Taking Back Toronto for Torontonians
Rocco Rossi talks to Shalom Life about his mayoral quest.
Rocco Rossi has been shaking up Toronto’s mayoral race in the last few weeks with creative solutions to what ails the city.
His current promise is to create a tunnel that would connect the Allen from its dead end at Eglinton all the way downtown to the Gardiner Expressway. It would be an underground toll road that would be part of his plan to tackle the city’s artery clogging gridlock.
The tunnel would “lure jobs back to the city, ease gridlock and remove traffic from local streets.”
He also recently announced his plan to implement a recall system for local politicians – city councillors and as well the mayor – in order to give power back to voters who feel a sense of helplessness as they watch Toronto being overtaken by cynical career politicians and special interests.
“I believe in accountability, I believe in responsibility. I come from a world where if you’re not doing your job, you get fired,” said Rossi, the former national director of the Liberal Party, citing his senior executive experience at Torstar and Labbatt/Interbrew. He also served four and a half years as the CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.
Rossi told Shalom Life that taxpayers already have the ability to launch recalls in British Columbia and 29 American states. “It is not used willy nilly in the US” and if the threshold for recalling a politician is set properly than it is a measure that absolutely increases transparency and ensures that politicians do not lose touch with their constituents, he explained.
“This isn’t something new this is an idea that has been around for years. It’s really saying that if you truly break important promises, people have the right to put together a petition that allows for a by-election to be held.”
As mayor, Rossi would plan for Toronto’s future instead of the usual last minute cram budgeting that has led to the current fiscal mess the city finds itself in. Planning a $9.2 billion dollar budget year to year needs to end, he said, if the city is ever to get its book in order so that pressing issues such as transit, gridlock, housing and jobs can be tackled from a position of financial strength.
About the current yearly budgetary process, he said, “That’s absolute nonsense. That’s no way to budget for the future. That’s no way to be competitive in a competitive world.”
Along with multi-year budgeting, Rossi’s platform calls for a series of measures to stem the fiscal bleeding emanating from City Hall. These include a hiring freeze, a pay freeze and outsourcing services where cost effective -- he gives the example of Etobicoke’s private sector garbage pickup, which while unionized is cheaper than Toronto’s city run garbage collection.
He notes that salaries of City employees from 2002 to 2009 increased 6.5 per cent per year compounded, three times faster than the income of the average taxpayer.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that that’s economically unsustainable and quite frankly unfair,” he said.
His plan to bring down labour costs that currently eat up half of the City’s operating budget is feasible because over the next five to seven years 30 per cent of City Hall staff will be retiring. He also wants to make use of partners in the not-for-profit sector who can deliver services with more efficiency than the City. “We’ve got great potential partners out there.”
The only way to bring accountability back to municipal politics is to lead by example, Rossi said. Otherwise, residents of Toronto will continue to feel uninvolved and ignored, and we will see even lower voter turnout at the polls due to ever-increasing apathy, especially in Toronto’s suburban neighbourhoods – areas that are often overlooked by the downtown-centric politicians on Council, Rossi stressed.
“The mayor has to be out there, has to be communicating, has to be willing to go outside of City Hall into the rest of the city because the further you get from downtown, the greater I’ve seen the sense of powerlessness,” said Rossi who grew up in East York and Scarborough. He added that suburban issues are front and centre in his mind. “I’m interested in being the mayor of all Toronto.”
Rossi, the son of Italian immigrants who came to Canada in the ‘50s, said that he can relate to the immigrant experience of Israelis who have recently arrived in Toronto. If elected, he would be a strong advocate for working with the province and the federal government on the issue of credentials while pushing for increased private sector internships and mentoring opportunities for new arrivals to Canada.
He calls himself a very strong friend of Israel. “I spoke out loudly and repeatedly on Israel Apartheid Week on campuses,” he said. “I also came out against Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in the Pride Parade and was going to boycott the parade except that the community asked me to join with them and march shoulder to shoulder to speak out against hate. Hate has no place in my Toronto and the community will have somebody who’s a very strong advocate and friend on these issues.”
Election day is not very far off and Rossi had been trailing the frontrunners throughout the summer months. However, he said that the real mayoral race didn’t start until Labour Day and his campaign has definitely been taking off as of late.
“I will continue to lead the campaign in terms of ideas and my message of hope and of accountability. I’m very excited that I’ve added some strong people to my team, including incredible endorsements from people like [retiring Ward 10 Councillor] Mike Feldman who have been around the block and understand what’s needed to improve the City. I’m honoured that he’s supporting me.”