Ahead of the Ontario provincial elections on June 7, The Varsity sat down with the MPP candidates for UTSG’s riding, University—Rosedale. In the first part of this series, The Varsity spoke with Tim Grant, the candidate for the Green Party of Ontario. Grant discussed important topics affecting students, including transportation, affordable housing, and mental health services.
Grant supports his party’s platform to toll the Don Valley Parkway (DVP) and the Gardiner Expressway, implement a guaranteed annual income, and establish a Deputy Minister for mental health to coordinate all 14 provincial agencies providing mental health services.
Grant ended by addressing why students should vote Green, despite the unlikelihood of the party forming a government. According to him, casting a ballot for the Green Party sends a message to other parties that these are the issues you care about. He points toward the per-vote subsidy as an incentive to vote for the party that “supports your values,” instead of voting strategically.
The Varsity: Let’s start with a conversation about your involvement in politics. Please introduce yourself.
Tim Grant: I’ve been in the neighbourhood for a long time. I was a U of T graduate from [the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education], and taught for some years. I’ve been the chair of the most active residents’ association in the city, just on the other side of Spadina [Avenue], for many years. And I’ve been the candidate twice in the old riding, called Trinity—Spadina. So I’ve been involved in political advocacy, especially environmental issues over the years, with social justice issues too. And international development has always been a big focus.
TV: What has been your involvement in the Green Party?
TG: When I started shifting from the [New Democratic Party] to the Greens about 10 years ago, I realized the Greens had a much stronger anti-poverty platform, and that’s actually what caught my attention. But I’ve also always had an interest in transportation, so I was relatively quickly asked to be the Transport Critic, and I’ve served in that role for about six or seven years now.
TV: The Green Party would like to toll the DVP and the Gardiner. How do you see that helping the TTC?
TG: The important thing is that the Toronto City Council voted for road tolls on the DVP and the Gardiner. These were two highways that Mike Harris, [a former Ontario premier], had downloaded onto Toronto 20 years ago. We’ve been paying $100 million a year — more than any other city has to pay for provincial highways. The relatively modest tolls that Toronto is looking at would’ve raised $350 million for the TTC. I felt that, as Transport Critic, road tolls work. They reduce traffic congestion. Generally, better transit is funded in those areas where you have tolls. Then 20–30 per cent of drivers will switch, because they didn’t want to drive anyway. They would get to take better transit. Eventually, we’ll all breathe cleaner air. But it’s a small example for us on finding new sources of revenue.
TV: Students at U of T are heavily influenced by transit, as we have a large commuter population. As transportation critic, and as the candidate in our riding, what do you think is good reform of the transit system overall?
TG: Toronto has great transit. The problem is that people outside of downtown don’t have great transit. We have to have an adult conversation with the other parties about pricing, and restricting car use, especially in transit corridors. But that’s a conversation that the other parties unfortunately aren’t interested in. You won’t see anything in their platforms about traffic congestion, and yet most people take buses and streetcars, not subways. And they’re stuck in traffic because of all the single occupancy cars clogging the roads.
TV: How do you think government can reconcile the divide between the transit needs of people inside and outside of the downtown core?
TG: We are opposed to the one stop Scarborough subway. We think that two [light rail] lines would have been better. It is an injustice to the people of Scarborough to have Rob Ford, the former mayor, and Kathleen Wynne railroad this through. Transit funding has been a political football. And when you have Doug Ford saying “Subway! Subway! Subway!”, it doesn’t make any sense. You have to have a downtown level of density for subways to work, you have to build up transit use. You don’t go from zero to a hundred in one breath.
TV: Let’s dive into the affordable housing crisis. As students in the downtown area, we especially feel the heat. Rent has increased rapidly. How would you address this?
TG: We’ve argued that 20 per cent of all new units have to be affordable, and available for people with special needs. The 20 per cent is important because it would bring 30,000 new units every year. The question is who is going to pay? Is it going to be Toronto community housing, is it going to be co-op housing? We think it’s time to have the rich and poor in the same elevators. Let’s not build public housing for the poor over here and warehouse them in substandard building, which is what we generally do. Let’s in fact have mixed communities. We advocate for people to have break up houses, and basement apartments.
TV: What I understand about affordable housing is that it’s available for people of certain income levels. As students, would we benefit?
TG: In downtown communities, we have a mix of needs. Students make up one group. We advocate that development represents communities. If you’re going to build student housing, you should have grad housing too. Part of our conditions are insisting that new developments have an affordable component. But, more importantly, we, both federally and provincially, have been advocating for a guaranteed minimum income… This is especially important for young people who face precarious job markets. Without guaranteed annual income people don’t have the supports needed to go to school, or to start a business. We think its critical to provide social stability.
TV: Your conservative opponents might say that guaranteed annual income is not feasible, or that it does not align with the economic prospects of the province.
TG: The irony is, that both left and right economists have been saying that this would replace 80 per cent of federal and provincial social assistance. Most economists say it’s probably not going to cost any more. You don’t want to force people onto social assistance. Guaranteed income removes the social stigma, and encourages people to get into the job market. This makes a better social fabric where we don’t ghettoize the poor.
TV: Let’s move on to mental health and services. The Greens want to increase funding for services, so in places where the system does not work, how do you think increasing funding as a blanket solution is going to work?
TG: The problem is that there are 14 different provincial agencies who have a piece of the mental health pie, and no one is coordinating. So we’ve been arguing for a Deputy Minister for mental health in order to create the coordination so we don’t have all these overlapping services that cost more than they should. Funding mental health services across the board gives people more access to mental health services. The more access they have, the more they function within society. Less often they are going to show up in hospitals in crisis. Funding mental health for all manners of people will cost more, but it’s about a more healthy society.
TV: Why should students in our riding vote for you?
TG: Whether it’s merging school boards, or stopping funding of the discriminatory system, or whether it’s that you think we need new sources of revenue for transit, voting Green even if you’re not sure that we would win is doing two things. Firstly, you are sending a message to the other parties that they need to focus on these issues as well. Secondly, there’s a per-vote subsidy now, which means the party you vote for gets money. It follows your party for the next four years, now that corporations and unions can’t donate. Voting strategically does not help you support your values.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.