Ontario Premier Doug Ford touted the collaborative relationship with his “mentor” Toronto Mayor John Tory as an asset when tackling the challenges facing the province in the first meeting between the two since June’s election.
Following a Monday meeting, Mr. Ford said the pair discussed key issues facing the province, including a recent rash of gun violence in Ontario’s largest city and a shortage of housing.
It’s a shift from the beginning of Mr. Ford’s first term in 2018, where the two political leaders clashed over several issues, notably the Premier’s move to slash the size of Toronto city council months before an election. The two were also political opponents in the 2014 mayoral race, which saw Mr. Tory elected to his first term in office.
But on Monday, Mr. Ford only had pleasant things to say about his government’s relationship with the Toronto mayor, pointing to a strong partnership between the two during the pandemic.
“When we work together, on the municipal side and provincial and federal, we get great things done,” Mr. Ford said. “If there’s a tough question, I’ll pick up the phone and call Mayor Tory. He has a lot of experience and I just appreciate his leadership.”
Mr. Tory, who will be seeking a third term as mayor in October, said he is hopeful the current “stable” political climate will allow all three levels of government to work together to overcome obstacles, including the financial burden of the pandemic on municipalities.
With an agreement in place at the federal level to keep the Liberal government in power until 2025 and a Progressive Conservative majority at the provincial level until 2026, Mr. Tory said the time is right to grow on the partnership between the three parties that was created during the pandemic. Toronto is still facing budget shortfalls as a result of reduced revenues and Mr. Tory said economic recovery in the city will be a key driver for the rest of the country.
Toronto’s 2022 budget approved by council in February had a $1.4-billion shortfall due to COVID-19 expenses and included a 4.4 per cent property-tax increase.
“I think that we are at a key moment in history,” he said. “Strong, stable provincial and federal governments working with the city can allow us both to overcome some of the challenges we face but also take advantage of the great opportunity that I think Toronto has today.”
A recent rash of gun violence in Toronto was also the subject of conversation, with the duo both calling for stronger penalties for gun crimes to clamp down on repeat offenders.
Mr. Tory said that job would be up to the judicial systems in senior levels of government to implement longer sentences and change bail conditions.
“People are getting out on bail over and over and over again when they’re charged with firearms offences and that simply has to be changed,” he said.
Although a specific plan to address crime wasn’t presented, Mr. Tory said both levels of government have recently focused on ramping up neighbourhood policing and providing community supports for youth in an effort to address the root causes. Across Ontario, the government spent $187-million last term to combat gun and gang violence.
On June 16, the Toronto Police Service released data showing police officers routinely used more force on Black residents than other racial groups, reaffirming several years of reports from the Ontario Human Rights Commission highlighting systemic racism within the force. The data produced an apology from interim Toronto Police Chief James Ramer and renewed calls for changes to the police force, including a reduction in funding.
Fresh off the swearing in of his 30-member cabinet on Friday, Mr. Ford didn’t provide a timeline for when the legislature will reconvene for a summer session, but said it would be “very shortly.” The Premier is expected to meet with his new cabinet and caucus before returning the house to reintroduce and debate the 2022-23 budget which the government tabled last term but didn’t pass.
Mr. Ford said the top priority for his government will be to pass the budget that will look largely like the one introduced in April except for a 5 per cent increase to Ontario Disability Support Program rates promised during the election campaign.
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