Published Tuesday, September 28, 2010 12:05PM EDT
- Born and raised in Etobicoke
- Member of provincial parliament and represented the Toronto Centre riding for more than 10 years
- Voted as Toronto's "Best MPP" in Now Magazine
- Served as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, Deputy Premier, and as the chief of staff to former Toronto mayor, Barbara Hall
- Married to Christopher Peloso, and in the final stages of adopting a young boy
Smitherman says getting the city's finances in order is a top priority. And the first thing he would do if elected mayor would be to initiate a review of the city's budget.
"Over the last number of years the city has come into the habit of projecting itself as broke and bankrupt, something that I think works against us and something that I think needs to be addressed if we're to restore a sense of pride in our city," he said.
Smitherman has long been an active community member, and began his leadership role by campaigning to save the Wellesley Hospital.
During his political career, he organized several local initiatives. This included the creation of a new community skating and reading program. He also helped improve services for Toronto's newest citizens and immigrants.
While minister of health, he helped half a million Ontarians access family doctors, and improved wait times for key services. He also oversaw the creation of 6,000 units of housing to keep individuals with mental illness out of criminal justice systems.
His role as minister of health was criticized last year when it was revealed that $1 billion of taxpayer's money had gone to waste under his watch. The money was supposed to go towards developing Ontario's eHealth initiative – electronic health records that would enable the communication of patient data between various healthcare professionals across the country -- but the program had made no meaningful progress after five years.
He advocated for the City of Toronto as deputy premier and helped the city secure a share of Ontario's gasoline tax to funding public transit expansion, plus the acquisition of new buses, and new streetcars.
In his life, Smitherman's toughest challenge was overcoming his addiction to what he described as illegal street drugs.
"I was able to get past that period of addiction in my life with a combination of love and support from family and friends, personal strength and determination and assistance from medical professionals," he said.
His favourite part of Toronto is home.
"I don't get there as often as I'd like… I don't mean my neighbourhood, I mean inside the door of my house, spending time with my new baby," he said.
Smitherman has developed an ambitious transit plan named Transit Delivered, which consists of a $17-billion expansion of subway routes (Sheppard West to University line; Bloor-Danforth to Sherway Gardens) and LRT routes (Eglinton Avenue from Royal York to Kennedy; Sheppard East to the zoo; Waterfront east to Portlands).
His plan is to obtain $10 billion from the federal and provincial governments, and the other $7 billion in city cash drawn from Toronto Parking and Toronto Hydro dividends.
- Tina Yazdani
Where George Stands on the ‘Big 8' Issues Facing Toronto:
1. Transit City is an important and controversial part of Toronto. What are your thoughts on the proposed plan?
"I've been involved as a member of provincial government in supporting the Transit City initiative. I think we need to have a policy which is transit city and beyond the implementation of light rapid transit in some parts of the city will allow them a stronger connection to other parts of the city and for that reason I support it. But I don't believe that Toronto's transportation challenges are going to be met with LRT's alone and therefore while people can expect me to advance aspects of Transit City, they should also expect me to bring in other elements in a integrated transportation plan, but I think Transit City is an important part of that."
2. Bikes lanes have become a topic in the last few weeks. Do you plan on implementing them on Jarvis, University and the other locations?
"I understand that in order to make our city work again we have to develop an integrated transportation plan by consulting all transportation users including pedestrians, cyclist's, public transit users, car drivers and delivery truck drivers. It's about working together in as complimentary a way as possible. And I regret very much that right now the city seems to have made such a priority of one, seemingly at the expense of the other that we have a lot of conflict. We need to develop a plan that everybody can see themselves in and I'll make that a priority."
3. How do you feel about the idea of charging road tolls?
"If we wish to have the recourses to build transportation infrastructure, like subways as an example, you cannot contemplate this without contemplating the development of a new revenue stream. And even though I know it's a very touchy subject politically, this is a time where we have to demonstrate courage. It's time to envision some bold transformative transportation strategies and road tolls and other strategies like that which could involve gasoline taxes, sales taxes, road pricing like congestion charges, or taxes on parking. These are all difficult issues to talk about; nobody really wants to pay more. But if we want to actually break through the gridlock that has us in its grips then we're going to have to find new revenue"
4. How do you feel about the crime level in Toronto? How do you plan on addressing it?
"Overall Torontonians experience a city that's very safe. But you can never be complacent about these things. I support efforts that are involved to get more police officers on the street and to make sure those police officers are well integrated within local communities and I support efforts to make sure laws are suitably tough."
5. How do you plan on cleaning up the city?
"Our parks, many of them are in a deplorable state, I think my campaign will focus on the improvements in the public realm. From the beauty of the buildings constructed in Toronto to the quality of the sidewalks, many of which are so pitted and broken up that older people and people that are pushing strollers have many mobility issues."
6. How do you plan on bringing "new life" to the city?
"I think that we have a city that is vibrant in many ways, but sometimes the city government itself suppresses the instinct that communities and neighbourhoods have to express themselves. You want to have a small event in your neighbourhood and before you know it you got to pay through the nose for off duty police officers and you got to get this permit and that permit and can't do this and you can't do that. I think that we need to have a lot of attitude adjustments to enliven our city."
7. How important is accountability while you are in office and how do you plan on monitoring this?
"I think in the city of Toronto we have huge opportunities to make the whole operation more transparent. The budget process which will be a priority for me where I intend to be involved. Not delegate the task to anyone else, but roll up my sleeves and be involved in conducting line by line with the review of the civic government is an opportunity to demystify the budgetary process. It's intensely complicated to follow and I think it stands as a symbol for what we need to do in our city."
8. What are your plans for the city's budget including property taxes?
"First thing I want to do is conduct a line by line review of the city's budget. Then, I want to join the city's budget committee and bring my experience to bear on that basis. At the heart of it, the City of Toronto needs to focus more closely on expenditures to operate within the resources that are available to it. I view this as job one for any mayor to restore fiscal credibility and I will take to that task the minute I'm elected. Even though taxes are quite moderate to other outlying jurisdictions, the city of Toronto has developed so many new fees and taxes that the people feel quite nickel and dimed. I've made a priority of the reduction of the vehicle registration tax and I think that we need to work hard on the cities expenditures to make sure that tax increases are keep to the rate of inflation."