August 13th, 2010 by Mike Adler - Inside Toronto
George Smitherman says as Toronto's mayor he will "fight the all-out war" that must be waged against bedbugs.
"And some of that will be tough love too, because in some of these buildings our neighbours won't let us in to do what's necessary," said Smitherman, who added the city hasn't done enough to remove the blood-sucking insects in private or public housing.
Other mayoral candidates and hopefuls for council or school board seats gave their views on tenant issues to dozens of activists at an outdoor rally this week.
Organizers from ACORN - the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now - said they are determined to raise the city's low tenant voter turnout this fall and let renters know which candidates share their views.
"We want to let every candidate in the city know that we refuse to be ignored," added Edward Lantz, organizer of the group's St. Jamestown chapter.
ACORN, which last month lobbied to get more polling stations in Toronto apartments, said it sent members into nearby highrises to talk to residents during the Thursday afternoon event on a lawn behind Wellesley Community Centre.
The group wants the city to greatly expand its inspections and enforcement program for Toronto's 6,000 apartment buildings, install displays in apartment lobbies to show inspection results, and hire more inspectors by requiring landlords to pay a "tenant protection fee."
Running for mayor, Sarah Thomson, who wants to re-organize Toronto Community Housing, said she would commit to ACORN's three-point platform.
So did Himy Syed, a mayoral candidate who thinks the city-owned housing authority must be dismantled. "The biggest slumlord in the city is the city," he said.
Smitherman, who promised to be "a tenant's mayor" if elected, supported the lobby displays but said the protection fee is unnecessary and renters are kidding themselves if they think city inspectors can visit all 6,000 buildings.
"If you fight a war on a thousand fronts you win nowhere," said the former Toronto Centre MPP, adding inspectors should continue to audit buildings with repeat offences or which draw the most complaints.
But Joe Pantalone said relying on complaints for inspections doesn't work. The city performed many inspections without complaints, looking for violations, he said, "because we had to go get them and flush them out."
A city councillor, Pantalone backs the ACORN platform and said if Toronto Housing is the city's worst landlord, it's because the province handed the city its housing stock without the funds to maintain it.
"If we need more money (to expand inspections), we'll find it," he pledged.
Toronto Public Health, which can issue a health protection order to treat a bedbug infestation, says the worldwide rise in bedbug infestations is "due to an increase in international travel and a reduction in use of very strong broad spectrum pesticides."