John Tory was elected Mayor of Toronto tonight with 40% of support, compared to nearly 34% for right-wing populist Doug Ford and 23% for left-wing candidate, and one-time frontrunner, Olivia Chow.  While Tory’s margin of victory is a little closer than expected, his centrist-positioning will provide him with a potential opportunity to break the recent dysfunction at City Hall and cooperate with the provincial and federal governments.

Although there are seven new City Councillors out of a total of 44, the political composition of the incoming Council remains largely the same, with the newly-elected Councillors replacing those who had similar political leanings.  It is anticipated that the left-of-centre Council could be a struggle for the centrist Mayor.  Throughout the campaign, Tory positioned himself as a consensus builder whose inclusive style achieves results.  Given Toronto’s weak-mayor system, Tory’s next test will be the implementation of his top priorities.

Many challenges will face Tory in his first few months in office.  With the exception of transit funding, the fiscal situation of the City has not been a prominent election issue, and Tory has been careful discussing the costs of his campaign promises. It is unclear how much Tory’s plan has considered the fiscal context faced by the City. The gravity of Toronto’s fiscal situation will likely be realized during the transition period in the lead-up to the new Mayor and Councillors being sworn in on December 1, 2014.  The first 2014-2015 Council meeting will occur on December 2nd and 3rd.

Similarly, discussions of the financial relationship between the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario were not a major consideration during the campaign, despite the dependence much of Tory’s platform has on increased funding from both the provincial and federal governments. 

As Tory grapples with the City’s fiscal context, he will simultaneously have to convert the cordial tone struck between his campaign and the Province into dollars for the City.  Given the scale of funding required to realize transit improvements, that cordiality is going to be tested.

In the first months of his mayoralty, here’s what to watch for:

Smart Track

Toronto’s transit plans have been altered each consecutive year since 2010, and 2015 promises to be no exception.  Smart Track, the centerpiece of John Tory’s transit plan, is not without controversy and will need to be thoroughly developed, and meshed with, existing plans and priorities at City Hall, as well as with the provincial government.    

As Smart Track relies heavily on existing GO Transit infrastructure, Tory will have to bring the Province of Ontario, specifically Metrolinx, onside.  Of concern will be whether SmartTrack’s extra trains could coexist with Metrolinx’s plans for Regional Express Rail (RER).  Further, some critics have expressed concern that the provincial portion of the funding may be challenging to secure on a timely basis, or at all. 

Similarly, City Council will play a central role in SmartTrack’s fate.  Tory’s challenge will be in moving from campaign-style marketing to providing Council with the technical studies and data to convince them that Smart Track is the fastest, most cost-effective way to provide transit relief for the City.  Needless to say, operationalization of SmartTrack is expected to be the defining project of this mayoralty. 

New Financing Tools: TIF

Tory has proposed tax increment financing (TIF) as a means of financing the approximately $8 billion cost of SmartTrack.  TIF would avoid Tory having to raise property taxes; whereby the city borrows money to pay for the upfront capital costs with the promise to pay it off with future tax revenue generated by property development attracted to the new stations. 

TIF would fund the City’s third of the funding, with the remaining funding to come from the provincial and federal governments. Critics have claimed, however, that TIF has never been utilized on such a large scale, and the danger of counting on the potential future property tax revenue represents a substantial risk.  

Infrastructure

Beyond the transit file, one of the most pressing issues will be the City’s aging infrastructure.  Among the most visible examples of this pressing need is the Gardiner Expressway.  Prior to the election, a City staff report recommended tearing down the eastern section of the Gardiner due to the high costs of maintenance. 

Tory has stated publicly that he opposes that option because it would invariably extend already-long commute times.  Part of his argument depended on analyses of long-term maintenance costs, which may end up being higher than previous estimates had suggested (note: a staff report is due on this issue soon).  The maintain vs. tear-down the Gardiner calculus may have to change, and with it, Tory’s position on the elevated roadway. 

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport

Meanwhile, activist groups opposed to extending the runway of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (BBTCA) and the accommodation of jets have thus far been successful in delaying Council decisions and complicating the debate. 

In April 2014, Council put off a final decision regarding amendments to the framework governing the BBTCA, instead deciding to await the conclusions of additional studies on the impacts of runway expansion and the use of commercial jets.  City staff are expected to report back in the first half of 2015. 

To date, Tory has avoided taking a firm position on the airport, citing concerns regarding the potential land-side impacts of increased airport traffic.  Should Tory come out in favour of the airport’s expansion, which still remains to be seen, he’s going to need the federal and provincial governments, as well as the private sector, in order to mitigate some of the opposition.

Smart City Technology

Tory has pushed for Toronto to become a hub for research and development, and is a believer in the capacity of new technologies to transform the nature, efficiency and cost of public services.  His platform has promised technology-based solutions to fight gridlock, such as intelligent traffic signals and the doubling of open data sets each year for the next 10 years.  Expect this area to be one he champions early and often.