Were it a province, Toronto’s 25 seats — all held by Liberals — would make it the fifth most riding-rich target in the federal election, after Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta.
The city is a prize. And like any other large, coveted jurisdiction, Toronto has its specific concerns — things like public transit and gridlock, gun violence, the cost of rent and child care, and the on-the-ground impact of provincial cuts.
Not solely federal issues — but the kind of things voters may be thinking about when they cast their ballots on Oct. 21, said political science professor Laura Stephenson, who studies voter behaviour at Western University.
For the most part, neighbourhood issues aren’t dealt with by federal policies, she said, but it can be confusing for voters to separate Ottawa’s responsibilities from those of the province or the city.
“People vote for what they care about,” she said, adding a swing of just a point or two can tilt any given race.
“It’s basic math,” said Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer. The Liberals are odds-on favourites to hold Toronto, he said, but if the Tories win a few seats in the 416, that may mean they’re on track to a majority.
The Star is looking at how local issues are shaping the campaign, and how your federal vote may influence what matters in your neighbourhood. Here are four Toronto-specific issues to watch for as the parties unveil their election platforms:
Affording to live in Toronto
When NDP candidate Andrew Cash (Davenport) goes door-knocking, he said, there’s one issue that stands out: “Overwhelmingly, it’s housing affordability.”
It’s no secret Toronto has among the least affordable housing in the country. The question is what to do about it.
Both the New Democrats and the Conservatives agree more homes need to be built in the city — though they are far apart on how to achieve that. The NDP has promised to build 500,000 new affordable housing units nationwide in the next 10 years; the Tories are calling for regulatory changes to encourage private developers to build more homes.
Both have criticized the number of affordable units built under five years of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, a position MP Adam Vaughan (Spadina—Fort York) said ignores two key parts of his party’s record on housing.
“Building isn’t enough,” he said, pointing to Liberal funding to repair tens of thousands of neglected social housing units in the city, and to its commitment to subsidize housing for low-income families. “The subsidy is as fundamental to housing as the public land,” Vaughan said.
Earlier this year, Ottawa pledged a further $1.3 billion for repairs to Toronto Community Housing units.
Speaking to the Star earlier this month, Green party Leader Elizabeth May said she would take on short-term rental services, such as Airbnb, saying they take “housing stock out of circulation.”
Rising gun violence, and what to do about it
Toronto is not one of the most dangerous cities in Canada, but every candidate the Star spoke to for this story pointed to rising gun violence as a key issue in their ridings.
As of Monday, 170 people had been killed or injured in a shooting in the city this year — more by that date than in any other year according to police records that go back to 2004.
Mayor John Tory has lobbied for a ban on the sale of assault-style rifles and handguns, saying government should do everything it can to deal with “Canadian-sourced” weapons.
The Liberals have tasked former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, candidate for Scarborough Southwest, with studying rising gun crime — but Trudeau has said he’s unlikely to call for a handgun ban. It’s not enough to do something “if you’re not comfortable it’s actually going to work,” he said, speaking to the Star’s editorial board earlier this month.
(Vaughan said he supports a ban, even if the Liberals’ plan may not. “If we aren’t selling them in Canada, then we have one point of entry” at the border, he said.)
Speaking to the Star this month, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said his party will impose tougher sentences for gang members and pointed to the fact the national association of police chiefs has criticized calls for a gun ban.
Both May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh argue cities should have the right to ban handguns.
Doug Ford’s cuts to local services
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Child care is the second most common concern Green candidate Annamie Paul (Toronto Centre) said she hears from voters, after housing affordability. (The city has the highest median fees for child care in the country — more than $1,600 a month for infant care, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.)
“The ideal thing,” the lawyer and advocate said, would be for the province to set up a Quebec-style subsidized child-care plan. Because that’s not going to happen, she said, Ottawa should bypass Queen’s Park.
Since taking office, Premier Doug Ford has cut everything from teachers to post-secondary student subsidies, to public health departments, to funding for low-income people seeking representation in court. Many of these cuts have hit Toronto particularly hard.
Another planned cut threatens 51 new daycare centres in local schools, serving more than 3,000 children. In January, the province will also make the city take on 20 per cent of the cost of daycare spaces created since 2016.
Trudeau has said the Liberals will continue to invest in child care, but won’t force a national plan on the provinces.
The Conservatives have pledged to cut taxes on employment insurance benefits for new parents and increase federal transfers to the provinces.
The NDP say they will make public child care “affordable and available” to all families; the Greens will be introducing a national child-care strategy, Paul said.
Under the Quebec plan, the fee for child care is between about $8 and $20 a day.
Public transit and big-ticket items
Some people won’t notice on-the-ground changes from the federal election, but public transit riders will, NDP candidate Cash said, pointing to the “crush” he sees on buses in the Davenport riding.
Earlier this week, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) called on party leaders to commit to doubling the federal gas-tax transfer to cities. That move would make “predictable and permanent” the hundreds of millions of dollars Toronto received this year in a one-time transfer from Ottawa, Mayor Tory said at the FCM news conference.
The city used the transfer money — its share of $2.2 billion nationally — to pay for things like new subway cars and streetcars. Toronto doesn’t have the means to raise that money itself, Tory said, but “when it comes to transit who ends up building it and operating it?”
The TTC alone needs more than $30 billion in capital investment over the next 15 years, about two-thirds of which is unfunded, according to internal reports.
Earlier this year, Ford decided not to honour the previous government’s pledge to boost the municipal share of the provincial gas tax.
Speaking to CP24 this week, Scheer said making the gas-tax transfer permanent “was a Conservative idea.”
A Liberal spokesperson said the party will consider the gas tax proposal carefully. In a statement, the NDP said it is committed to funding and modernizing transit and will be unveiling more details in the weeks to come.
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