Mayor Olivia Chow Denies Claims Toronto Is a City in Decline

Mayor Olivia Chow Denies Claims Toronto Is a City in Decline
Newly elected Mayor Olivia Chow waves to the crowd at council chambers during her Declaration of Office Ceremony at Toronto City Hall in Toronto on July 12, 2023. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)
Doug Lett
Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow addressed concerns about the city's safety Monday, emphasizing her belief that despite recent increases in crime rates, Toronto is not in a state of decline. Incidents like the death of a woman struck by a stray bullet on July 7 have amplified public worries about safety.
“I reject that whole notion that the city is in decline,” Ms. Chow said at a news conference on Sept. 18. She was responding to a reporter’s question about a full-page open letter taken out in the National Post where prominent Toronto businessman Thomas Caldwell criticized city hall for allowing Toronto to fall into decline, citing increasing violence and disorder. Mr. Caldwell stated that his staff "dread" riding on public transit.

Ms. Chow admitted Toronto has its problems but pointed to a host of community events over the weekend.

“People are having a great time. They are shopping and eating and enjoying each other's company. It didn’t look to me, it didn’t feel like a city in decline at all,” she said.

“Now having said that, can it be safer? Absolutely. … Can it be more affordable? Yes. Can the service be better? Absolutely, which is why we're here," Ms. Chow said.

"Can it be more caring? Yes, of course. But those are the things we can work on. ... It needs help. We need the provincial and the federal government helping us."

Ms. Chow was speaking at a joint news conference with Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Mr. Ford, a Conservative, appeared to back up Ms. Chow, who is a former NDP member of Parliament.

“Let’s give the mayor a fair shot here,” said Mr. Ford. “I got a comment on that letter … [she] just got elected. Let’s talk a year down the road and see where we’re at,” he said, adding that running the city is not easy.

“It's just not a walk in the park, as the city grows and the infrastructure ages, and the backlog of infrastructure. … We're going to continue supporting not just Toronto, but the other cities across our province,” said Mr. Ford. “And I'll work with Mayor Chow as I worked with Mayor [John] Tory. It’s all about working together cooperatively. That's how we get things done. But we need the federal government to step up as well.”

That conciliatory tone marked the announcement by the premier and the mayor of a working group between the province and the city created to tackle problems like Toronto’s affordable housing shortage and the city's deficit, currently running at around $1.5 billion.

“Toronto is facing deep financial challenges that are no longer sustainable,” said Mr. Ford. “We need wholesale intervention. We need governments to work together to deliver solutions that protect services, avoid new taxes, and put the city on a path toward long-term financial stability. Simply put, Toronto needs a new deal.”

The premier said the working group will be expected to find solutions for building affordable homes, along with better public transit and infrastructure.

“We’re urging the federal government to meet us at the table by joining this new deal working group. It's certainly my expectation that any agreement will include additional financial support from the federal government,” added Mr. Ford.

Ms. Chow said part of the problem is that over the years, more and more costs have been loaded onto the city.

“Public transit, for example, in the past was jointly funded in terms of the operating costs by the provincial and the city government. Now it's 100 percent City of Toronto,” she said. “The shelter costs used to be 80 percent provincial, 20 percent municipal. Municipal is now 50–50. … What we've seen in the last 20 years is that more and more costs are being loaded on to the city property taxes. And that's why, structurally, it's not sustainable.”

Ms. Chow added they hope the working group will come up with some recommendations by the end of November.

Mr. Ford was asked if he supports the idea of a municipal sales tax. In August, an incremental 1 percent sales tax added to the existing HST/GST was proposed in a city report (PDF) as part of a long-term financial plan. The report noted Toronto faces $46.5 billion in budgetary pressures over the next decade.

Mr. Ford, however, did not seem keen.

“I'm just not in favour and especially in these times that people are struggling, to put more of a burden on the backs of the taxpayers,” he said. “There's always ways to look at revenue growth as opposed to taxing people.”

Mr. Ford emphasized the need for greater efforts as Ontario anticipates an annual influx of between 500,000 and 800,000 more people.

“We need to build homes of all types. We can't have people living in tents. We can't have people living in malls and other areas,” he said. “We need to continue to build homes but make sure that they're attainable for a newcomer, or a young family that’s starting out, that they can afford a home, they can afford to pay a mortgage.”

He repeated his plea that the Bank of Canada not raise interest rates—something he initially did in a letter to the bank on Sept. 3.
Doug Lett is a former news manager with both Global News and CTV, and has held a variety of other positions in the news industry.