If you’re outside of the Toronto area – or you don’t follow municipal politics – then it’s likely you have not heard of 2014 mayoral candidate David Soknacki, who hasn’t been profiled by Jimmy Kimmel, CNN or other global news outlets for his lack of notorious lifestyle, unlike the incumbent chief magistrate.
Toronto politics has been dominated by Mayor Rob Ford since he was first elected four years ago. Ford has been marred in controversy from his controversial statements to his various political stances, from his drug abuse to his alcohol problems. His supporters say the ladder is his personal life and has nothing to do with his political life, while his detractors say it’s distracting from public policy and is embarrassing the largest Canadian city.
What does Soknacki think? Well, let’s just say that he has never used crack-cocaine and his campaign is focusing on public policy matters that will hopefully move Toronto forward instead of being engulfed in scandals that are hurting the image of the city.
Rather than being the epicentre of police investigations and a media barrage, city hall can instead be a major element to the local economy. Soknacki, a former budget chief during the reign of Mayor David Miller, believes the municipal government can be the “facilitator or coordinator in the city’s economy.”
According to Soknacki, there are various things that the city can do to accomplish this:
- Make it easier and simpler to obtain a business license online
- Permit new businesses to defer fees to make it easier to get launched
- Implement open data rules and establish an “Innov8TO” competition to produce jobs
- Gradually lower tax rates after 2015 to make the city competitive
Right now, Toronto maintains a city debt of nearly $4 billion. When asked if this is an acceptable level of debt, Soknacki averred that city council and public officials need to ensure the debt load “is workable.”
“I initiated and council passed long term fiscal plan to make sure that debt load allows the continuous investment in our infrastructure without interest charges being overwhelming,” stated Soknacki.
The latest polls suggest that at this stage of the mayoral race, former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory and former New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Olivia Chow are in the lead and potentially face a one-on-one race in October. Both campaigns have introduced “smart investments” in relation to public transit, social issues and infrastructure.
Soknacki said the issues that his campaign has also proposed, and will propose in the future, have been smart investments, too.
“We have announced the investment in the LRT, which is fully funded by the province, we have announced some modest hiring paid for by mayor’s budget, reforms of LTT paid for by foregone revenues, investment in governance, which comes at no cost, and my innov8TO policy comes at no cost as well, and would provide enhancements to the city’s productivity,” explained Soknacki.
In the last campaign, and even throughout his tenure, Ford has lambasted the “gravy train” and regularly argued that there are still efficiencies needing to be made and that wasteful spending is still prevalent across the city. When asked if there was still gravy to be found at city hall, Soknacki said that he would “leave the definition of gravy to others.”
Instead of debating the merits of “gravy,” he would begin assessing the largest budgetary item: emergency and police services.
“Our police and emergency services budget have not been reviewed in an entire generation,” added Soknacki. “I propose a complete mandate review to determine how effective services are and from there we can work on efficiencies.”
Although he is seeking to succeed Ford, Soknacki believes there have been some good measures installed by the mayor, such as contracting out garbage because it offers good service and saves the taxpayers money. However, Soknacki does question if it is a feasible move to expand contracting out garbage because it might incite “problems for the city and I don’t believe it will provide long-term savings.”
Since 2011, there has been talk of upgrading the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to the provincial government. Soknacki would go step a further and assess the possibility of allocating the responsibility and funding of things like the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway, welfare services, courts and social housing.
In the meantime, the TTC remains to be a crucial issue for a majority of Torontonians. Aside from scrapping the contentious Scarborough subway extension, which has now imposed a tax hike for many years to come and potentially serve fewer people, Soknacki wants to invest in the transit infrastructure and possibly promote “dedicated provincial taxes to fund these plans.”
“The plan is key: every time we abandon an existing rapid transit design with an existing environmental assessment the plan for political reasons, we add years worth of delays to transit modernization,” posited Soknacki. “We can also make better use of infrastructure that is already in place more efficiently. This means using buses in our hydro corridors, using GO lines more effectively, and including express bus routes where appropriate. We can even be increasing the capacity of our roads through the use of smart traffic lights.”
From now until September, Toronto will be preparing for the annual Gay Pride Parade, the Caribbean Carnival (formerly known as Caribana) and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). There have been many calls to decrease funding for these events because now they are so enormous that they can finance their own operations rather than being subsidized by a cash-strapped taxpayer base.
Rather than completely cutting funding for these immensely successful events, Soknacki would consider allocating funds from these kinds of events to other community-based projects, festivals and celebrations that lack the necessary funding to open each year.
In the end, Soknacki, a former businessman who is dedicated to policy than media publicity, would work with anyone who is elected in order to put Toronto back on track and to end the media circus.
The polls show that Soknacki has only single-digit support – former TTC Chair Karen Stintz also remains with single-digit support – so it will be an uphill battle for Soknacki to garner supporters and the votes to defeat the likes of Ford, Chow and Tory come October.
It may be time for Soknacki to do more than talk public policy.