The Politics of a New Era

Community News & Features Jan 10, 2014 at 7:22 pm
Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly

Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly

INTERVIEW WITH NORM KELLY, TORONTO DEPUTY MAYOR

An exclusive interview by Thomas S. Saras

Thank you for your time. I know that it is busy time for you and I thank you very much for taking time to speck with me. I consider this as a special honour for the members of my organization

Q: This year was one of the most difficult years for this great city and the residents and people of Toronto, they got mixed feelings some of them good, some of them bad. And of course, in politics you expect few things, but you do not expect whatever happened in this case. Sir, allow me please to ask – you are in the seat of the Deputy Mayor, in fact you are the Mayor, exercising most of the powers of the mayor and I want to know what should we expect for the upcoming year.

A:
Well, first thing what I will try to do after having these powers vested on this office was to try and calm things down and introduce short of a sensitive stability. I think that this, by large, has been successfully accomplished. Things are a lot quieter on the second floor today than they were a month ago. And I want to try to sustain that this will contue into the New Year. Due to the fact we all know next year is elections year and sometimes people seeking attention, can do powerful things or make noises to attract attention which otherwise not made. So, I am hoping that we can regain the respect of Torontonians. Respect that we lost over the last six or seven months. And, so, keeping, just doing the business of the city at reasonable, maybe even boring, sort of way. This is got to be very important to the members of the council.

Q: Sir, you are a very experienced politician. You have been involved in the provincial politics and then, of course, for a lifetime within the city of Toronto. And I know that you are very concerned. How is your relation with the office next to yours?

A: Mayor Ford is continuing to do what he did in the previous three years. More than any of his predecessors, he paid attention to the personal phone calls that he is receiving. Someone would call his number and tell the Mayor that he or she or their family had a problem and they ask him if he could help to solve it. And he would go out, and visit the family and really make some sincere efforts to solve it. So, he attempted in the past, to spend enormous time outside of the City Hall looking after those individual issues. I am spending most of my time inside the City Hall, working with the staff, with our good staff, making sure that we are keeping on top of, you know, the policies and initiatives here at City Hall, and consulting with Counsillors, and directing the staff. This is an ongoing conversation with people. We talk to thousands of people every day, and yet there are people out there who want to meet the Deputy Mayor and want to come here, to the office. They got problems of a larger concern rather than, you know, individual. Their issues are more city wide or they have got initiatives that are city wide and they want to bring them to our attention. Then you’ve got the media. It is incredible the attention the media gives to this office, and because of it, the situation is so unique. So, it is very busy, around here and it is also City Hall oriented. So here I am, focused on the City Hall, while the mayor tends to be focused on personal issues outside of City Hall. This way our paths do not cross.

Q: Tell me something. With all the attention City Hall received from all over the world, believe it or not, I am talking with every part of the world, especially, with Europe. And I remember in one of my conversations few weeks earlier, as I called a collegue, the first thing he asked me was, “How is your Mayor?” and I said “What do you mean how is our mayor? He is fine.” He said “Well, he is very famous mayor.” And I was astonished from the fact that, the news reached Italy, and Portugal, and Spain. How do you feel of your position being in a seat which covers someone else, who eventually creates negative picture for Toronto?

A: Do you remember when people first began talking about Toronto as a world class city? I do not know, two decades or three decades ago? And we were accurate with that. You know, we were too sure that we were world class and if anyone asked people “do you think we are the world class?” to visitors or other people, we heard yes. But over time as this city grew and became more diverse and more sophisticated, more cosmopolitan, I think we became more complicated and we reached that point. You know what? We are world class, we are elite city and I think Torontonians began to post about the city, they are not afraid to tell people “ I am from Toronto” and to tell others around the world just how great our life is here. And so here we are, for the first time, just bursting with pride, and suddenly boom! – All this negative publicity. And I think that, really, irritates a lot of people.

Q:
I remember back in the 80s – 85 or 86- that period of time, you were in the provincial politics, it was the old mayor of Toronto David Crombie, he was Minister, at that time, of Canadian Heritage, and I remember Toronto in a number of years was the world’s first class city. The top city of the world. Of course now we are sliding, we are going little bit down and down, but I was wondering is there anything we can do to bring our working, our living conditions back to where we were before?

A: Certainly yes, but it is worth of a lot of money. In reality more money than city of Toronto can provide on itself. The challenge depends on a combination on spending for the extension transit and renew and extend the infrastructure. To meet those challenges is going to take billions and billions of dollars. While in China, India, a lot of countries that have emerging cities, their national governments are pouring tones of money in them. Have you ever been to China?

Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly speaks to the media as Mayor Rob Ford stands in the background at a news conference Dec. 22, 2013.  PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly speaks to the media as Mayor Rob Ford stands in the background at a news conference Dec. 22, 2013. PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Q: Yes.

A: Well, you’ve seen with your own eyes that these cities just blossoming. That is because they have a national government that delivers payments, supports them enthusiastically and providing money to them. When my wife and I get over there every, maybe every three years, and we were driving in from the airport in Shanghai, and all of a sudden I heard “whistling sound” and it was a “whistling sound”. I turned around “What the hell was that?” I asked myself. Do you know what it was? The high-speed train going from the airport to the city, it goes 300 km per hour. Imagine the amount of money that the government of China put into this project. And how long will it take us to come up with enough money to place a line from the Union station to Pearson?

Q: Sir, I remember 40 years ago Toronto, how easy it was for someone to drive his car on the streets of the City. Contrary to this today our streets are getting crowded and complicated and traffic is getting problematic. And as you said before, the infrastructure is getting very old, and no new routes, or roads to be designed for future needs.

A: We need subways. Subways, in Madrid I saw a modern vehicular transit system where all the lights are in such harmony. They got counters of the roads and if it very busy one street, the green light stays on longer and so they can manipulate the traffic. We can’t, we do not do that, as we do not have enough money. We are going to start addressing that, you know, we are going to create smart roads or smart vehicular system, but we are going to do it incrementally, you know, a bit at a time. But they do not do that in another emerging countries, they put it in. But to do that you need a federal and provincial governments to sit down with us and work out what I call a “fair deal for Toronto”. And to say to them “Listen, I do not want to invest this money in Toronto, but, Premier, that is in your best interest, it is to the best interest of the province to have a healthy vibrant Toronto, and the same for the Prime Minister – for Canada. It is in your best interest to have healthy and vibrant Toronto. And the only way is for the three of us can guarantee that we will have that type of city is by putting a sustainable source of money out there. That will allow this city to plan things out alone, without asking the other two warders for any consent to get on with the job.

Q: Tell me something, this is Toronto, the most diverse city, new immigrants are coming and most of them need the support of the city and or of the Province. Toronto has a number of units of apartment buildings for low income citizens. To some extent, we try to help them by providing with cheap rental houses. But these buildings are in a very bad shape.

A: Yes, they are in a terrible shape.

Q: Is there any plan for the next 5 or 10 years or even for the next twenty years for improvements?

A: There is no plan beyond asking the federal government for more money. What was proposed, was a sale of single family homes, Toronto housing homes that were valued on average at about a million bucks. And if we had been able to sell those houses we would have then a huge part of land that we could invest in the balance of the social housing, townhouses, apartment buildings, that would have gone a long way to putting them in a state of good repair. But councilors voted it down, they said – no, they sold only a small portion. The other way of addressing housing is to take exact table to representing a social housing complex that has maybe two thousand people living in it. You demolish all the houses and in half of the property you put market rent houses and you use the profit from that to rebuild, you know, state of the art, social housing for people. But that is a slow and very expensive process. We did that for Regent Park and we are looking now to do that in Lawrence Heights. It is slow. And does not even make a dent in a problem.

Q: Whatever, from my knowledge, I have seen that the immigrants are getting a place in these buildings. Most of the times with small kids and five years later those kids are lost because of the association they are doing with other kids from the area. Eventually they lost and the City and the Province are the one who is losing the most. This is a very serious human problem.

A:
Yes, it is.

Q: And it is a social problem Sir, and to some extent I would appreciate if you take a look at this. I know that you are a man who always thought of the city and you understand the problems. But with diversity today, Toronto has almost 51% of the people new immigrants, diverse population and so on. And very little has been done to this extent to serve the new immigrants. This is you know, a very dangerous policy. Eventually, I believe that we are going to be like Madrid or any other city in Europe if we do not pay attention.

A: What we’ve really done is try our best. The major challenges are: gridlock transit, infrastructure, housing, and if we put together the amount of money you have to invest, the city just simply does not have that money to do that. This is the reason why we need the help of the other government to come to the table and sit down in discussions with us. You know nine billion dollars worth of taxes leave Toronto and go to Ottawa. It would be nice if they left behind a billion. Just think of what we could do with a billion dollars a year and that is what I mean under sustainable revenue sources, the other orders of government have to say: “we are going to give you half a point off the sales tax” from whatever we collect. I do not know, thirteen percent, we will give you a half a percentage point. So we will take 12.5% and you take 0.5%, from income tax, we will give you back five cents of the dollar, this is guaranty, whatever we collect – that is your share. So, we would know, the sales tax, income tax, some of the other taxes as well. This way that we do not have to go to other Canadian government, ad hoc time to time, basically begging them to give us some money for this project or that project. Just give us that source of money and we will create a master plan and we will use that money by our own to solve this problems particularly – housing, transit, infrastructure. But till you do that, really talking about the problem rather than solving them.