Toronto’s 2020 women’s march draws smaller crowd, tries to stay true to big ideals

“Small but mighty” group marches in protest for women’s rights

Toronto’s 2020 women’s march draws smaller crowd, tries to stay true to big ideals

Toronto’s fourth annual women’s march drew a much smaller crowd to its informal event on January 18. During a snowstorm, approximately 10 protestors met in Nathan Phillips Square before marching up University Avenue for a rally.

Petra Kassun-Mutch, the publisher of feminist magazine LiisBeth and organizer of the march, said in an interview with The Varsity that she felt it was important to have the march, no matter how small. “We felt we should come anyway… Just because there’s just a few of us on a snowy day doesn’t mean that Toronto women are not aligned with all the things that everybody’s fighting for.”

The original women’s march took place in January 2017, with the first wave taking place the day after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump. However, the Toronto women’s march separated from the organization that hosts the marches in Washington, DC and organizes marches in the United States, instead operating under the title of March on Canada. For the past three years, Toronto has held a more sizable women’s march, with the 2017 march drawing as many as 60,000 participants, and the 2019 march still gathering hundreds in poor weather conditions.

The group that previously hosted the Toronto women’s march, Women March On: Toronto, disbanded at the end of 2019, causing a lack of an official women’s march this year. Before that, they had separated from the new entity called Women’s March Canada, an organization closely aligned with the Washington, DC-based women’s march.

The divide between Women March On: Toronto and Women’s March Canada in 2018 “had to do with the feeling that the Women’s March 2020 organization globally… is too corporate,” said Kassun-Mutch. “They objected to them trying to find corporate sponsors.”

The official statement of Women March On: Toronto expressed that Women’s March Canada was unwilling to work with or give credit to local organizers, and citied its corporate structure as a reason for the schism.

The initial women’s marches were met with criticism that they were not inclusive enough. However, “It’s come so far since then,” said Kassun-Mutch. “It’s really evolved and strengthened.”

“This is the women’s march 2020 Toronto!” shouted Kassun-Mutch into a megaphone as the group walked up University Avenue. “Small but mighty!” another protestor echoed.

Another protestor, Champagne Thomson, said she was participating in the march “because as a woman you see that we are disproportionately impacted by all the atrocities in the world, from pay equity to environmental issues.” She expressed the need that women’s marches represent all women: “If it’s not for all of us, its for none of us.”

Kassun-Mutch expressed optimism that the march would come back in a bigger way in 2021, and create “a march that looks representative of Toronto’s population.”

“Hopefully next year, there’ll be twice as many of us!”

Here’s where U of T experts stand on Sidewalk Toronto’s controversial smart city plan

Google’s sister company proposes redevelopment of Quayside, sparking concerns

Here’s where U of T experts stand on  Sidewalk Toronto’s controversial smart city plan

On October 31, tri-governmental organization Waterfront Toronto tentatively agreed to move forward with a reduced version of a controversial plan to redevelop part of Toronto’s Quayside into a technology-filled smart neighbourhood. 

The redevelopment proposal was put forward by Sidewalk Labs — a company owned by Alphabet that focuses on urban planning and innovation. Alphabet was formed in 2015 and is the parent company of Google and other Google-related ventures. Sidewalk Labs’ first significant redevelopment project, Sidewalk Toronto, has promised radical urban planning to improve city life. The flashy innovations range from timber skyscrapers, to robotic garbage collection, to new public transit infrastructure.

However, Sidewalk Labs has faced significant backlash over its evolving scope, governance structure, consultation processes, and data collection goals.

The Varsity spoke with several U of T experts to discuss the divisive proposal and how it may impact the university community.    

How Sidewalk Toronto got here

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Waterfront Toronto’s partnership with Sidewalk Labs in October 2017, alongside Toronto Mayor John Tory and then-Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

The original plan was to redevelop nearly 12 acres of land at Queens Quay East and Parliament Street. As the project developed over time, Sidewalk Labs argued for an increased scope, including the addition of a roughly 190-acre plot of land in the Port Lands as a new site for Google Canada’s headquarters. These changes were released last June in Sidewalk’s 1,500-page Master Innovation and Development Plan (MIDP).

When Waterfront Toronto agreed to proceed with the project on October 31, it did so with the condition that Sidewalk Labs considerably limit its MIDP.

Moving forward, Waterfront Toronto has agreed to continue holding consultations and negotiate plans until March 31, 2020, when the parties must formally approve the partnership. If approved at this phase, the proposal will still require additional approval from the City of Toronto.

U of T’s involvement with Sidewalk Toronto 

U of T has played a consultatory role on the Sidewalk Labs project to date. President Meric Gertler served on Waterfront Toronto’s Board of Directors from January 2017, until he was fired from this position on December 6, 2018, for unknown reasons. Former Ontario Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton also fired Waterfront Toronto chairpersons Helen Burstyn and Michael Nobrega alongside Gertler.

The firings followed a report by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk, which criticized the board’s oversight structure and raised concerns about Waterfront Toronto’s initial proposal request process that may have favoured Alphabet over other applicants.

Several U of T professors and faculty members have participated in Sidewalk Toronto consultation processes and committees. One of them is Andrew Clement, Professor Emeritus from the Faculty of Information, who currently sits on Waterfront Toronto’s Digital Strategy Advisory Panel. When asked about his role on the panel, Clement wrote to The Varsity that he offers advice “on whether the digital aspects of Sidewalk Labs’ proposals achieve high standards of protecting and promoting the public interest.” 

Additionally, four U of T students — Keisha St. Louis-McBurnie, Paul Seufert, Carol Yeung, and Sharly Chan — participated in a Sidewalk Toronto Fellowship program in the summer of 2018. They explored urban issues around the globe and provided insights into the Sidewalk Toronto project.

In their final report, the 12 fellows issued a series of recommendations for Sidewalk Toronto’s consideration, including setting affordable housing targets, promoting data literary, and using data collection to “build community trust.”

While it’s not officially part of Sidewalk Toronto’s redevelopment, U of T has partnered with MaRS Discovery District to lease 24,000 square feet inside the Waterfront Innovation Centre, a technology- and business-driven venture at the city’s waterfront.

In response to a question about whether U of T supports the Sidewalk redevelopment, a U of T spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that the “university supports Waterfront Toronto in its ambition to turn Quayside into a sustainable smart neighbourhood. Collaborating with global partners in such endeavours helps ensure the city, the province and the country build experience and influence as world leaders.”

Other postsecondary institutions have officially partnered with Sidewalk Labs. On November 28, George Brown College announced its signature of a letter of intent to work with Sidewalk Labs on community programming initiatives.

Thoughts on the proposal

Mariana Valverde — a professor of criminology and sociolegal studies and member of #BlockSidewalk, an organization opposing Sidewalk Toronto — criticized Waterfront Toronto’s initial request-for-proposal (RFP) project.

Waterfront Toronto “issued a highly ambiguous document (RFP) that then allowed a Google company to propose a very vague but extremely ambitious plan that would require overturning any number of local laws and rules and would completely marginalize city departments and city democratic processes,” Valverde wrote to The Varsity.

Clement believes Sidewalk Toronto offers a unique opportunity to consider policy responses to smart city proposals. However, he cautioned against approving the project as it stands, noting that there has not been enough information or time to adequately debate Sidewalk Labs’ sweeping plans.

Shauna Brail, Associate Professor, Urban Studies Program and Associate Director, Partnerships & Outreach at the School of Cities, wrote to The Varsity that the proposal will most likely shift as it moves forward. “We’ve seen over the past 18 months that the plan is subject to change and will most certainly continue to change if it makes its way through the approval process.”

Ongoing criticisms of Sidewalk Toronto are its data collection processes and subsequent privacy implications. Clement reflected these concerns around privacy, noting the consequences of “a multitude of sensors capable of fine grained surveillance of individual behaviour.”

Alongside questions about data collection, Brail also highlighted concerns regarding the financial model and accessibility of the project, given that “the property is predominantly publicly owned, thus resulting in heightened public expectations.”

Valverde echoed these privacy concerns, while adding that there are issues with the urban development process of Sidewalk Toronto. “There are basic issues of democratic control over urban development, or rather the lack of it. Waterfront Toronto is not a democratic organization. It has no mechanism to be accountable to citizens,” she wrote.

Brail noted that some U of T researchers, faculty, and students are already benefiting from the Sidewalk Labs project through various consultation and scholarship opportunities. “If the proposal moves forward, there are likely to be additional opportunities, for instance in prototyping, experiential learning, and continued research and evaluation,” she wrote.

Civil and Mineral Engineering Assistant Professor Shoshanna Saxe — who has also written about the Sidewalk Labs project in The New York Times — wrote to The Varsity that the university can broadly benefit from studying Toronto as a “living lab.”

While acknowledging that Sidewalk Toronto could theoretically provide employment opportunities for researchers, Valverde put forward that “there has been little emphasis on hiring locally or using local tech companies, and we know that Google does buy tech inventions from all over, including Toronto, but the profits all go to the US, as does the intellectual property.”

Meanwhile, Rotman School of Management Professor and School of Cities Scholar in Residence Richard Florida is a vocal proponent of the Sidewalk Labs project. In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail, Florida argued that Sidewalk Toronto demonstrates Canada’s potential in the high-tech development sector.

Disclaimer: Kaitlyn Simpson previously served as Volume 138 Features Editor and Volume 139 Managing Online Editor of The Varsity, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Varsity Publications Inc.

Holiday Market at the Barns

When:  Sunday December 8, 10am – 6pm

Where: Artscape Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie St, Barn 2
Why: Join us for a fun, family oriented, community Holiday Market on Sunday December 8 at Artscape Wychwood Barns! We’ll have a wonderful line up of terrific local artisans to shop from, a kids craft & hot chocolate area, live musical performances, and a holiday bar too!!  
 
Event link:  https://www.facebook.com/events/431336750903862/
Contact:  Brad Stevenson / 647-241-5086 /brad.tr.stevenson@gmail.com
insta: @popupatthebarns

The slow burn of falling in love with Toronto

Falling in love with the city you live in isn’t always easy

The slow burn of falling in love with Toronto

If you’re from outside of the GTA, you’ll know that hating Toronto is a Canadian pastime. Non-Torontonians will say that it’s too expensive, it’s ugly, and the people are rude. And the rest of Canada is right — Toronto sucks. Even people from Toronto think that Toronto sucks. The cost of living is too high, the people are rude, the TTC is always delayed, the weather is terrible, and the buildings are ugly.

It’s not just these tangible problems with Toronto that people hate; there’s something else. The city’s atmosphere is harsh and isolating, and can be ruthless and make you sad.

So, Toronto sucks and I can’t wait to leave!

At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past two years. Toronto makes itself an easy city to hate, and a difficult one to love. But, they say love is a process, not an event, and I’m in the process of learning to love this city again.

My anger toward Toronto started in second year. It was February, and my heart had been chewed up and spit out by some beanie-wearing photography student from the Ontario College of Art and Design. The short, cold days didn’t seem to end. I was drowning in coursework, and after 18 months in Toronto, the city had lost its shiny novelty. All I saw was a depressing backdrop of a city where I’d have to finish the rest of my degree.

Soon enough, though, I got over beanie boy. The semester ended and summer eventually appeared. Just as I was remembering why I had originally loved this city, I was then stuck trying to find an apartment.

Apartment-hunting in Toronto is notoriously terrible, and it’s only getting worse. The average price for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,260, which means that you can easily pay over $1,000 for a bedroom in a shared apartment near campus. Anywhere affordable is a tiny basement with spiders and probably even some mold growing on the ceiling.

Searching for an apartment was hell. I spent hours with my soon-to-be roommates scouring Kijiji, ViewIt, and craigslist and going to showings, only to be turned away because the first people who had shown up offered $200 over asking. I felt the cruelty of the city again.

We did eventually find an apartment — a small, dark, overpriced basement apartment in the Annex with — you guessed it — spiders and mold growing on the ceiling. We moved in around early September, and during that time I worked almost full time in addition to school in order to be able to afford rent.

The days got shorter and colder, and the apartment got darker. Coursework piled up. I got slapped with a TTC fine for not being able to afford the streetcar. The city was mean and isolating, and the heavy cement buildings and grey skies mirrored what I felt inside. Toronto wanted me to be depressed.

Even as winter eased and summer began to roll in, my hatred of Toronto stayed. It had been so cruel to me. I spent the summer trying to figure out how to get the hell out. Then, my cousins came and stayed with me, and they loved it, and as I showed them around, I remembered all the things that made me love the city too.

Toronto is big. It has so many neighbourhoods, each with their own unique vibe, but it’s small enough that you can get to know it.

During that visit, we rode our bikes all around — something which the city, to its credit, is trying to make easier. I took them to my regular coffee shop, where the baristas and I all know each other. I took them to a street festival, music events, and parks. I introduced them to my friends. We watched the Blue Jays lose and they smoked legal weed for the first time — and they loved the city.

Toronto, like a lot of big cities, grinds you down. It’s expensive and harsh and busy. But, if you let it, Toronto will help you grow. And it’s growing with us. Its music scene has expanded, a Toronto culture has developed, and our sports teams are — occasionally — winning.

So, yes, the winters are cruel and brutal. But the summers are so warm and lush in comparison that it feels as though the city’s population triples between the months of April and May, everyone going back out into the sun.

Torontonians are proud, but they also know what it’s like. They’ll complain with you — they get it. But they also know their city’s worth. Toronto is an easy city to hate, and an even more difficult to love, but Toronto will force you to grow into it and learning to appreciate the city makes it that much better.

Mayor John Tory calls for Toronto to declare a climate emergency

City Council set to vote on declaration adoption on October 2

Mayor John Tory calls for Toronto to declare a climate emergency

On September 20, Mayor John Tory announced that Toronto will declare a climate emergency, which the Toronto City Council will consider at its October 2 meeting.

According to a series of tweets from Tory, the climate crisis “poses a major risk to our city’s residents and businesses.” The purpose of his declaration is “naming, framing, and deepening Toronto’s commitment to protecting [the city] from climate change.”

Tory’s announcement coincided with the first round of Global Climate Strikes and follows an open call by more than 50 community organizations for the City Council to declare a climate emergency. It also follows in the footsteps of increasingly severe weather events in Toronto, according to the city’s Resilience Strategy.

If the City Council adopts the declaration, Toronto would be joining over 800 local governments that have already declared a climate emergency around the world. However, the declaration is largely symbolic, and includes no new program or initiative proposals.

Words are great. Symbolic politics is important. But the declaration of a climate emergency has to be reconciled with real climate conscious policies,” wrote Professor Teresa Kramarz, Co-Director of the Munk School’s Environmental Governance Lab, in an email to The Varsity.

Kramarz added that individuals have to “push the Mayor and city council… [to define] clear mechanisms of accountability that connect words of emergency to deeds that are commensurate with such a designation.”

Tory’s announcement also highlighted TransformTO and Toronto’s Resilience Strategy, which are two ongoing initiatives the city is using to address the climate crisis.

By 2050, TransformTO aims for an 80 per cent reduction in Toronto’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1990 levels. Its strategies include ensuring that constructing new buildings produces less GHG emissions, increasing renewable energy sources, instigating more walking and cycling by Toronto residents, and diverting waste from landfills.

On September 26, Tory asked that the City Council commit to accelerating the goals laid out by TransformTO, including achieving net zero GHG emissions before 2050. This, alongside the declaration of climate emergency, will be considered on October 2.

Toronto’s Resilience Strategy is a broader initiative designed to help Torontonians adapt to a number of issues, specifically the effects of the climate crisis.

“Declaring a climate emergency will only be helpful if it’s backed up by aggressive policies to reduce emissions in the city of Toronto,” wrote Jessica Green, an associate professor at the Department of Political Science and the School of the Environment, in an email to The Varsity.

She suggested that the city should start with “more public transportation at low to no-cost, congestion pricing, and zero-emissions standards for all new buildings.”

“It will seem radical to many, but inaction will be worse,” noted Green.

Leap UofT, a climate justice and activism group on campus, was one of the signatories on the open call sent out to the City Council.

“I think we can get very focused on what we’re doing on campus and not look outward into the city as a whole,” said Julia DaSilva, a co-founder of Leap UofT.

DaSilva believes it’s important for university students to get “involved in community-wide organizing as well.”

On the shifting of language surrounding “climate change” to more urgent terms such as “crisis” and “emergency,” semiotics professor Marcel Danesi said that, “Every time you change a word you’re labeling a new reality, you’re bringing it into focus.”

“If it’s a crisis then it’s something different than a change, it’s a change for the worse and therefore we need to take action. Yes, words do matter,” Danesi explained.

TIFF 2019: Corpus Christi

Dark, tragic, pessimistic — Komasa’s film encapsulates the power of second chances

TIFF 2019: <em>Corpus Christi</em>

Though the title, synopsis, and main poster — which features a still of the protagonist in a rich green chasuble, face contorted in emotion as he calls out — suggest that Jan Komasa’s newest film Corpus Christi is about an individual’s battle with faith and religion, it is actually much more grand.

Premiering in North America at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Corpus Christi follows Daniel, a 20 year-old youth with convictions who can’t return to seminary school after being released from a youth correctional facility. He goes instead to a small Polish town to work at a carpenter’s workshop. But after spontaneously asserting that he is a priest, Daniel eventually takes over the town’s parish. It’s a premise that could have easily been a slapstick comedy, however Corpus Christi is anything but: it’s dark, tragic, and, most of all, pessimistic.

Daniel’s faith in Corpus Christi is unwavering; he never questions his beliefs. Quite the contrary, he remains a believer even after many injustices are committed against him and those around him.

Corpus Christi is about the systemic barriers that are built to stand in Daniel’s way of becoming what he truly wants to be. For instance, Daniel is told by the correctional facility’s priest — who he looks up to — that it is impossible for him to go to theology school.

It becomes apparent that Daniel is not simply a devout Christian. He is able to have profound effects, both positive and negative, on people through his sermons, yet he isn’t able to nurture them further in a scholarly and official environment because of the mistakes he made as a teenager. Komasa isn’t asking us how this is fair — he’s plainly showing us that it isn’t.

There is another movie that challenges the church in a similar way: First Reformed, a movie by Paul Schrader which screened at TIFF 2017. First Reformed centers on Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke), who, after failing to console an environmental activist with depression, begins to question the politics within his own parish.

Similar to Daniel, Toller sees how the systemic infrastructure of the church actually stands in the way of pure preaching. For Daniel, his record prohibits him from going to seminary school. For Reverend Toller, his church having a close relationship with an industrialist puts limits on his ability to move his congregation toward stewardship, a religious ideal that suggests that humans are responsible for taking care of the earth.

Films like Corpus Christi and First Reformed are important because they detail the extensive politics that exist within what is supposed to be the most sacred of organizations. They outline the way in which greed, power, and money get in the way of the upkeep of justice and environmental sustainability.

These films remind us that social issues, such as the environment and the criminal justice system, can be viewed in more ways than one. By framing them through religion, Schrader and Komasa effectively assert that there is no excuse to plead ignorance or turn a blind eye. We must familiarize ourselves with our surroundings — be it politics, religion, education, or even entertainment — and then decide what kind of narrative is being presented, and by whom.

Corpus Christi and First Reformed ask us about personal responsibility and accountability, both to the institutions that we choose, and those that we do not. They prod the idea of responsibility to our surroundings, the environment, and the people that we interact with every day.

These philosophical questions are not answered in either of the films. Instead, Komasa and Schrader sow the seeds for us to examine our place in the web of society, and to subsequently decide to whom or what we owe our loyalty, and where owe rebellion.

TIFF 2019: Knives Out

Witty murder mystery combined with a stellar cast, Knives Out is a must-see

TIFF 2019: <em>Knives Out</em>

Knives Out is a quick-witted, revamped mystery that is, at its core, about the good in people, not their murderous instincts. Director Rian Johnson employs his miraculous cast in a story most closely comparable to a game of Mafia, as a detective and a private investigator try to determine the cause of death of a mystery novel magnate. With a backdrop of the stately Thrombey mansion and a rich family of money grabbers, the main character, Marta, is impressively played by the up-and-coming Ava de Armas.

In 2017 de Armas played a key role in Blade Runner 2049, but her performance in Knives Out is much more authoritative, nuanced, and magnetic. Marta is the close confidant and private nurse to our victim, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and she is very trusting but certainly not naïve. There’s an argument to be made here that Marta is the most complex and substantive role written of its kind, one which avoids annoying tropes and fits perfectly with de Armas’ lived-in performance.

The cast includes a wealth of other celebrities, including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, and Jamie Lee Curtis. A cast of stars that size can cause serious issues for a film, with actors trying to outdo each other or sacrificing too much character development.

Johnson sidesteps these issues deftly, by carefully choosing peppery moments of characterization and maintaining a deep commitment to character-based comedy. Each performance has its own sensibility, and picking a favourite is definitely some sort of Rorschach test — mine is Toni Collette. Do with that what you will.

If you were to read the script, devoid of character names, you would still be able to tell who’s saying each line. It’s that tight.

When Johnson came out to introduce the film at its premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, he pumped up the audience by calling Knives Out a “classic whodunnit.” The film snaps between genre tropes and modern touches frequently, and evokes a similar edge-of-your-seat, Agatha Christie-esque feeling to its mystery. The movie is set to a snare-drum-heavy jazz score and has a self-reflexive structure, which is far more effective and intriguing than a simple final reveal.

Knives Out gives you the same feeling as driving down a dark road at night while listening to a funny podcast. You can barely see what’s six feet in front of you, and certainly not any further than that, but you’re having a great time. It’s not a ‘twist movie’ per se, it’s just a really good movie with spectacular planning and an attention to detail that rivals most actual police investigations.

The movie’s road is a spiral. Much of this has to do with Marta, who’s caught up in the death in a couple different ways, not least of which in her enlistment into solving the case by Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig). Marta is the daughter of an undocumented migrant, a fact not parachuted in, but woven into her character trajectory, the overall story progression, and Johnson’s main moral aims.

The divide between kind-hearted Marta and the Thrombeys is never more apparent than after Harlan’s death. The family squabbles over who is actually ‘self-made’ and who just coasts by on their parents’ money — hint: all of them coast.

The chasm between the Thrombey’s lifestyle and Marta’s is huge, yet the family does everything in their power to keep it that way. Even more frustrating is when they force her into a very timely discussion on the detention of asylum-seeking migrants and hand her an empty plate in the same breath, even though she is not a housekeeper.

It’s not a political film in terms of elections and debates, but it is political in the sense that this is actually what it feels like to be alive right now. Johnson somehow threads this needle, and pulls off a magic trick. He argues for goodness above all else, but recognizes the way the deck is stacked for the supremely wealthy, powerful, and white. It never feels hypocritical, and it never feels preachy. Magic.

Knives Out is going to be an absolute crowd-pleaser, and deservedly so. It’s beautiful and hilarious, and the genre-bending that Johnson pulls off is one for the books — the mystery books specifically. I’m not sure if it’s a great sign that a murder mystery is the film to nail our daily experiences, but it is a fantastic reminder that a movie can be about something as simple as goodness.

Liberal, NDP, Green MP candidates debate transit

Conversation focused on environmental and safety concerns at Innis Town Hall

Liberal, NDP, Green MP candidates debate transit

There were no major roadblocks at a transportation debate for Toronto federal candidates at Innis Town Hall on September 17, as Liberal Party, New Democratic Party (NDP), and Green Party members largely reached a consensus.

The debate, hosted by Transport Futures, featured two of the candidates for the Spadina–Fort York federal riding: incumbent Adam Vaughan of the Liberal Party and Diana Yoon of the New Democratic Party (NDP), as well as Tim Grant — the Green Party candidate for the University–Rosedale federal riding.

Absent from the debate were invited candidates of the Conservative Party and Renata Ford of the People’s Party of Canada.

The conversation was moderated by Ben Spurr, a transportation reporter for the Toronto Star. While the discussion covered a breadth of topics, three issues persistently came up during the evening: environmental impact, safety, and funding for transportation.

Platform comparisons

Vaughan kicked off the debate by announcing his party’s intentions to deliver a $180 billion infrastructure program — $28 billion of which will be allocated to public transit. Under this plan, funds will be distributed on a per-rider as opposed to a per-capita basis. The TTC will receive just under $4.9 billion over a 10-year period, with pedestrian and cycling infrastructure also being supported under the Liberal plan.

The hallmark of the NDP’s platform is fare-free public transit. Yoon emphasized the importance of this policy for low-income and marginalized communities who have faced decades of Liberal and Conservative underfunding on the topic of transportation.

Grant advocated for his party’s transportation strategy, which he described as a “hub and spoke” system. The Green’s plan proposes the use of rail as ‘the hub’ and electric buses, the ‘spokes,’ which would connect more remote areas to a central rail system. The aim of this vision is to use as much electric transportation as possible by 2040.

Environmental implications of transportation

The debate touched on the impact of public transit on the climate crisis at length, as the candidates spoke on the future of Toronto’s public transportation. All three candidates made impassioned arguments for the role of zero-emission cars and public transit in their plans to fight the crisis.

Yoon, who worked at the City of Toronto’s Atmospheric Fund, said that the “motivating force” for her candidacy was the climate crisis, emphasizing equity in her policies.

Bike lane accessibility also played a large role in the conversation, which prompted discussion around the question of whether or not the lack of infrastructure was the true problem surrounding environmentally-friendly transportation.

Yoon attributed the alleged lack of investment in proper infrastructure from the federal government to be a concern. Grant disagreed, blaming increased congestion in the city on the development of ride-sharing applications instead.

While the NDP, Liberals, and Green Party candidates all agreed on providing tax incentives for the creation of zero-emission vehicles, Grant made an effort to note that electric busses, more than cars, are a “big part of the answer.”

“What we really need is harder, bigger, and more ambitious federal targets on vehicle use and on carbon reduction,” argued Grant.

Transportation and safety

Pedestrian and cyclist safety was a priority for all candidates: “I am not a cyclist because, frankly, I am concerned about my own safety,” Yoon said, and argued that Toronto’s poor urban street design is the root of the problem.

Vaughan referred to his work as a city counsellor in establishing more bike lanes, and he credited the King Street pilot for taking a step toward safer transit. He continued by saying that federal investment was necessary to design safer transportation policies.

Grant’s safety concerns were focused on train rail safety. Notably, he pointed toward the Dupont Street corridor, where the City of Toronto cited a lack of rail safety in blocking a condo development from being built too close to the rail.

The Green Party candidate argued that rail companies need to have higher standards and include the implementation of safety options such as electronic sensors. The concern for the Dupont Street corridor was shared by Vaughan, as he agreed that bigger security measures need to be taken to avoid a catastrophe like the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013.