A Q&A with mayoral candidate Karen Stintz

A Q&A with mayoral candidate Karen Stintz

(Image: Stintz: Karen Stintz/Facebook; City Hall: Derek Hatfield)

Karen Stintz became Toronto’s latest mayoral candidate this morning when she officially filed her nomination papers, just a couple hours after John Tory did the same. The race is now a complex one, with no fewer than four credible right-leaning contenders, of which Stintz is one. After a decade as a city councillor, including three years as TTC chair, she has political experience to match that of any of her rivals.

In her remarks to the press, Stintz has promised to run a campaign focused on, among other things, building the fabled downtown relief subway line, keeping taxes low, and taking a “hybrid” approach to dealing with the crumbling Gardiner Expressway. Here’s what she told us about her campaign during an interview over the weekend.

Why are you running for mayor?
I believe Toronto needs a responsible and accountable mayor to help get things done, and do things in a different way. And I want to be able to do that for our city. People want safe neighbourhoods, they want relief from congestion, they want low taxes.

What do you mean by “a different way”?
We know we have to do more with less. It’s not just “cut, cut, cut” and it’s not just “spend, spend, spend.” It’s finding new, creative ways to find solutions to meet the challenges we face.

A couple years ago you were pretty insistent that you weren’t going to run for mayor. What made you change your mind?
It was during [Rob Ford’s] conflict-of-interest scandal, when there was speculation there was going to be an election. People started asking me if I’d reconsider my position. I felt that we were seeing opportunities slip away for our city and we weren’t addressing the challenges that we face.

What do you see as key challenges?
Congestion is absolutely a big one. It has an impact on everybody’s life. We need to be looking at creative solutions. It’s what gets people here—what gets jobs here, what gets tourism here, what gets people home sooner. We also need to keep our taxes low and competitive.

It sounds like transit is going to be pretty central to your platform. What’s your wildest transit fantasy?
That we get the downtown relief line built.

Why is it taking so long?
We spend so much time talking, and now we need start building.

How do we do that?
We need to build the transit lines that have been approved and put our efforts onto the downtown relief line. We need to make sure we get the federal government committed to that line and get the provincial government on board.

How long do you think it would take to get it built?
The opportunity is right now. We have the tunnel boring machines. We’re building a subway line [the Spadina Subway Extension] that will open in 2016. Then the machines can go to the Bloor-Danforth extension [into Scarborough]. When they’re done there, they can go to the downtown relief line. Within a decade might be ambitious, but hopefully not too much longer.

It sounds so easy, but why isn’t it happening?
We’re spending $10 billion on transit and we need to continue the momentum. The one thing we cannot afford to do is revisit any transit decision we’ve made.

Other candidates—namely, David Soknacki—seem to want to revisit the Scarborough subway debate. What do you think of that?
People in this city are so tired of fighting. They want us to get building. I have no desire to go and revisit decisions that have already been made. I want to keep us moving forward.

Do you still bike to work?
I do. Not now, though. It’s too cold! I’m looking forward to the ice melting.

Whatever happened with your $110 ticket from last summer?
[Laughs.] I pled guilty and got a suspended sentence and no fine.

How would you improve the roads for cyclists?
We need to build a bike network. Much like we’ve been building transit by lines, we’ve been building bike lanes by road. But we need to start thinking of it as a network that gets people around. I’ve been talking to the people at Cycle Toronto about dedicated bike routes instead of just lanes, and experimenting with Idaho laws. That would mean that, in certain areas, when cyclists come to a stop sign, it’s legal to yield without coming to a complete stop, provided there are no cars coming from the other direction. It would be totally free and it’s about figuring out ways to be smarter with the infrastructure we have, and our police resources.

People in the core would find paying a little extra for investment in transit a pretty easy pill to swallow. But north of the 401 and west of the Humber, it seems keeping taxes low is priority number one. How do you reconcile the two?
I think transit is a priority for everyone. I think our challenge is how we pay for it. And what we need to be doing is looking for creative solutions for what we’re doing with congestion. One idea I’m working with U of T on is a software proposal for traffic lights that helps alleviate wait times by up to 40 per cent. The whole pilot project would take $300,000. They’ve put forward $100,000. I’ve convinced Metrolinx to give the project $100,000. And the city is coming forward with $100,000. If it works, it has the potential to have a huge impact. And it would be a made-in-Toronto solution.

What’s to be done about the Gardiner?
We’re going to be looking at the options, but I think one that we could consider that’s not actually on the books is a hybrid option, whereby we reconfigure the Gardiner where it meets the Don Valley and actually build a new connection to the Gardiner. And once that’s built, we could knock down the existing Gardiner. Because there’s land underneath the existing Gardiner that can’t get developed to its fullest potential because of the way the Gardiner is constructed.

It sounds like a traffic headache. Would that cause massive delays?
No, it wouldn’t. Because we’d build the new configuration before we knock down the existing one. There would be no impact to traffic, but it would also help us open up land opportunity that would be developed as commercial land, which would be very beneficial for the city.

The race seems to be getting pretty crowded on the right. Are you concerned about splitting the vote and letting an Olivia Chow or Rob Ford come up the middle?
I have great concerns that the reaction to the current administration may be electing an NDP mayor. I don’t think the city wants an NDP mayor. We’ve been down that road with the Miller administration, which was a tax-and-spend regime. The reaction to that was mayor Ford. And so I do worry about an NDP government and that’s why I’m running for mayor. I want to be that accountable, responsible leader that gets things done in a different way.

A few years ago you were considered part of Ford’s inner circle. Do you think that’s something you need to overcome in this race?
No. Since I’ve been on council I’ve been pushing for fiscal accountability. And that’s something I’ve done at the TTC as well. I’ve got a strong track record on the fiscal responsibility side.

How do you differentiate yourself from other candidates on the right?
I’ve got ten years of experience. I live in the neighbourhood. I get the issues people are facing because I face them. It takes me too long to get home. I struggle with getting my kids where they need to be for their practices and their games. And I’ve got a mortgage and I live in the city. I can relate to the issues people face.

Finally: is city hall more like House of Cards, Scandal or Veep?
[Laughs.] Oh no! I can’t answer that. I’ve only seen House of Cards! It’s my March break project.

So are you saying it’s most like Scandal?
I think I’ve got some more watching to do.