With Olivia Chow maintaining a double-digit lead in the race for Toronto mayor in polls released last week, more than ever the top challengers have their focus trained on the former NDP MP and Toronto councillor.
Former police chief Mark Saunders, who has polled in the top four for most of the campaign, announced a transit plan June 1 but his focus was almost as much on Chow’s past transit record as it was on his new plans.
Saunders said he would end Toronto’s “stop-start-stop” approach to transit planning by accelerating an extension of the TTC’s Line 4 to Sheppard and McCowan. He also pledged to work with the provincial government to undertake a planning assessment for extending the Ontario Line northbound to Sheppard Avenue East.
Chow had called the Scarborough subway extension a “waste” in 2014 and promised to cancel it, Saunders noted.
“How can we trust career politicians like Olivia Chow with critical transit decisions when she changes her mind when it’s politically convenient?” he said.
In an interview with the Daily Commercial News, Saunders also called Chow out for not being straight about whether she would raise taxes and for her plan to create a new City of Toronto agency to build housing.
“There are some candidates that are going to create those do-it-yourself moments, and they’re stepping out of their lane,” said Saunders. “Government’s role is to create the environment, and when we talk about housing and affordable housing, it has been years of discussion, years of consultation, no deliverables.”
Saunders was speaking a day after a debate was cancelled because of death threats. He praised the work of the Toronto police in making a swift arrest and then differentiated between traditional crimes such as the shooting threat, where law enforcement entities do their jobs, and the general “disorder” and “decay” that exists in downtown Toronto.
His campaign focus on policing resources to make the city safer is closely linked to broader measures including providing adequate social supports and physical infrastructure, Saunders said. The lack of “connectivity” has hurt Toronto’s economy, he said.
“When I’m talking to the businesses downtown, they have huge issues. They’ve got staff that’s afraid to come into work. We talked about the transit system, the disorder that occurs on the subways. It creates chaos to the point where it has affected businesses, so people are not coming downtown.”
On such hot-button debate issues as the future of Ontario Place, the use of strong mayor powers and his ability to distance himself from Premier Doug Ford, given that Saunders once ran for the PC party, he refrained from criticizing the provincial government.
“I use collaboration first, talking with communities and talking with employees, putting plans together. So collaboration is first and foremost,” he said of his leadership style. “Secondly, using the tools that are necessary. Thirdly, prioritizing.”
Housing has been declared “a crisis that has to be prioritized and as the leader, the buck stops with me as the mayor and I will do the things necessary to actually build so that we can have a vibrant city, a healthy city, a city that’s prosperous so that we can cross that finish line that everybody comes here and desires to have at the end of the day.”
Ontario Place will remain two-thirds in the public realm, Saunders said, and Therme, the firm that has signed a contract to build a spa at Ontario Place, has done “tremendous research” into what was needed.
“It’s a 365-day venue,” he said. “The thing that is going to be great about what’s going to happen is that it is family-friendly. So it covers all age ranges.
“But there’s lots of time for discussion.”
Saunders said he has no appetite to reopen another issue the Ford government weighed in on with Bill 66, which opened up bidding on municipal construction contracts to contractors that work with alternative trade unions and non-union workers. Toronto opted out in a 20 to four vote in 2019.
“My key objective is to get off the hamster wheel and build,” he said. “Things are set in motion to build and I’m going to build. To create another layer of distraction just because of the platform piece for a candidate (Brad Bradford) is not healthy.
“I don’t want to get into the games.”