https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2022/10/25/housing-transit-policing-among-the-problems-new-toronto-city-council-faces.html

The winners of Monday’s municipal election won’t have long to savour their victory.

Council’s next term begins in November, and the mayor and 25 newly elected councillors will have to quickly come to grips with a host of problems, ranging from climate change to traffic congestion, to balancing a $15-billion operating budget.

Here are the highlights of what are likely to be some of their toughest challenges over the next four years.

Balancing the 2023 budget

The city’s 2023 operating budget is expected to have a shortfall of $1.3-$1.7 billion, as the impact of COVID-19 continues to reverberate through the system, impacting corporate revenues and costs related to transit, public health and shelter services. Inflation and growth alone will add $310 million in costs in 2023. Councillors will be under pressure to provide more and better services in the city, after years of austerity budgeting eroded programs and infrastructure.

Housing

Council will have to contend with a housing crisis that is squeezing Torontonians from all sides: rents and home prices have soared, people are being turned away from shelters that are at capacity, public housing is crumbling, and new development projects that could relieve the pressure face fierce opposition from local residents.

Council has adopted a plan that includes creating 40,000 new affordable rental homes over the next decade, but it’s not fully funded. There will be increasing pressure in the coming term for council to take more aggressive action through measures like amending zoning restrictions that prevent multi-family buildings throughout most of the city, and speeding up the development approval process.

Climate change

In December 2021, council passed an ambitious plan to bring the city to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. If TransformTO is ever to be anything more than words on paper, this new council will have to figure out ways to help fund the work that needs to be done, including retrofitting 24,000 single-family homes a year, 70 highrises, 1,800 low-rises and 342 multi-unit residential buildings. It may be more difficult to implement the plan without the guidance of council’s leading environmental activist — former councillor Mike Layton (Ward 11 University-Rosedale) — who drove many important environmental initiatives during his three terms in office, including low-interest city loans to help homeowners invest in retrofits.

Transportation

TTC ridership has taken a huge hit during the pandemic, and passenger levels are still only about 65 to 70 per cent of pre-COVID-19 levels. That’s a big problem for the transit agency, which traditionally relies on fare revenue to make up about two-thirds of its more than $2-billion operating budget. Council will have to find ways to draw more customers back to the system, or face tough decisions about how to fund the system without making historic cuts to service.

The city’s transit network is expected to grow in the coming years, as the province builds its $28.5-billion subway plan, but construction for the Ontario Line will cause traffic disruptions downtown for at least seven years. That will only worsen Toronto’s congestion problem, which has returned with a vengeance after the streets emptied out early in the pandemic. Meanwhile, major city-led transit lines that could help with the problem, like the Waterfront and Eglinton East LRT, remain unfunded.

Strong mayor powers

In September, the province passed a bill giving the next mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the power to veto bylaws that conflict with provincial priorities. Council can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote. The new law also gives mayors responsibility for preparing and tabling their city’s budget, instead of council, and power over certain city appointments. How these powers are wielded by mayors will depend to a large extent on the mayors themselves. For his part, John Tory says he has spent his career, in business, in law, and two terms as mayor, managing by consensus, and he doesn’t see that changing. He told the Star’s editorial board that the exception would be if council makes a decision that would block an affordable housing or transit project.

Road safety

Six years ago councillors adopted a goal of eliminating serious and fatal traffic collisions. While the number of deadly crashes fell with the onset of COVID-19, more than 40 people have been killed on Toronto’s streets so far this year, according to police data.

Toronto has made progress on its Vision Zero road safety plan, including reducing speed limits on more than 500 km of roadways and deploying automatic speed cameras, but it is still working through plans to make the physical changes to streets that advocates say will be most effective in reducing serious collisions.

Crime and policing

Crime rates appear to be returning to pre-pandemic levels, demanding a response from city leaders. But with many Torontonians expressing a lack of trust in the police, council will continue to face calls to rein in the force’s $1.2-billion budget and reallocate funding to community supports that could help reduce crime. Council will be tasked with monitoring the effectiveness of recent reforms like the introduction of mental health response teams, and the expansion of the community policing initiative.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF