I found myself in a part of the city where it’s best taking a GO Train to get to if you’re going there. Where the roads are wide and the parking lots full. Plenty of green space too. Oh my god! Is that the soon-to-be Rouge National Park?
WE’RE ALMOST IN PICKERING, PEOPLE!!
Tucked away in the further south-east region of the city is Ward 44 Scarborough East. Toronto’s often forgotten ward. Wait. We have 44 wards?
I’m there chatting with city council candidate Jennifer McKelvie on the afternoon of her official campaign launch. She’s been already out canvassing, fitting it in around her full time work schedule, and will continue to do so until throwing all in come September. So, I have to ask what made her decide to take the leap into politics.
She’s always figured there’d be a political run in her future. It took a question from her kids to set it in motion, one probably asked by hundreds, thousands of children (dare I say a billion) around the city of Toronto. Why can Mayor Ford do drugs and still have a job? Good question with no easy answer but, clearly, the time had come to step up and try to help bring a little decorum and G-rated business back to City Hall.
Aside from good intentions, I asked Jennifer what specifically she wanted to deliver as a municipal representative. Housing was high up on her list. She was worried about affordability being in her children’s future. Would they be able to afford living in the neighbourhood if they chose to?
She expressed particular concern about seniors in Ward 44. Where would they go when they were no longer able to live on their own at home? This isn’t a theoretical exercise for this part of the city.
Ward 44 has a higher than city average of people living there in the 45-74 year-old age ranges and its single detached home ownership is more than double that of the city. Play that scenario out over the next decade and you’ve got yourself something of an exodus from the area if not dealt with fully. How? New development directed at various types of assisted living, I’d imagine.
But here’s the thing.
New, more intense kind of development is not always embraced in Ward 44. Check out 3 of the 4 candidates in the 2010 council campaign (including the current incumbent but not yet registered for 2014, Ron Moeser). “It’s a single-family community and whatever we do, we have to make sure it fits the character of our community.” “I think we should aim for zoning that keeps it as residential as possible. I would resist condo developments in the ward.” “…it fits with the neighbourhood, it keeps in a theme of green and trees and all the things that are really important to this area.”
Even on Ms. McKelvie’s website, she states: “When I see kids on the street playing, couples strolling, and people running, I smile. This tranquil Ward 44 lifestyle, tucked inside a metropolitan city, is why I live here.” I ask her about that because, for me, this tranquil lifestyle ‘tucked inside a metropolitan city’ sets off alarm bells. It’s what I hear, this ‘character of our community’, just before people blast any sort of new development proposal.
McKelvie is protective of that view. Ward 44 isn’t downtown. But she gets that stand alone single use, single house, entirely car-dependent development is no longer sustainable, at least not at the cost we’re currently charging for it.
Many of the people she’s talked to so far during the campaign seem to get it too. They’re not demanding taxes be kept low. They want to see value for their money. An amorphous concept in many ways. When I look at, I see the tranquil lifestyle and think, well, hey, you get to live out here in your big lots and tree filled neighbourhoods, and isn’t that the lake I’m looking at right now? That’s pretty good value for your money.
But then Jennifer tells me about the flooded basements during last year’s storms, the damage done by the ice storm. And public transit options. Ward 44’s pretty good if you live near the GO Train and can afford to take it every day. But I hopped aboard the Lawrence East bus to come home and let me tell you…
Like much of Scarborough, Ward 44 is a bus dependent area of the city. Whether or not the LRT or subway gets extended out along the Bloor-Danforth line, the ward will remain bus dependent.
So it’s about improving service through frequency and reliability. Maybe an express line or two. Hell, I don’t know if the ridership numbers warrant it but Lawrence Avenue out in this part of Scarborough is plenty wide enough for its own dedicated bus lane. (My opinion not the candidate’s, in case anyone asks.)
Of course, any sort of talk about BRTs or densification in Ward 44 runs smack dab into the wall of obdurate resistance that is its local councillor, Ron Moeser. Jennifer shrugged politely when I brought the incumbent’s name up. She winced slightly in reaction to my question about whether Councillor Moeser’s health should be an issue during the campaign if he chooses to run again. Felt a little bit like “mudslinging” to her.
I’m not so sure, frankly.
The fact is, the councillor was absent for a good chunk of the first 18 months of this term. Eighteen of some of the most tumultuous months this amalgamated city has seen. Even with his return, I wouldn’t consider him reliable or up to speed on the matters in front of him. On the day last week Jennifer and I were talking, Councillor Moeser went missing for a vote to determine the future of the current Ombudsman.
One way or the other, Ward 44 Scarborough East needs new representation, a new approach to governance, a new, reliable voice at City Hall. One of those now speaking up is Jennifer McKelvie. She deserves to be listened to.
– helpfully submitted by Cityslikr