Mayor says he is ‘formally asking’ Premier Kathleen Wynne to allow the use of the ‘technology in the place of uniform police officers.’
If Toronto Mayor John Tory has his way, the message to motorists will be: Smile, you’re on candid camera!
In a bid to reduce policing costs in the city, Tory on Monday said he is “formally” asking Premier Kathleen Wynne to amend provincial laws to allow photo radar in Toronto.
“Give us legislative freedom to do a couple of things that I think are going to be very fundamental to the modernization of policing and to the addressing of the police budgetary concerns,” the mayor said at Queen’s Park following a 40-minute meeting in the premier’s office.
Tory, a former provincial Progressive Conservative leader, said he is seeking “broader latitude than we have today to use technology, especially when it comes to things like traffic management.”
“We can use technology in place of uniform police officers. This will allow for more efficient deployment of expensive, highly trained police officers,” he said, adding the technology “could include photo radar,” especially in school zones.
“I will only speak about the need to have this in Toronto.”
While Wynne conceded that “the costs of policing, we know, are a challenge for municipalities,” she was non-committal on photo radar returning to Ontario province-wide.
“I’m not going to talk about specific technologies,” the premier said.
“These concerns and these requests have to come from the municipalities. I look forward to getting the formal request from the mayor.”
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca emphasized that no specific demand has yet come from the city.
“I’m not going to speculate until we actually see the request,” said Del Duca.
“Once we have that request, we’ll take a look at it and we’ll make decisions accordingly,” he said, adding there are “no formal requests from any municipality that I’m aware of” to revive photo radar.
Opposition parties were open to the idea, with the Progressive Conservatives, who quickly cancelled photo radar after taking power from the NDP in 1995, seeing it more as a revenue-raising tool for municipalities while the New Democrats view it as a safety matter.
Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said it’s a “fair approach” to consider requests from municipal governments for photo radar as a way of freeing police for more important work.
“That conversation I would . . . welcome . . . . It’s important to hear from the police, to hear from municipalities. If that’s something they want to pursue then it should be considered here,” he told reporters Monday.
“It was the Progressive Conservatives that got rid of photo radar, so there is some hesitation toward that, but, I think the reality is municipalities are desperately looking at new revenue mechanisms because of underfunding,” Brown added.
“Toronto has kick-started the conversation . . . . It’s certainly premature whether I’m going to be out there supporting it.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wynne should “take seriously” any such requests from Tory, other municipalities and her home city of Hamilton, where council is concerned about speeders on highways.
“It’s actually time to have a new look” at the measure given the technological and attitudinal changes over the past two decades, she said.
“We simply cannot have a police officer on every single street where there’s a potential speeder . . . . I know that many municipalities are looking for solutions to create greater public safety by putting photo radar on some of their worst streets when it comes to speeding.”
Photo radar. which takes pictures of a speeding car’s licence plate and mails the owner a ticket, has long been politically contentious at Queen’s Park.
Former NDP premier Bob Rae launched it on Ontario highways in August 1994 and it was scrapped by his Progressive Conservative successor Mike Harris just 11 months later.
Mindful of its unpopularity with many motorists, Harris successfully made it a key issue in the 1995 election.