The Daily Exchange: Do political leaders really care about wooing Toronto?
It’s all tied up – so says the latest polling – with the Liberals and the PCs both enjoying the support of 35% of voters. (The NDP has slipped to 23%.)
Given the tightness of the race, it’s time to talk about the importance of the Toronto vote. With almost one-fifth ((22 of 107) of the seats in Ontario’s Legislature, Toronto is an important battleground for all three parties, but for very different reasons.
Toronto is the city Ontarians love to hate. And they’re often not too crazy about its politicians either. Perhaps that’s why Bob Rae has been the only premier from Toronto since the 1940s (and he was, arguably, less “voted in” than David Peterson (of London) being “voted out").
This makes Toronto’s relationship to the rest of Ontario, and to its political class, complicated. Politicians have historically balanced their relationship with Toronto, trying to not be seen as captive to Toronto interests – or else risk votes from outside the region. That’s why you see politicians scrambling to play up their “not-Toronto” personas (remember Ernie “I’m Main Street, Not Bay Street” Eves?) Be that as it may, Toronto is both the centre of Ontario’s economic universe and a huge chunk of seats. It matters.
Now, with the polls drum-tight, Messers. McGuinty and Hudak, and Ms. Horwath, will begin their unique and supremely careful “woo-Toronto” fan dances.
McGuinty: In politics, as in military strategy, it's critical to have a secure home base. With 18 seats, taken with more than 45% of the vote (on average) during the 2007 election, Toronto is the Liberal party’s citadel. A lost seat in Toronto is nearly impossible for them to replace elsewhere in Ontario. So don’t be surprised to see more Toronto-friendly policy decisions being made.
Horwath: The New Democrats are miles from contention in most Ontario ridings, save the north. But with 4 seats in hand from the 2007 election, Toronto is a huge piece of electoral pie, and where they are closest to taking new seats. They need to consolidate their existing seats and grab new ones to create a strong foundation for future growth.
Hudak: The PCs are, in some ways, the mirror image of the Liberals; every seat Tim Hudak wins in Toronto puts Dalton McGuinty closer to retirement. And importantly, Hudak must win Toronto seats in order to establish a mandate and credibility with the media. Like it or not, for the media, winning seats in big urban centres like Toronto bestows legitimacy on a government – no seats, less (or no) legitimacy. Don’t believe me? Go look up news clippings from 2006 and 2008 about Stephen Harper and Toronto (and Vancouver, and Montreal…)
It will be interesting to see Ontario’s political party leaders – particularly Hudak – dance for the affections of Toronto over the coming week, which coincides with the City of Toronto (with Mayor Rob Ford – PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE – at the helm) contemplating dramatic budget cuts. Incidentally, popularity numbers for Mayor Ford and Hudak track pretty darn closely.
Given all of this, I suspect that Mr. Hudak is hoping Toronto voters don’t mistake him for the mayor and stomp on his toes.
- Erika Mozes, former senior adviser to George Smitherman and Gerard Kennedy
Response from Jeffrey Ferrier, former communications director for the Ontario NDP:
I don't envy municipal politicians. Year after year, they have to wrestle with significant fiscal challenges. And when it comes time to pay the bills, they can't pass the buck to lower levels of government like their federal and provincial counterparts often do. By law, municipalities have to balance their budgets. And when it comes time to pay, it's up to them and their taxpayers.
There is just one week to go in the election campaign. As a citizen of Toronto, I am interested in how the three party leaders plan to support municipalities like Toronto. How are Andrea Horwath, Tim Hudak and Dalton McGuinty going to help mayors and councillors keep property taxes affordable? And how are they going to help them preserve the municipal services families count on every day?
Too often, political leaders talk gobbledy-gook when discussing these kinds of issues. They talk about things like uploading and downloading. While this all makes sense for municipal leaders, to the average voter, it sounds more like a debate on Internet policy than municipal taxes and services. Ordinary folks tune out.
Here are three things that I think folks at home will want to hear from the provincial leaders in the campaign's final days:
If you become premier, is the province going to start paying its fair share? Today in Ontario, the province tells municipalities they have to provide all sorts of programs, but it doesn’t give them adequate funding to provide them. For example, municipal taxpayers are on the hook for provincial court security costs and the provision of social services. Both, in reality, should be provincial responsibilities, and should be paid for through our provincial tax system. Relieving municipalities from this financial burden would free up money they could invest in other priorities, from eliminating deficits to funding services to providing property tax relief.
If you become premier, will you support public transit? Specifically, will you restore the 50-50 share of transit operating costs. Returning to this funding model, the standard model for transit funding until 1998, would mean significant budget relief for municipalities, allowing them to freeze fares and divert money to other city priorities.
If you become premier, how will you create jobs and make life more affordable? Getting the economy moving and providing relief for families is crucial to securing and growing municipal tax bases. The stronger the tax base, the more money we have to fund municipal priorities and keep property taxes affordable. This is an especially important issue given the economic storm clouds on the horizon.
Municipal taxes and services are top of mind issues in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario. How the leaders address these issues could have a huge bearing on election night results in battleground Toronto.
Response from Guy Giorno, former chief of staff to Mike Harris and Stephen Harper:
Let’s put things in perspective.
Toronto is the provincial capital, the biggest city and a major economic engine. But Ontario extends far beyond the Toronto city limits.
Nearly four-fifths of Ontario ridings – 84½ to be precise – are located outside Toronto. The “half” reflects a riding that is part Scarborough (inside Toronto) and part Pickering (outside).
Despite its namesake, this very newspaper is not just about Toronto, and not just about the GTA. Roughly one-half million Saturday Star readers, about one third of the total, live outside the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area. (The Toronto CMA extends beyond the city to include all of Peel and York, most of Halton, and parts of Durham and Simcoe.)
Perspective is important. Certain things may be “all about Toronto,” but provincial and federal elections don’t fall into that category.
Still, one-fifth of the province is a very important segment. Each party leader is vying to be Premier of all Ontario, including Toronto.
It’s fashionable to believe that there exists a discrete bundle of “Toronto issues.” The view is perpetuated by many Toronto media and municipal politicians, and other elite constituencies within the City.
I’m not sure, however, that mainstream residents of Toronto are very different from mainstream residents of other Ontario communities.
Torontonians, like other Ontarians, feel the burden of higher taxes. The HST is the same in Toronto as elsewhere in the province. The Eco-tax didn’t stop at Steeles Avenue, the Rouge River or Etobicoke Creek. Smart meters will make sure that Big Brother is watching over electricity customers whether they live inside or outside the city.
Health care is the top issue in Toronto and elsewhere. Torontonians prize community safety and victim justice as much as other Ontarians. The list goes on.
The city’s elites have their own agenda, but mainstream residents are not crying out for a Toronto-centric vision and Toronto-specific policies.
A case in point: Five months ago, a political leader offered Torontonians the same policies and the same leadership that he was presenting to other communities. The result? Voters in the city responded favourably to Stephen Harper and his party.