Live City Check-In—One-on-one with Toronto Mayor John Tory

In this candid conversation with Toronto Mayor John Tory, find out how his city is dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and what the short, medium and long-term impacts on the city could look like.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Vulnerable populations are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 

COVID-19 has exacerbated existing challenges, with racialized and marginalized populations disproportionately impacted. By taking measures to address the public health challenges faced by vulnerable populations, cities can develop new programs and systems that will benefit everyone 

2. Three urban challenges that we can’t go back on 

The pandemic has resulted in fundamental changes for the delivery of childcare, transportation, and support for local businessesWe cannot return to previous approaches to service provision. How do we continue to meet resident expectations and adapt these critical services in a postpandemic world? 

3. In order to make change, cities need more financial autonomy 

Robust municipal responses to the crisis require significant changes to municipal financeCities like Toronto need greater autonomy to generate needed revenues 

4. The pandemic has given Toronto permission to experiment 

During this time, there has been a boost in public confidence in local government and the public mandate to drive responsive changes to City supports and services. This has enabled the City to move through policy development and implementation far more rapidly than was possible in the past.  

5. We need to be prepared for the second wave  

The City of Toronto has taken a pragmatic approach to responding to the crisis, based on recommendations from the Medical Officer of Health. By learning from how we responded during this time, the City will be better able to mitigate future waves 

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line. 

Mary Rowe [00:00:32] Hi, everyone, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute, thank you for joining us for this week, the beginning of a fabulous week of CityTalks. And we’re very, very pleased to have the mayor of Toronto, John Tory, joining us to enlighten us on what Toronto has been dealing with and what his views are about the current challenges and what’s ahead. We originate these broadcasts as people are familiar in Toronto, which is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Annishnabek, Chippewa and Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. And it’s now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples from across Turtle Island. Toronto is also covered by Treaty 13, which was signed with Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams Treaties that were signed with multiple Annishnabek nations. And we have these conversations take place in the context of those historical legacies and others that have made cities more excluding and not as inclusive. And we can see, as I’ve suggested in the past COVID has been like a particle accelerator in cities around not just Canada but around the world, and challenging the preexisting conditions that we were already challenged by. And now we see them completely manifesting in a new way. And that’s a serious challenge for urbanists across this country and others about how we come to terms with that, with our own legacy and our own participation in those exclusive excluding practices. And how do we change? So this week is gonna be all about the that and the sessions that we have that follow this one. Mayor Tory we’re very, very pleased to have you. These these conversations have been going on now for seven weeks, I think. And we’ve talked with a few other mayors. And I just want to say, I think you’re one of the first to wear a tie. Thank you. And we are interested in having sort of a candid view with you about what you see as sort of the really critical challenges that Toronto has faced and is facing. And we have a chat function, people know, to direct their comments to all panelists. And everyone, please go ahead and put your questions up there for Mayor Tory. We’ll try to get them. We have limited time here. So put your questions up or try to get to as many as we can. So Mayor Tory, can you just start by describing for us and particularly, I guess what we’re most concerned about this week is the events of the last few weeks and how people have exercised their right to take to the streets and express their own struggles with what’s been happening and how it’s how the impacts of COVID, but also other practices disproportionately affect people of color. So can I open it to you just to give us a perspective, remembering that people across the country are tuning in. Thank you.

John Tory [00:03:01] Well, I think we have known and thank you very and thank you to the institure for having me on. I appreciate it very much. And I’m looking forward to our discussion today. I think that, you know, various studies done long before the pandemic told us something that we knew, which was that the challenge of what you can call it, what you want, marginalization, poverty. But that challenge, which we have taken on as a city, as have I know a number of other cities around the country, always had as a huge feature of it, the marginalization of people who were newcomers to Canada. This is in no particular order, newcomers to Canada, people from racialized communities and so on. There is a huge overlap. And so the pandemic has once again highlighted that. And the events of the last number of weeks have have added an additional, I guess, a layer onto it. And let me let me sort of take that apart. One of the things that I guess we saw from the beginning when the pandemic became what it is, was the paramount need on which we’ve spent probably the most time of anything we’ve done as a group that I’ve been managing the emergency, as have other cities, I’m sure, looking out for our most vulnerable populations. Where did a homeless person go after they had a test for the COVID and then tested positive or even when they were waiting for the results of the test? Where did they go to self isolate and be in a holding pattern if they didn’t have a home? I mean, and there’s a hundred other questions that flowed from that. So a lot of the time and the money that we spent have been on making sure that we answered those questions and had answers. And there’s been there’s been criticism of whether we did it fast enough or did enough or whatever. I will tell you, I’m unapologetically proud of the effort that this city has made. And I think Canadian cities generally have once again probably set a standard in terms of saying that we’re going to ask about those things, we’re going to act on those things, and we’re going to do something about them, not to perfection, but certainly to a very high standard. I think what’s now been added to that by the events of the last few weeks, I mean, one of the fundamental questions I always saw as confronting cities on the way out of the pandemic was how could you actually continue to look after some of those people that we found our way clear to look after in a different way and a more extensive way of, you know, various different things we did to be innovative and creative, whether it’s on food security or on or on housing or a series of other measures. How do you keep some of those things going? Because, of course, what we have learned is that some of these programs can actually work quite well. You can get huge community engagement. So it is an entirely government sort of mandated exercise. And it actually is addressing in a way that maybe some in some respects more effective than programs we had in place that had been years in the making from the government side, the. Whether the problem is food security are to do with homelessness or whatever. And now I think there’s been a greater urgency placed on that by the fact that something we always knew, which is that those problems, which are either a manifestation of or manifest themselves because of systemic racism and because of, you know, the marginalization of certain communities need to be always needed to be dealt with urgently, need to be dealt with marginally. Now, in another context as well, not just the context of the practicalities of looking after people. And Major, they’re fed and housed and have otherwise a better life experience in big cities, but also from the standpoint of it being the absolute in a relationship that exists between the social determinants of health and hunger and housing and so on. So I view that and I’ve answered every question before today when they said, what’s the biggest thing you’re going to have to do with post pandemic? It is how are you going to be able to continue as best one can to look after those populations in the post pandemic world? The second thing is I’m just gonna name three things. Second. I think there’s two very, very specific urban challenges that a number of cities on this, representatives on their will know, which is child care and transit because they fall particularly under our domain. I mean, child care, as I’ve often said, that child care and housing, I think are deliberately made to be made to be so complicated that nobody really understands who is responsible for them. Because if you just try to look at the byzantine world that we’re in financing, I can hardly make it out after six years. But the bottom line is that child care still needs to be provided it needs to be reopened. And it needs to be reopened under dramatically different bases than before because of the health questions. And the same with the transit. I mean, the transit cannot go back without some fundamental addressing of the health concerns to its old ridership. In our case, it’s 1.8 million people a day. When we get to 30 percent of that, we lose the ability to physically distance so obviously you have to do other things. And then the final one. The third one. So there’s no those two I name among many where you have to address the practicalities of going sort of back to some normal life, which will never be normal the way we used to know. But it’ll be normal in whatever normal means. The third one is finance. I mean, you know, now the fiasco that always was these cities that are the size and bigger than many provinces and many of the people who are live in cities that are on here are you know, it’s not hard to be bigger than the population of PEI, you know. And yet PEI is the province to do all kinds of things. It’s just it’s so ridiculous. And it is the bargain of 1867. That’s very nice. I learned about that in Canadian history, but it’s 2020. And here we are with the province of PEI, able to take more steps to finance itself and do different things to provide for the services that it has to provide than can the city of Toronto, the city of you know, of Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal. I could go on. And so it’s sitting in front of us now. And there’s two parts to that. One is the very short term urgent problem we face through no fault of the municipalities, just because of the pandemic and the need to come to some resolution with the other two governments as to what we’re going to do to help with that. And it’s been, I call it today in a news conference I said it was either dancing or jousting or fencing or I don’t know what it is, but whatever it is, it’s not coming to a deal and saying we’re going to help you. And then there’s the longer term question. Can we ever, I assume, without opening up the Constitution, because nobody really has an appetite for that. Can we ever come to any kind of a different arrangement that respects the maturity of these governments, their responsibility to deliver services pre post and during pandemic, and the need they have to have the money to do so and the latitude to do so in terms of their powers. So that’s what’s on my mind these days. And obviously the top one is the same one as it was during the pandemic as we try to emerge out of it, which is how do you make sure we can do a better job of addressing those vulnerable populations? And I think that will have a lot to do. Not everything. But it will have a lot to do with starting to address the issues. Because if you’re if you look and not try to oversimplify a very complicated issue that’s manifested with these protests. But I mean, it starts with the fact that people in the racialized and marginalized communities are in a much different position behind the eight ball on housing, on jobs, on school graduation, on food security, on mental health, on this and on that. And if you could start to address some of those, I think it will help you to address the overall problem. So I’ll stop there and we can move to questions or discussion or whatever you want.

Mary Rowe [00:09:45] You know, I think that there’s sort of two sides to the same coin. You’re on the one hand, you’re saying resource and empower cities to be able to have more control over their destiny, set their own revenue tools, have policies that work on the one hand. On the other hand. Can municipal governments actually take the steps that are necessary to correct the ways in which the city is not working for everyone? Do you feel that, because I think there are lots of people that will say, yes, we’ve known about these issues, but we haven’t for whatever set of interesting reasons we have, they become excuses to why we didn’t deal with them. Do you think that this could be the opportunity for you to exercise municipal leadership and say we are going to take these powers and do these things because it will be more equitable?

John Tory [00:10:32] Well, I will speak only for myself as one mayor, and I believe, but I would speak for the majority of our council who would say subject to review really important things. The answer that would be yes, not only because can they but should they? I mean, and I’ve watched now and I’m not I’m I’m not biased because I’m a mayor. I worked as you know, I worked in the provincial area of government, not as an elected official. I was the opposition leader, which is worse than not being there. But having said that, in terms of it being a job. But. But I’ve been there as a public servant and I’ve been worked federally and that the level of government that is most often called upon, no matter whose jurisdiction, it says it is in the BNA Act to actually deliver something, because for the obvious reason, because we’re close to where the people are, is the municipal government. So they should. So then what’s going to stand in the way, whether they can? And the two things I think are obvious. One is clear responsibility. And of course, with that goes accountability. But if you said to me, well, fine, I have clear responsibility for housing and subject to number two, which is going to be obvious in a second. I had the money. So either a money or they say, fine, we will give you the power to raise that money yourself and lower taxes somewhere else, or we will raise it through the means we have income tax, HST and so on, and give you necessary money to actually be responsible for housing and making a real difference. I would say the logical government that should do these things in terms of the doing of them. Would be municipal. And so therefore the answer becomes yes, we could, but we can’t do it without the money. There’s no way. And everybody on this broadcast knows with property taxes, you’re going to find the money necessary to build housing. Nor should we. Nor was it ever intended that be the case. And the same with all the other things I mentioned. Child care. Can we do it alone? No chance. Childcare or housing. Do we have any kind of clear responsibility for that? It is so mixed up. Yes, we have Toronto community housing. When it comes to affordable housing. Well, we kind of involved in the delivery, but not really involved. We put up some of the money, but not all that have to go begging other governments. One comes in and one goes out. So the federal government are back in the housing business. I think the province may stay in, but just as they were coming in, the province looked like a year and a half or two years ago it was going to go out when the government changed. So, it doesn’t work in terms of actually getting stuff done to scale. You know, people criticize me for saying that my goal was forty thousand affordable housing units over the next 10 years. You know what? I went in ask everybody, including people in the government starting there, but also in the private sector, how much could we do? And they all said, well, based on how things are set up at the moment, including the money. Forty, actually, they said thirty thousand. I boosted it to fourty. People said, why not 100? I said because I won’t name a number that’s not realistic. But under the current setup, it’s not realistic to say 100 as a city government. So it really is to your point. So the answer is we should, but I don’t think we can on the present setup.

Mary Rowe [00:13:04] I think that part of the dilemma, I think, for people who live in cities, as you suggested, is, I mean, you have trouble navigating who’s actually responsible for certain things. And you’re a mayor and you’ve been in the provincial legislature. So for regular folks walking around the street, we don’t know who to hold accountable when something isn’t functioning. So I think something as fundamental as systemic racism or the social determinants of health, obviously showing that key populations are having much poorer outcomes than anybody else. It obviously it has to be a collective effort. But could you imagine you as a mayor in your council taking some really bold steps? I mean, in terms of for instance how you allocate your budgets going forward, even as your budgets are shrinking. I appreciate that. Is that part of the value proposition you could make to the residents to say we’re gonna have an empowered Toronto and we are going to tackle these things and address them fundamentally in the way that the previous collaboration hasn’t been able to solve? Housing is a good example.

John Tory [00:13:59] That’s a huge question, Mary, and it’s very tied up in it’s not so much tied up in politics as it is just the reality of the people that we deal with. And, you know, this is where people will disagree with me and say, well, I have been they say I’ve been conservative. They call me a bunch of names in terms of not being willing to raise property taxes sensibly. Well, my reasoning behind that is that I think if you raise property taxes extensively, no matter what commentary you got about Toronto’s property taxes, you take the full tax load of living in Toronto. Believe you me, we’re well up into the middle of the pack, if not higher up if you take in land transfer taxes and everything else people pay here. But if you said to me, do I believe that through. So when you talk about bold steps in your budget, there’s only two fundamental places the money comes from property taxes or from other governments, essentially. And so if you said to me…

Mary Rowe [00:14:44] Those are the revenue lines, but what about your expense lines, can you can you signal how you prioritize your own expenditures, you can see there are lots of calls to rethink that with the police for instance.

John Tory [00:14:52] And you know what? If you said to me, do I think we can engage in some degree of reconsideration of who has what responsibility? So, for example, if you said mental health is one that I’m very fixated on. I’m fixated on it, aside from the issue of policing. But when you when I know that the Toronto Police Service has thirty thousand calls plus thirty two thousand per year of people in crisis. And if you said to me, do I think through a different mechanism, those people might be able to be better dealt with outside of the context of the police budget? Yes. Now, you have to answer the question, well, what happens when you have one of those people in crisis that are going to get dealt with with a team of mobile health nurses and so on, and they suddenly a gun is present or a knife is present or something like that. But I still think a great number of those calls could perhaps be dealt with by something else, in which case you could take that and say, OK, we’re going to handle that somewhat differently and maybe handle it outside of the domain of the police service that would allow you to say, well, the police don’t have that as part of their budget anymore and it’s going to go to some other budget, you know, that’s going to be independently or otherwise looked after. If you said to me right now, do I see obvious opportunities? Me being the mayor who kept the increase of the police budget to zero two years in a row for the first time in the city’s history, and actually has seen a reduction in the size of the police service during my watch, as opposed to this notion that we just are opening the floodgates and spending as much as we want. If you said to me, do I see obvious areas? Shall we cut community policing? Shall we cut the body worn cameras that are budgeted for this year that drove up our increase? Should we cut the new traffic enforcement people? The people cried out for that to protect pedestrians from crazy drivers. We brought it. We brought it in. And that has to be paid for. And so if you said to me, do I see some obvious way to sort of, you know, cut the police budget and just say, sure, 10 percent, no problem. I don’t mean it in the context of a safe community. Now, people could argue definitely that police officers are paid too much. That’s as a result of collective bargaining. Again, I think the record of this city during my time has been defensible in terms of the magnitude of those raises. You know, they mostly have a one in front of them and sometimes just at around a two mark, which is what lots of other people have been getting. I mean, out there, broadly speaking. So, look, I’m quite willing to undertake the exercise and to have that discussion about saying, all right, of the things the police do, maybe the discussion see, and this is what happens, I think, and this is me making a strictly personal political commentary, which I’m entitled to do. I got elected and I’m accountable for what I say. Right. I think we quickly polarize this thing to saying, let’s defund the police. Instead of saying, why don’t we have a really good, hard look at what the police have as their responsibilities today? Part of the modernization we’ve been undertaking in Toronto has done just that without going into the mental health. But we have sort of said, you know what? On the average, B and E where a police officer would go and spend hours of time taking records, which mostly are for the insurance company. We’re now saying let people do that online or why don’t we have a civilian go do that instead of a police officer. So there is an example that I could give many of where we’re bringing back automated speed enforcement, otherwise known as the dreaded photo radar, with the permission of the government that we’re a part of. And I’m very grateful for that. Why? So we can keep pedestrians safer and drivers, but also so that we don’t employ hard working and well-trained police officers sitting there with a radar gun pointing it at cars. Not a good use of their time. Am I willing to take a fundamental look at that within the context as well as some of these societal issues to do with, you know, trust in policing and who does what? Absolutely. But but it gets polarized immediately into you’re either for or against a cut of X percent of the police budget before anybody even thought about what the implications of that are.

Mary Rowe [00:18:17] Yeah, I mean, I you know, I think everybody let’s hope we’re hoping that through COVID we build up some collective sense of urban empathy about what what how complicated these challenges aren’t. But at the same time, we need some we need some Northstars about what are we trying to do? We want to come out of this stronger. We want to come out of it more equitable. And we want to come out of it I would hope more resilient. So can you talk a little bit about the challenge for the business community here in Toronto? This is the tax base for the province. It creates the wealth that it’s 20 percent of the GDP, I think, nationally. So talk to us about how you imagine what the needs would be for small business and also for the financial sector that is housed here. Have you got a sense? Have you got the crystal ball there, Mr. Mayor?

John Tory [00:18:58] Well, not no, I. No, of course not. But I would say to this, I think what business has has received from us at our level of government municipaly is all we could do, which was a modest deferral of some expenses and was only a deferral. They kept asking me, could you waive it? Could you make the deferral longer? And I said, no. Frankly, we’re a billion and a half in the hole as a city and we have no source at the moment for that money. So I’m already looking at the notion of having massive tax increases or massive service cuts, neither which I think are acceptable. So we could do a modest deferral for them. And then we did a whole lot of things, two other things that were meant to help them as best we could. One was a thing that was more small businesses to say we’re going to help as many of you get on online and establish like a real reach our presence, not just that Web site, but a real retail presence. We had a program called Shop Here, which was a great partnership with the academic sector and the private sector to actually establish for businesses free of charge using the expertize that we kind of got from here and there, a real store, like an online presence for a business that would allow them finally to both deal with their existing customer base when the store was closed. But more importantly, in a way, deal with the world online because they can sell their whatever their goods were or services online. And then the second thing we’ve really been making an aggressive effort to do under that theory of never let a good crisis go to waste is to get out of the way and modernize the way we do business. I must say for me, as someone who came from running a big company a number of years ago, it’s still probably like this is seven or eight years later. A generation ahead of city government in terms of how people deal with that city government. And that can’t be the case. And that’s especially true for business. We did some good work again with the government of which you were apart, just for an example, a restaurant we found in setting this together. The two governments. The Kathleen Wynne government and the one here. Forty four different permits that people had to get to open a restaurant with a liquor license, 44 different permits. And they all require going to different places, you know or going online, different websites. We managed to do an exercise that we could take that down, I think, to 17, all done online. But it was never implemented. So but but those are examples of, it’s a small one. But it’s very important to those businesses to have 17 things to do. God forbid it should be that high, but better than 44. And to do it all if you want at three o’clock in the morning in your basement, because that’s when you have time to apply for the license. So we’re doing that. And those are the things I think we can do besides delivery of vital service. We’ve got to get the transit right. You know, frankly, we have to get these other issues right to the vulnerable populations, because in the end, I argue all the time that if Toronto or other cities across Canada are going to be playing at full strength, then we have to take all the bright kids who are black and brown and newcomers and just sometimes not even, you know, sometimes white skinned as well, but living in marginalized communities and make sure that the promise presented by a universal system of education can be delivered upon. Because we need them. I mean, forgetting about what’s equitable and moral, which is that we need for them to have the Canadian dream available to them. We need them. So that’s another thing I think we have to do for business. And it goes back to that first part, which is the basics of housing, transit, child care and so on, food security, so that you can then have every person, child or adult available to be available to business when we’re you know, we were growing like crazy in Toronto when the pandemic hit. And so we were short of people. We needed immigrants to come into the country. We still do. So this will happen again very quickly. So I would say for business, that’s the best we can do because we don’t have the tools to do otherwise. We’re not in the business of dealing with their taxes or or any of those kinds of things that’s the other governments that have to do that.

Mary Rowe [00:22:18] I mean, we you know, at CUI, we’re working with some of your colleagues on something called Bring Back Main Street to try to make the point that we as consumers and people that are engaged in the local communities can actually vote with our feet and our purchasing power and strengthen our local neighborhoods and that there’s an opportunity here to, particularly if there are more people that will continue to work from home than you need your immediate neighborhood to have amenities that can service you during the day, not just in the evening. So I think you see opportunity, right.

John Tory [00:22:45] A big part of our push in the sort of as the pandemic hopefully comes to an end is going to be something a big campaign to say shop local and local. And that’s not just to get people to go patronize businesses that were struggling. It’s to try and establish this notion. We think about how desirable we think it is in downtown throw around. I’m sure it’s true in cities around the country that a lot of people can walk to work and do don’t even own a car, don’t have a driver’s license. 20 percent of the people live just to the south and they don’t even have a driver’s license. Right. That’s a desirable say. Yes. In many respects. And so if we can create that same feeling in neighborhoods where we have these main streets where they’ve struggled during the pandemic, obviously that’s a big plus for us in terms of the environment, in terms of transportation, in terms of just a thousand local business and the strength of local business, the cohesiveness of local neighborhoods. So we’re going to start off at the end of this by saying that. And that’s why we’ve also expanded the cycle network more rapidly than we otherwise would have to make sure that people could use a bike to get to some of those local businesses as opposed to. And it was also meant to provide an alternative to transit, which many people are anxious about riding on in the immediate post-pandemic period.

Mary Rowe [00:23:48] You know, I think that people around the country look to Toronto, they look around, you know, I lived in the U.S., as you know.

John Tory [00:23:53] Oh, Mary. Nobody likes to travel. They just like us immensely. But I consider myself to be one of the greatest single factors in national unity. Everybody doesn’t like Toronto. And so I’m personally as well. Every time I appear on television, people throw their shoes at the TV set.

Mary Rowe [00:24:06] Well, that’s perhaps “like” is the wrong word. But there is an appreciation, I would say, across the country that that Toronto there is a special obligation for it, certainly for the mayor of Toronto to be a voice of what urban reality in life is in Canadian cities. I live in the U.S. for 15 years, an Americans knew what’s going on in Toronto. So in terms of as you pull into the homestretch here, we’ve only got another five minutes with you here. But as you sort of imagine…

John Tory [00:24:31] Is that because of my time restriction or yours. I can take an extra five minutes. So you have ten.

Mary Rowe [00:24:39] Thank you. We’ll take it. So 10 days from now is COVID one hundred, and that will be one hundred days living recovered since the WHO declaration. We’ve put a countdown in our piece. We’re going to on that day. We’re going to go coast to coast with sessions like this in five time zones to get check ins. And we’re interested in how far we’ve come. And then what are the key signposts? What are the key things that need to be focused on the next 200 days after that? Which would take us to the end of September. So as you’re prioritizing, you suggested the three childcare and the equity principles that you outlined at the beginning and transit any and all of this hinges on you finding more money, right?

John Tory [00:25:19] Yes. Although I would say if you ask me for the three and then I mean, the finance is a crucial thing that’s going to go on forever, I am afraid to say. But the other thing that I would add if I was limited to three is I’d say figuring out a way to continue to support the vulnerable populations in a kind of an equitable, fair and humane manner. And obviously that money goes with that. Secondly is the successful, successful reopening of transit and child care and business especially small? I mean, the big businesses, you know, they have enough resources and people, they have departments for everything, including they probably have a reopening department. They didn’t know we had. They didn’t know they’d be close, but they probably had more. That’s fine. So they can look after themselves by and large and help us. And they’re going to help us with things like staggering the return to work. So the third one might surprise you. But I think it is crucial we not take our eye off the ball. And the people here will tell you that I’ve been asking questions about this for about a month now, which is I think we have to look to the possibility of another pandemic, another wave, another outbreak and so on. And we have to make sure that we’ve learned every single lesson we possibly can because, look, I think Canada and cities in Canada, from what I can tell have handled this fairly well, we certainly haven’t seen the chaotic and tragic loss of life we saw elsewhere. And there’s a variety of reasons for that. I think part of it’s the way we handled it, part of it was that we came later. So we learn. But I think we really owe it to ourselves. And it speaks to questions of long term care and of homeless populations and of PPE supply for mundane matters like that. But I think that’s the third thing I’ll be doing and pushing our people to do now. I’m already doing it to get plans and to get, I hate to say the word report, but to get a report, saying, OK, what happened in the PPE area and how do we make sure absolutely sure that knowing, as everybody says, there’s a second wave coming. For sure. Big or small, that we are not going to have that problem again. So that to me is the third thing that cities would be well advised to do, because I don’t think any of us we I think we had swine flu and I forget this and that over time. Sars going way back and there were reports written, but we hadn’t had something like this before and I’m not sure how ready, I think we were ready, but not as ready as, hindsight is always 2020. So that’s that’s the third thing that I would add in addition to the money, which is always there as a concern. You can’t do one, two and three without the money.

Mary Rowe [00:27:27] Yes. No. And I appreciate that. It’s a multi-sided of triangle. For people that are lamenting that this is so short. We appreciate that. All these conversations that we have on CityTalk are really supposed to be just the beginnings of conversations. You can continue at #CityTalk. And this is not the only time that CityTalk will talk about Toronto. There’ll be lots of follow ups, certainly.

John Tory [00:27:47] It’s what you say, behind my back that worries me, Mary. Not when I’m here and you say oh ya Toronto, everybody looks to Toronto, I’m going”ya?”.

Mary Rowe [00:27:51] Well I still feel that we’re still seeing that it’s a lot’s at stake. Mr. Mayor, in terms of how Toronto fares, so one of the ones where you you have experience and criticism is around the access to public space. And I think how you’ve been juggling the public health constraints that you felt were, you had to be observing with obviously, the need for people to feel they had access to public spaces. Any thoughts on that going forward, particularly as you anticipate maybe a second wave?

John Tory [00:28:18] Look, I’m the person that’s also criticized for sponsoring a project called Rail Deck Park, which creates a huge new park in the center of downtown Toronto, where it is the most park efficient area, open space divisionary in the entire city, because we allowed all these condos to be built with no backyards, obviously. So, you know, that’s just the cut and thrust of politics. I mean, I moved perhaps a little slower than the advocates would want on dealing with things like quiet streets and curb geo and setting aside more space for pedestrians and doing different things like that because of the fact that I was you know, what I did, to be frank, was entirely 100 percent consistent with the advice of the medical officer of health. You know what? With no disrespect at all to the advocates who we’re talking all about closing Yonge Street and whatnot, my job was to protect health first and foremost and protect and save lives. And so I abided by that advice. And the minute that advice changed, we started to open up streets. We started to make streets adjacent to park deficient areas or adjacent to parks that were crowded open or quiet. We’ve opened up the downtown city streets with thousands of people using them. I’m proud of them. I’ve talked about doing more. But I felt, and I make no apology for this, I’m accountable and if people don’t like my style, they’ll vote me out. But I believe, first of all, you have to maintain the public’s confidence in how you do these things and you can’t do them, because out of some playbook it said you should close young street. You should do what’s right and what’s appropriate and what’s needed. And secondly, I believe it was my responsibility to do what the medical officer of health was comfortable with at a given point in time. And that advice was consistent and then changed because circumstances changed. And when it changed, my approach changed. So have we been perfect about all this? Of course not. I’m a human being, but I, all the criticism, I mean, of all that stuff. I think it is it I think it stems, and I’ll be a broken record on this. I think it stems from people who choose to get their policy and their approach as opposed to me who is the ultimate pragmatist. And I admit that and I’m proud of that and I’m not unhappy about that. But as opposed to those who read this out of a book and say the book says you should close Yonge Street at this point in time because we just believe you should. And I’d say, well, why Yonge Street? I took pictures on Yonge Street when they were after me, criticizing me harshly for not closing street to car traffic. I took pictures with my own phone showing not a person walking on the sidewalk on Yonge Street and a handful of cars. Why would I have closed that street if the reason was to keep pedestrians safe and physically distanced? You know, why would I close that street when there were no people on the sidewalk and why weren’t they on the  sidewalk? Because our medical officer told them to stay home. And so when it came time we could do so, we opened streets up and we made arrangements for sidewalks to become wider by using the curb lane and all the kinds of things people are talking about. But it’s not in a playbook for me or in a Bible. It’s pragmatic decisions you make based on the best advice, advice available and the need to maintain public confidence in your decision making. And as I say, people don’t like the way I lead. I’m perfectly amenable to the notion that the next election, they should say, nice guy enjoyed having you there. Goodbye. And that’s what they do, as you well know.

Mary Rowe [00:31:08] Well I think I think part of this, too, is that we can only have so much of an expectation of municipal government. You know, we started a site called City Share Canada at the beginning of COVID because we knew that a lot of community responses were going to be incredibly important. We’d see innovation from communities, local communities on Facebook and businesses. And so, you know, lots of improvization is happening, people doing using their own back laneways, things that you actually perhaps don’t even have purview to. And I think it’s incumbent on all of us to try and figure out how do we together put in a kind of collective effort here. Right.

John Tory [00:31:39] Yeah, it might be a good final comment. I mean, there’s no question but that the pandemic has given us permission in terms of public confidence. It has given us an incentive. And that is well within the context of, and a mandate, within the context of the most recent events in the country related to anti-Black racism and so on, to do things that maybe would have been deemed too, you know, too rapid or too soon or too you know, I think we’ve been we’ve been allowed a much greater degree of latitude to experiment or to make a change that previously people have said oh I’m not sure about that. And so that’s what we’re doing. We’ve accelerated by several years our cycling plan, because I think people say, yeah, you know, the notion of having something alternate in place to the transit system, which we’re a bit worried about, you know, we should probably get on with that. And before you would have had a firestorm over that war on the car silliness and so on. So I think it’s given us permission. And now the question is it won’t last forever. And I think the question is, can we take advantage of that in different ways and including some of the very big issues we started with, the vulnerable populations. But I’ll I’ll conclude on this very, very, very last note, which is those things are not going to be done without money. And I think it has. It’s going to take a rare consensus of all three governments. And look, the feds in particular stepped up big time to provide the cushion for people, you know, during the pandemic. And I really give them credit for that. I think they’ve done a lot. The province has done some, but the feds have done a lot and properly so they’re the national government, they have tools to finance that. But I think we have to decide on the ongoing basis, the ongoing meaning post pandemic, if it ever comes to an end. How are we gonna do what we know we need to do and what we know actually can work with? If we had the money, which we have had during the pandemic, to continue to provide a better level of service and to address these issues in a more meaningful way, because I don’t mean to put it all down to money, but without money, you know. Yes, there’s will and yes, there’s attitude and there’s there’s there’s you know policies, but without money. Pretty tough to make those things work. So I think we have to come to a new bargain of some kind. And I think a lot of it does involve cities simply because we’re the delivery mechanism.

Mary Rowe [00:33:41] And 80 percent of Canadians live in cities. And as you say, their quality of life and their experience of being a Canadian is largely dependent on how they experience their life around them here in cities. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for joining us.  This week, folks, we have really fabulous City Talks to build on what Mayor Tory has just suggested. On Friday, we have more Nenshi coming into us from Calgary. On Thursday we’re doing a session on public space parks and equity in partnership with Park People. And then tomorrow, and we have a special session on specifically how how should urbanists be responding to anti-Black racism in terms of urban practices and conversations. And that is moderated by Jay Pitter, who is CUI’s Senior Fellow in Equity Placemaking. And she has panelists coming from Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, and in Vancouver. And these are very important conversations and we’re very appreciative of all of you on CityTalk tuning in.  We hope you’ll join us again tomorrow at noon, one o’clock on Thursday and noon on Friday. Mayor Tory, thank you very much for joining us. And we look forward tomorrow.

Mary Rowe [00:34:40] Thanks for having me. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject line.

12:01:27        From Abby S: Looking forward to today’s session.

12:02:19        From Canadian Urban Institute: Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:03:07        From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: John Tory, Mayor, Toronto, ON


12:03:42        From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

12:06:39        From Abby S: And how do we reallocate budgets?

12:06:47        From Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #citytalk @canurb

12:07:46        From Lee Jackson: How’s the city of Toronto helping small businesses, particularly restaurants?

12:09:19        From John Jung: The vulnerable include the aged, especially with underlying medical issues, but also people struggling with poverty, homelessness and unable to access affordable housing, a living wage and access to jobs, etc. Given such a major challenge, how is the city going to find resources to meet these challenges?

12:09:20        From Robert Godfrey: Yes @Abby S! Calls to defund the police can’t have escaped Mayor Tory. What social services is Toronto considering funding instead of police?

12:10:46        From Abby S: @robert exactly…how much can be redirected to community, to prevention vs enforcement

12:10:53        From Michael Roschlau to All panelists: How does the Mayor see the long-term funding of transit operations with the reality of reduced fare revenue? Can we expect (a) increased fares, (b )reduced service or (c) higher property taxes?

12:11:05        From Mariyan Boychev: Are bike lanes and green spaces going to be prioritized post COVID-19?

12:11:22        From Mariyan Boychev: by the City of Toronto

12:11:42        From Abby S: homelessness, substance abuse and mental health should not be “managed” by law enforcement. They are not crimes.

12:12:08        From Robert Godfrey: I think this graph is revealing. TO tax revenue allocation.

12:12:30        From John Jung: Mayor Tory – how closely are you working with the heads of each of the city departments getting the city’s staff’s perspectives on how they themselves are struggling within this COVID period and how they are going to help those that need their help within the greater community?

12:12:42        From Ramy Shath to All panelists: Covid-19 has affected alot of Torontorians in loosing their jobs, as well as New canadians and PR holders were already in struggle to find jobs in their field, are there any recommendations or advises from the mayor to these people that can help them get back into their professions and help the Canadian economy getting out of this crisis?

12:12:52        From Mariyan Boychev: Is the creation of affordable housing going to be prioritized by the City of Toronto?

12:13:07        From Abby S: Did the Mayor work towards funding change when he was in opposition? Is this a partisan issue or will no Premier ever take this on?

12:14:09        From Mark Richardson to All panelists: In last Saturday’s Globe & Mail article – “Toronto could build more affordable housing. Why won’t it?” – Councillor Bradford is quoted as saying – “I think it’s time to revisit some of the fundamental assumptions we’ve made in city planning over the past few decades, and get back to our core objectives (on affordable-housing)”…



What are the TOP-3 City Hall policies that Mayor Tory would chnage to help deliver new Affordable-Housing units at the Speed and Scale required to meet his 2030 targets..?

12:14:25        From Elizabeth Jassem, IDOME ID LTD to All panelists: Good Afternoon Mayor. We had a virtual meeting w you last week thanks to our Councilor Pasternak. We had absolutely more question addressed to you,. As President, Founder of YC SSC (York Centre Seniors Steering Committee) today, I would like to ask you how we can directly into City of Toronto Community Benefits Agreement – to whom we should connect to get good solid advice. We’re on our mission to create our own community envisioned EVERYONE’s Seniors Health Village (SHV™) at William Baker, Downsview. YC SSC works with Northcrest Developments and CLC from the beginnings of 2019. Please advice. Thx.

12:14:30        From Thea Karlavaris: One area in which Toronto should invest more funds and effort is cleanliness – regularly cleaning the streets, and keeping public washrooms open and properly maintained, especially in a health crisis such the current one.


12:14:31        From Abby S: @robert G that is quite the telling graph.

12:15:15        From Mark Richardson to All panelists: LINK to that Globe article –

12:16:06        From Elizabeth Jassem, IDOME ID LTD to All panelists: We plan to have affordable housing designated to senior artists. Our Village is planned as multi-generational and totally inclusive.

12:16:07        From Abby S: Thank you Mary

12:16:36        From Elizabeth Jassem, IDOME ID LTD to All panelists: May – you re the best! thanks.

12:16:51        From Abby S: You have joint teams…you include others as part of the response

12:17:01        From Mariyan Boychev: Is the funding of transit going to be expanded instead of increasing fares for people in the City of Toronto?

12:17:01        From Brian Owen: Not so fun fact: The City of New York’s NYPD budget is $6,000,000,000′ yes billion with a ‘b’!

12:17:10        From Canadian Urban Institute: Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:17:25        From Astra Burka: From Astra B, What is the NEW vision for the new normal? Amsterdam is using the donut economy as a way of reinventing itself? Would it not make sense to create a new script for Toronto? We should change name of the Toronto office of Recovery and Rebuild to the Toronto Office of Future Imagination and get creative thinkers in the formula.

12:22:48        From John Jung: Given this COVID period and the huge events of the past couple of weeks, we have a great opportunity to reimagine ourselves as a society and the physical realm and related infrastructure. This will require a huge effort to engage the citizens of Toronto both virtually now and collectively post-Covid. Are there plans for this type of new engagement process? We can’t do it in the streets like we are seeing everywhere in the past few weeks.

12:23:20        From Michael Polanyi: Mayor Tory recently signed the C40 Cities Recovery Principles thereby committing to “do everything in the power of our city to ensure that the recovery from COVID-19 is healthy, equitable and sustainable.” How will Mayor Tory ensure that Toronto’s recovery is not a return to normal, but moves the city forward in addressing inequality and the climate crisis?

12:24:05        From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

12:24:44        From Michael Polanyi: Link to C40 Cities Recovery Principles:

12:26:07        From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short survey –

12:26:29        From Abby S: And Finance

12:26:34        From John Jung: This is a good meeting, but I see it’s only 30 minutes. Too short. Maybe organize a gathering of Toronto activists, planners, etc with Mayor Tory to begin to reimaging the city in real time.

12:26:53        From Francis Wallace to All panelists: I thought this was going to be an hour – not 30 min’s?

12:26:57        From Ramy Shath to All panelists: Mr. Mayor mentioning the need of new immigrants to come in as we need them, can we think about the newcommers who are already here and still not able to have a job yet, how can we improve the empolyability of these professionals living already here in Canada

12:27:28        From J. Scott: Better transit will help limit Covid transmission. We need the provincial government to step up with funding! So short sighted they haven’t grasped this fact.

12:27:35        From Elizabeth Jassem, IDOME ID LTD to All panelists: Great meeting but too short.

12:28:01        From Abby S: I’m not so sure that Toronto has handled it as well as it could. We are still not seeing rapid declines in cases, whereas others are.

12:28:15        From Canadian Urban Institute: Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:28:18        From Abby S: The testing is still not being followed effectively by contact tracing. This is part Provincial too of course

12:29:52        From J. Scott: Love the parks! Let’s have another one at the waterfront!

12:30:19        From Alan Kan: It’s been about two weeks since the massive gathering at Trinity Bellwoods. We have not heard of a spike or second wave of COVID in Toronto. Does that indicate that the concern was overexaggerated

12:30:50        From J. Scott: Maybe these people were just healthy?

12:31:14        From Abby S: @Alan we have also not seen a decline. I believe that the postal code graph showed an increase in the areas close to Trinity Bellwoods…but not necessarily hospitalization…but indeed, there was a spike and we have not reduced cases yet.

12:31:37        From Abby S: 2/3 of total Canadian cases continue to be in Ontario/Quebec, with the majority in Toronto

12:32:28        From Susan Chin: thank you for using your own observation and listening tonm and your leadership

12:32:46        From Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #citytalk @canurb

12:33:05        From Susan Chin: oops to listening to medical officers

12:33:36        From Jason Syvixay to All panelists: COVID has challenged cities to think creatively about the public realm; how can that pivot-pilot-test-it mentality be applied to city governance?

12:33:49        From John Jung: Cycling Plan advanced via COVID. Silver lining

12:34:04        From J. Scott: Yes, I’ve also appreciated more oversight than less.

12:34:43        From J. Scott: Once again, provincial government needs to step up!

12:34:48        From Nabeel Kaukab to All panelists: thank you for this

12:35:18        From John Jung: Thanks Mayor Tory and Mary. Great conversation.

12:35:35        From Amy Calder: thank you for your time and reflections!

12:35:48        From Ramy Shath to All panelists: thanks for your time Mayor tory, and CUI for this opportunity

12:35:48        From Mariyan Boychev: Thank you very much