Rob Davis Q & A Interview: 2023 Mayoral By-Election

Tenbrija, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Rob Davis is running for mayor in the 2023 Toronto mayoral by-election. Davis began his career in politics in 1991, where he served as the first Black councillor in the city of York. After the amalgamation, Davis served as the first Black councillor for the city of Toronto in 1997. 

Davis has held a variety of positions in the private and public sectors, including vice-chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission, budget chief, lead member of the Tax Policy and Assessment Task Force, and co-chairman of Toronto’s Crime Prevention Task Force. Outside of his experiences as a city politician, Davis worked as a School Board Trustee, a provincial candidate, and a campaign manager for the Conservative Party of Canada and the Ontario PC Party. Davis is also a York University alumnus.

During a brief Zoom interview with Excalibur, Davis shared his vision for the city.

What are the biggest issues facing Torontonians in 2023?

Davis: I think the big three are a little bit obvious. Number one is safety. Community safety seems to be top-of-mind, we’ve had so many incidents on transit. And we’ve had so many folks suffer as a result of random acts of violence because of mental health and addiction. Number two, believe it or not – and it’s something that people are talking about – is car theft, auto theft, and threats against property in person. At the end of this year, there will have been 40,000 cars stolen over the past five years. 40,000 vehicles were stolen from people’s driveways and from their parking lots. And from the streets of Toronto, that’s huge. That’s billions of dollars in costs to Canadians and Torontonians.

Thirdly, affordability. Being able to live in the city. Whether you’re working as a barista, a barber, or a barrister, you should be able to afford to live in Toronto. One of the big challenges that we face as a city is the cost of living. Not just the annual increases in food prices, or the annual increases in any of the other commodities that you might purchase, but the biggest and most important one is the cost of housing, which has skyrocketed. And I think it’s a challenge that previous city councillors have failed to really address. I have the solution. I know because of my experience. I know where the hidden opportunities are. I expect that, as part of my campaign, I will be talking about them and I have talked about them.

Students deal with a variety of challenges, ranging from financial constraints, mental health issues, safety concerns, to commuting difficulties. What policies do you plan to implement that would help students live in the city? 

Davis: The biggest policy initiative that I have that will help students is to ban Airbnb and other short-term rental businesses in Toronto. For your readers who are economically inclined or mathematically inclined, there are over 20,000 units that are listed on short-term rental websites like Airbnb and Vrbo. 20,000. We are in a kooky world where tourists are staying in apartments that are intended for long-term residents like students and people who can’t afford to rent. People who can’t find safe, clean, and long-term rental accommodation were being put up by the city in hotels. It’s bonkers. Those housing units were intended to provide affordable rental housing for students and, as I said earlier, for the baristas, barbers, and barristers.

City council made the mistake of licensing Airbnbs, thereby sanctioning the conversion of all of this possible affordable rental housing accommodation to compete against the hotels, and the hotels have higher costs. They’re zoned properly, they have unionized labour and people who are being paid a living wage. They have security and they have parking. All of the things that are pain points for communities have been taken care of by hotels and the city basically undermines their own planning process by legalizing something that was never meant to be. 20,000 units would come on stream. 

My opponents are making promises: one of them said she would build 25,000 affordable housing units. That’s going to be 10 years in the making. Mine will take 10 weeks. I’m not going to spend a billion dollars, I’m going to buy a Bic pen and sign the bylaw. Instantly, those units come on stream because it won’t be legal for those property owners to rent in a short-term marketplace. Tourists will be staying at hotels and motels. Students, residents and long-term residents of the city will be staying in apartment units, houses and in shared accommodation, because some Airbnbs are shared accommodation.

I certainly am an ally of the graduate students and doctoral students who are currently in negotiations with the universities to get higher pay. We are in a knowledge-based economy. And those doctoral students and postgraduate students are a vital and strategic resource to our city and to our country. When we don’t pay them enough, then they go somewhere else. And they provide the United States, the UK and other European countries with a strategic economic advantage in the research that they do, particularly in the sciences. They develop intellectual property that is not only valuable – because academic knowledge is important – but they develop intellectual property that can be commercialized by industry and create even more jobs and economic opportunity for others.

We have to do a better job as a society, and it’s not a city council decision, don’t get me wrong. But if I’m elected mayor, I’m going to be standing shoulder to shoulder with those students, arguing that they deserve better pay, better benefits, and better working conditions because we need them to be residents of the city. Just to get an idea of how important it is, you just have to go to any city that doesn’t have a university and you’ll realize the important contribution that academic institutions make to your local economy.

Toronto boasts numerous colleges and universities. The TTC plays a crucial role as many students rely on public transit. As a mayoral candidate, how do you intend to manage the TTC?

Davis: I’m a former vice-chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission and I know firsthand the challenges that management has and the challenges that the Commission has in policymaking. One of the first things that I would do, particularly in the area of safety, is I would allow first responders to ride for free on the transit system. We have 5,400 police officers, 3,500 firefighters, and 1,400 Emergency Medical Workers (EMS). Their presence as first responders offers an opportunity. In return, for those that have a free ride, we would ask them to simply act as good Samaritans in case of an emergency. There was a recent stabbing of a woman at High Park subway station, she unfortunately succumbed to her injuries. But it was an off-duty police officer who made the arrest and provided her with some comfort and service to try to help save her life. So that’s one very inexpensive way to increase safety.

When I was on Toronto Council and vice-chair of the TTC, we negotiated a special rate with the University of Toronto. The Student Activity Council created a bulk purchasing opportunity for students at U of T and we were able to give a preferential rate to those students. I’d like us to revisit that opportunity and see if we can one, offer a significantly reduced rate, and two, as a result of that, bring back ridership. It may sound odd to say, but we tend to go into restaurants that have a lot of people in them. We tend to get on a bus that has people on it, not too many people, mind you.

One of the keys to safety and security is what they call “crime prevention through environmental design.” There’s a phrase that’s called “eyes on the street.” Eyes on the street is a philosophy that if you have an active and vibrant neighborhood, and there are people sitting on their front porches, then there’s less likely to be criminal activity. We need students to be the eyes and ears of the community. And there’s an opportunity for us to offer them deeply discounted rates to help us bring ridership back and increase safety. Because the more people that are on that service, particularly in off-peak hours, the safer it will be for everybody and it’ll be a benefit for students.

How does your background and experience prepare you for the responsibilities of being the mayor of Canada’s largest city?

Davis: I come from the financial service sector, so the idea of helping to manage a $16 billion budget is not overwhelming to me. I have done a lot of work in that field and I have a finance background, number one. Number two, I was co-chair of the city’s Crime Prevention Task Force; I put in place Canada’s first-ever voluntary gun buyback program. Since I introduced that policy, we’ve collected close to 10,000 guns from the streets of Toronto. Additionally, I was the one who moved the motion for the pilot project that introduced the green bin program in Toronto, looking at organic waste and finding different ways to dispose or divert organic waste from the waste stream.

I have a variety of different experiences that will allow me to be fiscally prudent/financially responsible, environmentally conscious and socially conscious, and I also have a very strong community safety background. Those are three very important things in this era. I look at solutions, I look creatively at solving problems. And I think the ones that I’ve outlined in my campaign, everything from banning Airbnb, which gives us an immediate opportunity to house people in 20,000 units, to looking at increasing or offering first responders free rides which would increase safety on transit.

Then, of course, you’ve probably seen me walking around with a Dundas Street West sign when I registered. I would not spend $21 million to change the name of Dundas Street and Yonge Street. I would put that money into transit and community safety. I also think that we should re-look whether or not we’re going to expand bike lanes. $31 million a year to expand bike lanes, including into parts of the city where there are very few cyclists, is the wrong approach.

I would look for ways to put that money into the things that people want: safety, transit, and more affordability.

Advance voting runs from Thursday, June 8 to Tuesday, June 13, with the election on Monday, June 26. Voters can find more information on the city of Toronto website.

About the Author

By David Clarke

Former Editor

David is in his fourth year, studying English at York University. He has a keen interest in filmmaking, writing, literature, video-editing, and ideas. When he isn’t working on his next project or studying, you can catch him watching film-noirs on Turner Classic Movies.


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