Why I Voted For Gil Penalosa for Mayor

In the Toronto Mayoral race for 2022, there is only one person I could vote for: Gil Penalosa.

His many policy planks cover a wide variety of topics, some more thoroughly than others, but they share a common goal of making Toronto a better city.

After nearly three years of pandemic, and many more of fiscal austerity before them, Toronto needs to think beyond this to ask what should the city be? What could it be?

Too often we begin with the premise that we cannot afford anything, and plan on that basis.

In John Tory’s Toronto, we see the cumulative effect of spending, when it happens, focused on pet projects like SmartTrack (itself a shadow of the original promise), misplaced priorities (the Gardiner rebuild), and credit taken for programs by others (Ontario’s transit plan). On other areas talk demonstrably exceeds action. The big ticket items are capital works, projects that will not show results for years, while day-to-day services crumble.

I have no illusions that in a Gil Penalosa Toronto all would be perfection. I have already written about shortcomings in the FastLane proposal for a Bus Rapid Transit network. To his credit, Penalosa has released a second policy regarding transit priority, the FastLane Quick Fixes that proposes extensive priority changes for streetcars, especially those already on reserved lanes.

More is needed, including a commitment to much improved service, but my sense is that Penalosa is not stuck on one map as the master solution to transit problems. Too many elections are fought on grand plans, on maps with great promise for the 2030s, but with nothing for today’s transit riders. Steak tomorrow, but gruel today.

Penalosa also proposes reducing fares to $1 for low income riders. This would be a substantial cut below the “Fair Pass” that now gives approximately the same discount as Seniors’ and Students’ fares and therefore offers no benefit to low-income riders in these groups.

The challenge for any new Mayor will be how to pay for everything, and what programs will take priority.

From John Tory, we know that a tax increase below inflation is his target, although the current economic figures give him far more leeway than in past years. However property taxes are only about one third of Toronto’s total revenues, and money from other sources is not a sure thing, notably from the Land Transfer Tax. After a covid-era fare freeze, there is no word on what might happen to TTC fares which accounted for over $1 billion in City revenue in pre-pandemic times.

What we do know is that there will not be new money for anything without offsets elsewhere. The TTC’s 2023 Draft Service Plan includes restructured routes and new services, but they are all on a no-net-cost basis. If you want something new, you have to sacrifice something that’s already there. The TTC will be lucky to achieve even that unless it receives funding to replace covid supports from Ontario and Canada. (Details of the 2023 plan have been shared via consultations with various groups, and they will appear on the TTC’s website soon.)

The same problem applies across the city. We face the combined effect of revenues that do not rise to cover even inflationary costs, let alone new services, and the cutback of pandemic-related subsidies that will dwindle or vanish in 2023 and beyond.

Penalosa would face the same fiscal problems. The next few years will not be easy for Toronto no matter who is in the Mayor’s office. The difference would be the direction, the aim, the choice of top priorities for real change and improvement.

I voted for Gil Penalosa even though the polls show an almost certain Tory win because Toronto’s body politic must see that there is support for an alternative, for a better city. The debate about our future must continue even after the election as Toronto looks ahead to better economic times and to new regimes at both City Hall and Queen’s Park.

For the record: I was not asked for advice on nor did I contribute to any of Penalosa’s policy development.

Election day is Monday October 24, but I have already voted by mail. If you’re thinking of getting my vote, it’s too late.

16 thoughts on “Why I Voted For Gil Penalosa for Mayor

  1. Hi Steve,

    I am new in Toronto, and I am so happy that I found Your newsletter. I am feeling way better informed about what’s going on with TTC as on their website. I take the 501 streetcars daily, and I am shocked by TTCs operation and Toronto traffic. I am from Germany, and I thought we had a lot of issues, but Toronto tops it. There is no traffic light priority for streetcars, unnecessary short turns, the unclear destination of streetcars (why is the name of the street above more significant as the final destination? Why does it say Queen – Short turn Dufferin when the streetcar continues South to Dufferin Gate?), and the junctions Queen and Bathurst and Queen and Spadina are an absolute nightmare in the afternoon peak hour. I have already walked home twice from work because there was no streetcar coming, and it took me an hour this Tuesday to go home by streetcar instead of 25 min.

    I hope that a new mayor will have a positive impact on TTC and Toronto traffic. The region will grow in the next decade, but currently, neither the city nor TTC will be able to handle it.

    Best, Tillmann

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Thanks Steve, and also to Mr. Penalosa and many other candidates. I most likely am also going to vote for Mr. Penalosa, not so much for his transit ideas, though he comes from a set of places where political will provided much more transit done faster and cheaper. I know the entire city will be tilted again to the Premier’s biddings, but we don’t have to be quite so craven as we often seem to be, where we spell innovation simply’ no’, and don’t want to know about issues and facts either, as it’s what the Mayor/Premier wants hmm?

    Meanwhile, what about raising property taxes aligned with inflation in the housing? If housing has tripled in the last 25 years, have property taxes gone up as much? What about a 20% property tax hike next year? Anyone???

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  3. I voted for Gil as Mayor and Gary Crawford as my councilor.

    Gary went above and beyond for the ward during last year’s snow storm. He had my vote the moment he helped me not need to walk into traffic because of the snow.

    That said, after many years of reports about the feasibility of issuing reports on reports I am growing tired.

    Change is needed and I get the sense Tory may be in a spot of trouble this year.

    This is not like Pantalone running a few years ago, there is a desire for change.

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  4. There are several near-clone incumbents of Denzil Minion-Wong in my and other wards we need to be replaced.

    Voted today, for Gil Penalosa for Mayor, and Chiara Padovani for Ward 5 Councillor.

    Would be better if we had a ranked ballot for voting. Could we go to court to overturn Doug Ford’s papal bull against municipal ranked ballots in Ontario?

    Steve: Toronto has already been to the Supreme Court on the provincial powers over the City, and the Court was quite clear that the Province can do whatever it likes.

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  5. I was planning on voting for him as well. Then he came out wanting to close YTZ, and being an airline employee of an airline that flies out of Billy Bishop, it’s given me some pause. More pondering to do.

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  6. I was going to vote for John Tory, but I went out to get on the SmartTrack and take it to the advance polling place and it turns out SmartTrack doesn’t exist at all!!!!!! It’s like Johnny has just been lying all these years. So I voted for Gil after having to *sigh* walk to the poll.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. The island airport is a disaster waiting to happen, and is a product of a time when politicians had no interest in ‘stopping progress’. Good for Gil that he has the guts to speak out on the topic.

    On the subject of John Tory; I have no idea why he wants to continue this do nothing job when he can retire in wealthy splendour anytime he feels like it.

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  8. The removal of the Island Airport will result in a $4.8 billion economic impact to the city. A loss of $150M in direct taxes. Loss of 3,350 on site jobs. Additionally, passengers save $28 million a year by not using Pearson.

    Minimal emissions impact compared to the expansion of affordable housing and increased vehicles on roads that will require more frequent repairs. Taking away the airport that directly serves Canada’s centre of commerce. This is basic economics. What is this mayoral candidate thinking?

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  9. I need to get more informed both about my local candidates, and the mayoral ones.

    The city is in desperate, desperate need of help on so many fronts I feel like we’ve got a long way to go before we start to turn the corner.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I like your thinking and, on a transit basis, I agree. “Steak tomorrow, but gruel today” is so accurate. On an overall “Mayoral” basis though I do not think Penalosa is qualified. Ultimately your conclusion to try to send a message, and I agree, which is why I also voted this way.

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  11. I have not voted yet, and have my ticket to attend the debate tomorrow. But it is certainly my intention to vote for Gil Penalosa on October 24.

    If anyone else is attending the debate, please say “hi.” My photo is here, and I am two metres tall, so am easy to find.

    Gil first came to my attention ten years ago when Streetfilms featured his work in films such as “The Rise of Open Streets,” and “Lessons from Bogota.”

    I was inspired by his subsequent work as a leader of the 8-80 Cities movement. Meaning that a city must work for an 8-year-old riding his bike to school as well as an 80-year-old living their life. Toronto definitely does NOT qualify as a liveable city for these people, and for many at ages in between.

    Yes, that includes myself worrying about falling and breaking a leg as I struggled over ice and snow to get to TTC stops last winter. I know full well that another John Tory administration will result in exactly the same happening this winter, with the added “bonus” that this broken leg may finally actually happen since I am now a year older.

    Other previously car-infested cities have been rebuilt for all their people, from the age of 8 to 80. I see films like this, and become quite angry, because there is absolutely zero reason why this cannot be Toronto.

    The truth is that it can. Many other cities have done it. We can too! It is quite inspirational watching Gil Penalosa on Streetfilms and videos by people such as David Hembrow and Marc Wagenburr. This shows what Toronto can be, and how other previously car-infested cities transformed their cities so that these cities are now for people instead of cars.

    I highly recommend the latest Streetfilm entitled “Zurich: A world class transit metropolis.” This is about public transit in Zurich (Switzerland, not Ontario). There is absolutely no reason why the principles explained in the film cannot be implemented in Toronto, particularly the famous “Zurich Compromise.” No reason except political will. Which is why it is important to vote for Gil Penalosa.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. The airport is leased to 2030, the park is just a proposal, community surveys will be done before the wheels are in motion. Plus, the airlines from Billy Bishop want to move to Pearson anyways because they want larger planes.

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  13. Now is not the time for a change, we need continuity. Gel Penalosa will rip apart existing transit projects such as the Scarborough subway.

    Steve: He is in no position to do this. Only the province can “rip apart” the project. The Mayor has no control over it.

    We have a history of politicians desperate to stay on the public payroll and even willing to take a demotion for it. Patrick Brown previously looking to become Premier is happy to be mayor. Steven Del Duca previously looking to become Premier is looking to become mayor but in election after election, he could not even win his own seat and so, I don’t know how he plans on becoming mayor.

    Steve: Del Duca is well known and looks likely to take over the mayoralty.

    Andrea Horwath looking to become Premier for nearly a decade and a half and failing every time, her plans are much more modest and she is running to become only a councillor. What’s next? Justin Trudeau running to become a school board trustee?

    Steve: Horwath is running for Mayor of Hamilton, not councillor.

    Gil Penalosa would have had a good chance at becoming a councillor and then become known and then run for mayor in 2026 but he threw his hat too soon in the ring for mayor and he will lose because nobody knows him.

    Steve: You should do better research.

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  14. Prashant: Gil Penalosa would have had a good chance at becoming a councillor.

    I dispute that. Penalosa could win ABSOLUTELY NOTHING because nobody knows him which is why Tory crushed him in the mayor’s race. Yes, Steve tried to make him known by writing one article on him but Steve has at most a few dozen readers and most don’t read every article. At the end of the day, Penalosa lost because nobody knows him. Remember Rocco Rossi? Rocco Rossi suffered the same fate because nobody knew him.

    Steve: I didn’t try to “make Penalosa known”. He was the primary candidate opposing John Tory and he had a transit platform that was worth reviewing. My vote went to him because I feel the City needs a new outlook on many things, and he represents them in a way Tory does not.

    I also reviewed the Mayor’s platform. Penalosa always had an uphill battle and I had no illusions he would win.

    As for my readership, on a quiet day, one with no recent new articles, I get about 1,000 visitors (more individual page views). On a big day when a major, popular new article appears, the visitor count goes over 5,000. It’s not the Toronto Star, but pretty decent for a non-commercial specialist blog. Those stats are from Word Press. You can dismiss me as a minor player all you want, but this blog has an audience.

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