U of T students don’t need to be told that voting in municipal elections is difficult. They know it. Whether you’re navigating the voting eligibility criteria, identifying issues inherent in Toronto, or understanding the policies of each candidate, voting is undoubtedly complex. It’s no surprise then, that election after election, Toronto continues to see low voter turnout.

Low voter turnout is a growing concern, given the low turnover rate of politicians at Toronto’s municipal level. When people don’t show up at the polls to vote, politicians with the same agenda are kept in office. Keeping the same type of politicians in office prevents the one thing Toronto needs most: change.

Here at The Varsity, we give students a platform to both report on and voice their opinion on the issues that are important to them. Time and time again, we see the same issues echoing through the articles we publish. We’ve covered the problems with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and the Scarborough Rapid Transit system (SRT). We’ve heard from students about the need to improve the city’s climate infrastructure. We’ve published articles on issues with the affordability of housing, homelessness, and tenant rights. From our coverage alone, it’s not hard to see that U of T students are calling for change. 

This election is different. For the first time in a long time, we have a chance to overcome the inertia of an incumbent mayor and a chance to change what agenda enters the mayor’s office. We at The Varsity are hopeful that this mayoral election will mark a turning point for Toronto and allow for a progressive new voice to intervene. 

Our intention is not to endorse a candidate nor to provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision come June 26 at the Toronto mayoral byelection. 

Instead, we want to get you started by offering our insight on what the top polling candidates throughout the entirety of the campaigning period — Olivia Chow, Mark Saunders, Ana Bailão, Josh Matlow, Mitzie Hunter, and Brad Bradford — have to say about the issues that we believe are most important to students, based on what you’ve written for us.

Transit: TTC service cuts and the future of the SRT

Let’s start with the transit in Toronto.

The common promise among Chow, Bailão, and Hunter to reverse the TTC’s 2023 service cuts is relevant to students as nearly two-thirds of Toronto’s post-secondary students depend on local transit to commute to campus. This year, the TTC announced service cuts on two accounts: the first cut resulted in reduced overall service on Bloor—Danforth Line 2, Queen and King Street streetcars, and buses; the second cut led to longer wait times on Yonge—University Line 1. 

Given that the affected routes mainly influence suburban neighbourhoods with higher concentrations of marginalized groups, Matlow’s goal to not only reverse service cuts but restore service to pre-pandemic levels by the end of his term is also significant.

Chow, Bailão, and Matlow also promise to build a dedicated busway on the same track as the SRT, a policy that all six of Scarborough’s councillors support. The future of SRT is critical to U of T due to the high number of Scarborough residents and UTSC students that rely on good public transport. These students have already been troubled by the service cuts affecting 10 of 13 Scarborough bus routes.

The SRT is being replaced with shuttle buses until 2030, when the subway extension will be complete. However, a dedicated busway will help the 35,000 daily users commute more efficiently: Chow claims that it will save users up to 20 minutes daily

Climate: Retrofitting buildings and TransformTO Net Zero Strategy

Although climate action has not been a key talking point in this year’s mayoral campaign, it is a key issue for students, who have been the central voice to call for U of T’s federated colleges to divest, and demand more action from previous political candidates

Despite Toronto’s 2020 sector-based greenhouse gas emissions inventory finding that buildings were the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto, our city is only continuing to build more. Toronto currently has the highest number of cranes in North America. 

Chow plans to expand the existing High-Rise Retrofit Improvement Support Program— a financing program for apartment building owners to make building improvements that reduce energy consumption. Matlow has promised to invest $200 million in climate initiatives, including retrofitting existing buildings to run on electric energy and expanding the existing Taking Action on Tower Renewal (TATR) program. Hunter’s platform also promises to boost the TATR program by $35 million. Saunders has not committed to green building programs or transitioning away from fossil gas.

While Chow, Bailão, Matlow, Hunter, and Bradford have promised to fund the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy — Toronto’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2040 — Saunders has refused to fund the plan for being “flawed.” 

Housing and tenants: How do we fix the system? 

Access to housing is an issue that has plagued students for years. With Toronto’s current rental market, students must choose between expensive housing near campus or longer commutes for more affordable housing.  

All candidates agree that people need affordable places to live, but the big question is — how? 

Saunders’ solution is to support private developers in building new residential spaces by reducing taxes and building restrictions to speed up the approval process of construction projects. Bradford’s and Bailão’s platforms are similar, but include plans to support non-profit developers who rehabilitate old housing units or develop new ones for more accessible housing. 

Chow, on the other hand, says the solution is social housing — more precisely, 25,000 new units of it — financed through public funds, built on city-owned land, and operated by non-profit organizations. Hunter’s and Matlow’s plans are similar with variations on how they will be financed and rent-controlled, with Hunter planning on including green spaces across the city. 

Chow, Bailão, Matlow, and Hunter have also pledged to increase support for tenants by cracking down on unjust evictions and other unethical behaviour from landlords. Chow and Matlow plan to prevent and fight “renovictions” — a legal loophole in which a tenant is evicted so that the landlord can pursue renovations. Chow and Bailão also pledge to increase “rent banks,” or emergency loans and grant programs for tenants who are behind on their rent. 

What next?

In Canada, we place considerable emphasis on national politics but fail to recognize the impact of the local. However, at its core, our municipal government plays an integral role in shaping our everyday lives. It is the decisions made by local politicians that determine housing, transit, safety — and many more critical issues.

We recognize that, as students, your lives are in constant flux. Many of you, if you are voting from other parts of Canada, may not see Toronto as your home, and as such, are less invested in the outcome of local elections. 

The truth is that, as students, your lives are determined by local politics. You have no doubt dealt with the issues of affordable housing. You have had to make do with the long wait times on the TTC. You have felt the terrifying pressures of the climate crisis.

We don’t need to list all the problems in Toronto for you and tell you that change is needed. You’re the ones that have been on the frontlines advocating for climate justice. You’re the ones that have broken down the complex issues that have given rise to problems with the TTC. And you’re the ones that have advocated for more affordable housing in Toronto. June 26 is your chance to truly make a difference in these issues in our city.

You may hear that every election is important or that every election will visibly affect your daily lives. We understand, by themselves, those words may not be very convincing. But this election is truly critical in that it has the potential to instigate change in Toronto for years to come. It’s important change — but it is change that won’t be possible unless we all go out and vote. 

See you at the polls.The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email [email protected].