More community supports are needed to help combat Toronto gun violence, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mayor John Tory agreed Tuesday, but neither leader offered money or specific solutions.
Their chat at city hall — at Tory’s invitation in advance of this fall’s federal election — came one day after the municipal, provincial and federal governments announced a $4.5-million boost in policing amid a prolonged spike in gunfire in Canada’s biggest city.
Tory lauded Trudeau’s Liberal government as a great partner for Toronto, noting investments in transit and public housing plus the new police money. But the mayor said he told the prime minister during a closed-door meeting he’s “not satisfied with what has been done to date (with) the need to invest in kids and families and neighbourhoods.
“These are areas where there is much to be done and at a time of increased anxiety and troubling criminal activity in our city I’ve asked the prime minister to consider doing more,” Tory told reporters at a joint news conference.
Trudeau agreed that “we need to make sure we’re investing in kids and families,” and suggested he’ll have more to say during the federal election campaign. But he also added that “we respect provincial jurisdictions” when it comes to funding programs.
The prime minister then attacked Premier Doug Ford, repeatedly citing the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to back out of a $14-million pledge by Ontario’s previous Liberal government for a new community centre in Lawrence Heights.
“What Ontarians have lived through in terms of the cuts to services and the tax cuts for the wealthy by Doug Ford is an example of the approach conservative politicians have when it comes to governing,” said Trudeau, who has been trying to tie the policies of the unpopular Ford to those of federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
“Conservative politicians say they’re ‘for the people,’ but then they end up cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting services for everyone else,” Trudeau said.
The Lawrence Heights community centre, which was to be funded by all three levels of government at a total cost of $42 million in a neighbourhood recently beset by shootings, appears to be in limbo.
The Ford government says the city is “welcome” to apply for funding through the province to be eligible for a federal infrastructure program when the province starts taking applications.
When the Star revealed the provincial shortfall earlier this month, Ford blamed his predecessor Kathleen Wynne for making a funding pledge with no revenue source.
“They committed to give everyone a new car, too,” Ford said of the Ontario Liberals leading up to the 2018 election. “Unfortunately, we can’t give everyone a new car.”
Ivana Yelich, a Ford spokesperson, told the Star after Tuesday’s meeting that “while the prime minister is focused on his campaign, we remain focused on addressing the issues that matter to the people of Ontario and we will continue to seek collaboration with the federal government.”
Yelich said the Wynne Liberals “promised everything everyone with money they didn’t have,” adding the application period for infrastructure funding for projects including Lawrence Heights is “expected to open later this summer.”
Although the province is helping with the police funding, Ford was not at Tuesday’s meeting. Tory said it wasn’t a snub, and that he had invited Trudeau to city hall some time ago to lobby for Toronto’s priorities ahead of the October federal election, as he is doing with major federal party leaders.
Councillor Shelley Carroll, a former police services board member, said in an interview there’s general agreement Toronto can’t “arrest its way out of this gun problem.”
After the meeting produced no changes, Carroll said the city needs to spend its own money to keep safe spaces for youths open for more hours, rather than rely on federal cash that might dry up.
“We have to use our money to seed something that is not going to disappear on a kid,” she said.
Tory pledged $1.5 million from the city for policing even though the expense hasn’t yet been approved by city council, saying he expects it will be approved in October. He has been on the defensive recently over community funding to combat gangs and gun violence.
In March, Tory rejected a proposal from Councillor Josh Matlow to spend the same amount, $1.5 million, to fund eight new dedicated youth hubs at city-run sites. Tory has accused Matlow of playing politics, saying council has boosted anti-poverty initiatives under his watch.
In recent years, funding from all three levels of government related to gun violence has largely focused on policing.
Last summer, the city proposed a $50-million plan to combat gun violence that relied solely on funding from other levels of government. At budget time this year, council heard just $6.8 million would be provided by the federal government for community programs despite a request for more than $30 million for those initiatives.
With files from Jennifer Pagliaro