moving again as well as help us achieve our climate goals.”