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'The only honest way:' Matlow putting Toronto's financial struggles front and centre in mayoral campaign

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles on the seven leading contenders in Toronto’s mayoral race, according to polls. Additional profiles will be published in the coming days.

Josh Matlow doesn’t mince words when it comes to the lengths that some of his opponents have gone in order to rule out new taxes and property tax hikes.

“It's more than disingenuous. It's completely dishonest and it’s reckless,” the long-time city councillor with a reputation for speaking his mind told CP24 last week. “Anyone who says to Torontonians that we don’t need to raise more revenue is lying to them. That is a fact.”

Toronto is staring down a $1.4 billion shortfall in its 2023 budget, largely due to the ongoing financial impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city also faces approximately $46 billion in fiscal pressures over the next decade, which Ernst & Young has said could threaten Toronto’s “fiscal stability and the sustainability of its service levels” long-term.

But on the campaign trail many of the candidates vying to become mayor have ruled out any tax increases above the rate of inflation and have chastised those who have expressed a willingness to consider new revenue sources.

Some like Anthony Furey have even said that they would reduce taxes – Furey wants to eliminate the municipal portion of the land transfer tax for first time homebuyers and work to eventually scrap it altogether.

Matlow, meanwhile, has taken a different tactic.

He has promised to introduce a new property tax levee that would cost the average homeowner about $67 per year and would generate about $390 million over five years to put towards improving city services.

He has also said that he would introduce a new tax on commercial parking spaces as a means of funding environmental initiatives and cancel the costly rebuild of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway.

“The reality is that with a $46 billion budget pressure over the next 10 years we cannot rebuild the eastern section of the Gardiner up in the sky. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars more than if we were to rebuild it on the ground. So the decision is easy if you're being honest and you're not using it as a political football,” Matlow told CP24.com. “We cannot be wasting hundreds of millions of dollars when we have an affordable housing crisis and cuts to the TTC. It is just irresponsible and unfair to people.”

MATLOW OFTEN CLASHED WITH FORMER MAYOR

Matlow, 47, is a married father of a 10-year-old girl who he has jokingly referred to as his “Director of Kids Canvassing.”

He has vowed that if elected he will “work incredibly hard in service to Torontonians” but also be the sort of mayor that you may see walking his daughter to school or attending her piano recital.

That part, he said, was a big part of the weeks of deliberations he had to go undergo after first learning about John Tory’s sudden resignation while enjoying a rare date night with his wife at a karaoke bar in February.

“That was that was the most important conversation that I had. It wasn't just one, it was several, where Melissa and I just had to come to terms with could I do this while still getting being the dad I want to be?” he told CP24.com.

Prior to entering politics Matlow had what he referred to as a “fledgling career” as an actor, with some appearances in a handful of television shows and commercials.

But since 2010, he has represented the Midtown riding of Ward 12 Toronto—St. Paul's.

During that time he has gained a reputation for being an outspoken councillor, often clashing with former mayor John Tory over the Gardiner rebuild and the $3.35B Scarborough subway extension.

On the Scarborough subway file, Matlow has repeatedly tabled motions – unsuccessfully – to conduct a "value for money comparison" with the cancelled seven-stop light rail line and at one point asked the Superior Court of Justice to launch a judicial inquiry into the decision making around the project, something that Tory’s office dismissed as a “publicity stunt.”

In March he also had his pay docked by city council over social media criticism of two city bureaucrats – he accused one of lying to him regarding the opening of public washrooms and said that another who had just been appointed as interim city manager was the “very wrong person" for the job.

Matlow, for his part, has disputed the findings of the integrity commissioner which led to that penalty.

“I haven't taken the ‘go along to get along approach’ and I know that in politics your career path is easier when you do that,” Matlow told CP24.com. “When you just cozy up to whoever's in power and you just do whatever they tell you to do, you get to be the chair of a committee and you get to have your junkets. That is how politics often operates. But that is not my nature. So if I am convinced something is good for Toronto and the evidence supports it then I will support that initiative. But if I see something that is wrong or dishonest I will challenge it.”

MATLOW VOWS TO TAKE ON DOUG FORD AS MAYOR

Some of Matlow’s opponents have raised questions about whether he will actually be able to get his agenda passed at city hall, especially without the strong mayor powers that he has promised not to use.

But Matlow calls that a “red herring” and points to the often chaotic tenure of Rob Ford as proof that mayors don’t necessarily need to be popular amongst council to get things done.

As for his relationship with Doug Ford – who he has called “a bully” – Matlow says that anyone who thinks they can go and compromise with him is “naive.”

What the city needs, he says, is someone who will instead go to Queen’s Park and fight for Toronto.

Someone, he says, who will negotiate for “strong Toronto powers and not strong mayor powers.”

“The way Doug Ford operates he will roll you over it he smells any weakness. So you need to go in there with a strong position when you deal with Doug Ford and if he sees that public opinion is on your side rather than his he will capitulate,” he told CP24. “Think of how many times he's backed off and backed down when there is public pushback and that is what I will have. I will have a mandate from Torontonians.”

Toronto neighbourhood you call home: Midtown, around Yonge and Eglinton.

Toronto hidden gem: I don’t know if I could describe this as hidden but I find a lot of peace walking through the ravines. There is a number of ravines that my family and I walk through and it is just time where we really come back to each other.

Favourite Toronto bite: I am not going to bite. There is not one. It is not that simple for me. I have many and it depends on the mood and the day.

Favourite Toronto festival or event: Forget it. No. Can’t bite this. It just wouldn’t be honest. There are so many.

The Beach or the Beaches: This sucks. I grew up calling it the Beach. And then they had a vote in the neighbourhood and they decided to go with the Beaches. I won’t discount that opinion but I personally still call it the Beach. That said I still call the Rogers Centre the Skydome. 

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