Challengers To Watch XVII

September 18, 2014

(We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been friends with Ward 1 Etobicoke North’s city council candidate, Idil Burale, for a few years now. In fact, we’ve put in some time working on her campaign. So, there’s some question of objectivity when it comes to writing up her profile. Luckily, Ms. Burale has more than her share of fans excited about her candidacy. One, Samuel Getachew, a Toronto based community journalist and political activist, busily preparing his Canadian Perspective site, wrote an article about her a while back and was generous to let us share it with us.)

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Unlocking City Hall’s potential: a new voice for Etobicoke North

In a room full of distinguished citizens – Former Prime Minister John Turner, Conservative strategist Jamie Watt, former Mayoral candidate Karen Stintz – at Royal York Hotel last year, the only person I wanted to have a conversation was with Idil Bruale.

The only subject I wanted to discuss with her was about her potential candidacy for municipal office in 2014. I had heard a rumour she might be a candidate and I was excited. However, she told me she would not be a candidate and I was disappointed.

How could I not be?

Burale is an eloquent, smart and ambitious young person that would bring much substance and initiative to our local government. I have enjoyed her thoughtful insights over the years on outlets such as TVO’s The Agenda and CBC radio and she is exactly the kind of person one should encourage to be active in electoral politics.

In the tradition that mere months in politics is a life time, the 28-year-old has recently announced that she would indeed be a candidate in 2014. She is running in Etobicoke North‏’s Ward 1 against Councillor Vincent Crisanti, a loyalist and mouth piece to Mayor Rob Ford. I am glad she is running and is giving her neighbours a better destination to support.

Beyond her youthful lofty ideal and objectives in social justice issues, Burale knows the potential and limitation of governments as she has been mentored and employed by noted area politicians such as MPP’S Mike Colle and Glen Murray. She understands retail politics as much as the responsibilities of governments.

What makes the young dynamo even more attractive is her civic participation.

For instance, she has made a great impression with the Rexdale Priority Neighbourhood Youth Solutions Group, organizing an event called Youth Solutions, in search of practical solutions to discuss important policy issues that affect youth disproportionally such as unemployment, policing, and a culture of low expectations at schools. For her, as she reflected with Inside Toronto, “the youth wants to be able to contribute to help find solutions for the neighborhood from everything such as employment to safety.”

She is also a member of Toronto District School Board’s task force for the success of Somali Canadian students in addressing a depressingly high level of drop outs. At the Toronto Police Service Board, she was a member of Community Safety Task Force that just concluded its work and produced an important policy report.

At the Toronto Police Service Board, she is a member of a task force on community safety and she also sits on an external advisory committee comprised of community members who are to assist in implementation of 31 recommendations. She also served with PACER, an internal Toronto Police Services initiative, of which she is accepted a three year membership of the external advisory committee helping the force in the implementation of 31 recommendations.

She is a founding member of Positive Change TO, Women in Toronto Politics, Academy of the Impossible and the Policing Literacy Initiative – an idea of the inspiring Jamil Jivani, a recent Yale Law School graduate. According to Jivani, an inspiring and engaged citizen himself, it’s to being “20 young leaders bringing new ideas and diverse perspectives to improve police services and community safety in Toronto and abroad”.

The ever busy Burale is currently pursuing an innovation leadership fellowship at MaRS Discovery District on systems change called Studio Y.

She was honoured by Samara in its 2013 Everyday Political Citizen (previously called Canada25) contest as its runner up candidate. Her nominator, University of Toronto’s Rima Berns-McGown, described her as “thoughtful, wise, diplomatic, perspicacious, funny, passionate; a community leader who understands the issues and who never puts her own interests before those of the people she serves; someone who cares about Toronto as a city and Canada as a country; and someone who is self-effacing and kind”.

She added – “If every political leader were like Idil, what an amazing city, province, and country this would be. I nominate her for Etobicoke North. I would vote for her anywhere”.

Indeed. Add me to the long list of admirers of such a special citizen in Idil Bruale.

submitted by Samuel Getachew


Challengers To Watch XVI

September 16, 2014

Sitting in a small coffee shop on Kingston Road chatting with Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest city council candidate Robert Spencer about the city’s alarming rate of child poverty, gabbingI was struck by the fact that, wow, we were talking about child poverty. Here we were, as our municipal campaign hit its home stretch, and we’ve heard precious little about this ‘epidemic’ level of child poverty in Toronto. Talk about all the transit and infrastructure needs you want but a city that tolerates nearly 150,000 of its kids living under the poverty line isn’t really a place you should be proud to call home.

This seems to be the issue that has Spencer back knocking on doors after having lost in 2010 by just over 400 votes. Questions of fairness, equality of opportunity, justice have been lifelong pursuits of his during a career spent as a community activist. A former chair of the Toronto Board of Education, Executive Director of Ontario Association of Food Banks and co-founder of the Bluffs Advocate local newspaper, Spencer is well versed with the needs of the community as well as the bureaucracy that sees to them.

“The reality is the city is only great because its people are great,” Spencer told David Hains of the Torontoist last week. “The city only works well because we all get together and work together. I think there’s a whole slew of issues that are missed — if you only look at the hard services in a city, you miss what makes a city useful: art, culture, community education, good health programs, and good nutrition programs for kids. Those are all within the mandate of the City. They’re all much more interesting than arguing about whether eight years from now an environmental assessment is going to be put on this alignment or that alignment, this number of stations or that number of stations.”

Politics is about people not things. “Repaving the roads is not enough,” Spencer told me, although trying to “resolve as many of the practicalities as possible” is a city councillor’s job, filling potholes doesn’t make a city liveable, filling hungry kids’ bellies does.activism

It’s impossible for me to demonstrate the gulf of difference between Robert Spencer’s approach to governance and that of the man he’s trying to remove from office, Councillor Gary Crawford whose signature items during his first term were painting Mayor Ford’s portrait and drumming in the band that played Ford Fest. Oh, and his 76% pro-Ford voting record during the term, including eliminating water efficiency rebate programs, closing library branches, defunding the Tenant Defence Fund, eliminating community environment days, the Christmas bureau, the hardship fund.

And that was just in year one!texaschainsawmassacre

All this while one of the poorest areas of the city sits smack dab in the middle of Ward 36.

According to Spencer, he’s not hearing much of the Ford agenda banter as he’s talking to residents of the ward. Keeping taxes low doesn’t come up that often. As for the Scarborough subway plan, he’s says it’s about evenly split in terms of support. He doesn’t think much of it. It doesn’t do anything in terms of transit for the ward. He’d rather see express bus service brought back that was lost way back with amalgamation.

Again, politics is about people not about things.

I wound up my hour+ interview with Spencer with barely half a page of notes taken, not because he had little to say or out of sheer laziness on my part. communityinvestmentWe simply talked about the state of the city we both loved and what was needed to help try and fix it and I forgot to write stuff down. But his passion for Toronto and Ward 36, and his focus on how to create a fairer place to live with increased opportunities for everyone was obvious.

Whatever the outcome of this election on October 27th, if Robert Spencer is elected councillor of Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest, City Hall will be a better place. He is truly one of the good guys.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


Incumbent Endorsements

September 15, 2014

The gates are closed. The rosters are set. Drivers, start your engines. The game is afoot.

Sports analogies and mixed metaphors prepare to abound.homestretch

As of last Friday, registration for city council candidates closed. Everyone who wanted to be on the ballot now is. Those who didn’t departed.

The municipal election is now for realz, yo.

Here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke we will begin the slow but meticulous process of winnowing down to our preferred list of candidates, shaping our endorsements, as you will. As any regular reader of this site, we are all about the council races. This is where the dynamic of the next city council will form. This is where our focus will be.

Today we begin by endorsing incumbents who are seeking re-election. Those we think contributed in a positive way to the maintaining of some sort of sanity during the last tumultuous 4 years. It couldn’t have been easy or pleasant. Combative more than productive. decisionsdecisions2These councillors have earned the opportunity to attend to council business in a more civil and collegial atmosphere.

37 of 44 incumbents are seeking re-election (38, I guess if you include Rob Ford in Ward 2 Etobicoke North). If the political gods were just, more than 2/3 of them would be swept out of office. Nothing of the short will happen, of course. I guy’s entitled to dream, isn’t he?

While we’d like to think our opinions are at least informed, we can’t pretend they’re not subjective, based on likeability, perceived intelligence and engagement, without a large dose of political bias. From what we’ve witnessed over the past years, it is our humble opinion, with exceptions naturally, right wingers don’t tend to be good city builders.

One absolute, a pure straight up and down non-starter, is support for the Scarborough subway. Any councillor ultimately voting in favour of that white elephant displayed a wanton disregard for expert advice, taxpayers’ dollars and nothing but pure self-interest. That makes them unqualified to hold public office.

So, if you don’t see your councillor or ward on this list, it means we think it’s time for a change. We will note open wards in order to avoid any sort of confusion. Only the names of the councillors and the wards they represent should be considered having received the official All Fired Up in the Big Smoke seal of approval.

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Ward 2 Etobicoke North [open, sort of].

Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre [open].

Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre [open].

Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore [open].

Ward 9 York Centre Councillor Maria Augimeri

She withstood a blistering attack from Team Ford, going right back to last election and faces what looks to be another tight election race. endorsement2She didn’t speak out often during this term. When she did, she tended to speak out for those in the city without much of a voice at City Hall. Her short tenure as TTC chair set out to mitigate the reductions in service by the previous chair and put the TTC’s needs front and centre for the next city council.

Ward 13 Parkdale-High Park Councillor Sarah Doucette

A 1st term councillor with the unfortunate timing of this being her first term. She displayed a certain calm resoluteness through it all. She helped save High Park Zoo from the chopping block. Contentious development is creeping up through her ward and, while that never makes a local councillor popular with everybody, she seemed to have negotiated the treacherous waters ably.

Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks

Yeah, well. What can I say about Gord? He was part of the bulwark that pushed back hardest against a mayor gone wild, able to fend off the worst excesses of this administration. It was always great to watch him speak and excoriate the idiocy of the administration and the knuckleheads pursuing it. His frustrations boiled over at times but they mirrored all of our frustrations. I mean, who amongst us didn’t want to drop an f-bomb in Josh Colle’s direction every now and then or hit Giorgio Mammoliti in the face and nuts simultaneously.thumbsup3

Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence [open].

Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina Councillor Mike Layton

As a constituent in the ward I was unimpressed with Mike out there on the campaign trail. I couldn’t help thinking he was being handed it. I was wrong however. Mike turned out to be a dynamite councillor, humble, diligent and conscientious. He rarely lost his cool at council even though he was often the focus of attack from the administration. He was also thrown into the fire of unrelenting development in Trinity-Spadina and never wilted. My runner-up for best 1st term councillor, 2010-14.

Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina [open].

Ward 21 St. Paul’s Councillor Joe Mihevc

Joe’s like a comfortable old shoe. Reliable, not flashy. He’s like that guy, probably an uncle, who’s got a really good story to tell but isn’t a very good storyteller. He gets there eventually, after taking a torturously route. He mistakenly believed that there was a way to compromise and negotiate with the likes of Team Ford which ended up with him somehow voting in favour of the Scarborough subway in only to have to retrace his steps. thumbsup2It’s a noble instinct but detrimental when misplaced. Joe probably deserves one more term to (hopefully) enjoy some relative peace and quiet.

Ward 22 St. Paul’s Councillor Josh Matlow

Lord knows, I’ve had my issues with Josh Matlow. He came into council in 2010 obstinately believing there was some verifiable truth lying somewhere smack dab in the middle between left and right. Somehow he’d missed the memo that the right at City Hall had moved really, really far right. He wised up and grabbed hold of the transit issue with an objective tenacity that was admirable. His schooling of Rob Ford on what an LRT actually was and where they were going to run in Scarborough belongs in the city council hall of fame. If there is such a thing.

Ward 26 Don Valley West Councillor John Parker

I have to look over some serious political differences on this one, the councillor’s Harris government background, his initial hardcore Team Fordness, that time he intoned the spectre of Greece and Detroit during a budget debate. Yet, he seems like a genuinely nice guy, somebody not unable to talk and iron out differences with those he doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with. His calm demeanour and dry sense of humour offered welcome respite when he took over chairing council meetings. And lost in the whole Scarborough subway mess is the fact Councillor Parker really was the point person in the charge to take back the transit file from Rob Ford. His public musings about the mayor’s early attempt to bury the Eglinton crosstown for its entire length as being ‘the goofiest LRT ever’ helped kick start the conversation.endorsement1

Ward 27 Toronto Centre Rosedale Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam

This term’s breakout rookie superstar, Councillor Wong-Tam emerged unscathed (or as unscathed as anyone could from these past 4 years) despite relentless attacks on her and her ward from the mayor and other members of the right rear guard/old guard, beginning with the ripping up of the Jarvis bike lanes right up to the scaled back version of her Open Streets initiative. Through it all, she remained gracious but determined, articulate in her vision of the ward and the city at large. In many ways, she represented the calm, poised antithesis of the Ford and Co. blusterfuck. If you want to know what Toronto needs going forward, I’d say just a few more KWTs would do the trick.

Ward 31 Beaches-East York Councillor Janet Davis

While there was no one opposition leader to the Ford Administration on city council, few were more vocal, more dogged than Councillor Davis. She never seemed to take umbrage at their wantonly destructive ways so much as she was just morally outraged. She was like a defense attorney, relentlessly cross-examining their every move and motivation. There were few councillors who attended more committee meetings than Councillor Davis. There seems to be little about the city’s business she’s not on top of or doesn’t know inside out. Indefatigable might be my best description of her, tirelessly trying to make the city a better place for all of us to live.

Ward 32 Beaches-East York Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon

Perhaps next to the Ford Brothers, nobody elected to city council in 2010 reflected the anti-David Miller push more than Councillor McMahon. She pummelled the then Council Speaker, Sandra Bussin, touting a John Tory endorsement all the way into office. thumbsupNot surprisingly, many of her early votes fell in behind the new administration. Eliminating the Vehicle Registration Tax, contracting out waste collection. She even voted to proceed with the Scarborough subway initially until joining in to try and pull the plug on it a few months later. She was truly part of the so-called mushy middle. But overall, she did the right thing whether or not we’re talking environmental issues, cycling or navigating the choppy waters of development in the Beaches. It’s easy to believe that with a better mayor and administration at City Hall, we will see a better Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon.

Ward 33 Don Valley East Councillor Shelley Carroll

I can sum up my admiration for Councillor Carroll in one concise thought. Twice now Toronto has lost out on the opportunity for strong, forward-thinking, progressive leadership because she did not run for mayor in 2010 and again this year. We’re just going to have to settle for her back as city councillor. It’s what you’d call a lose-win situation.

Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt [open].

Ward 43 Scarborough East Councillor Paul Ainslie

If we were given out awards, Councillor Ainslie would receive the Most Improved Councillor trophy. His move from an almost mute Team Ford voting machine to true independence was impressive. thumbsupbatmanCouncillor Ainslie pushed back at Team Ford before it became acceptable to do so. Alone among every other councillor from Scarborough, he gradually came around to the realization choosing a subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth over an LRT made little economic sense. He said so publicly. Eventually, he found himself on the outside but not before pushing through some innovative initiatives including voter reform while chair of the Government Management Committee. Councillor Ainslie proved you didn’t have to be loud or bombastic to get things done at City Hall.

helpfully and hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Old School

September 13, 2014

It’s not like I haven’t been rendered speechless before by the antics, let’s call them, at City Hall over the course of the past 4 years. dumbstruckI mean, crack smoking and having more than enough to eat at home? And those two just immediately spring to mind.

But yesterday at candidate registration/withdraw deadline day, it was just, well, wow. Just wow.

As you’ll probably know by now, an ailing Rob Ford declared himself unfit to seek re-election as mayor of Toronto but healthy enough to try and reclaim his old council seat in Ward 2 Etobicoke North. His brother Doug, having declared his intention not to seek re-election in the ward he’d inherited from his brother back in 2010 and an overwhelming desire to get the fuck away from City Hall, decided to stick around and run in his brother’s place for mayor instead. Nephew Mikey who had mutely held down the Ward 2 fort as city council candidate while his uncle(s) worked all the logistics was moved into the local school board trustee race.musicalchairs1

Yeah. A Ford running for school board trustee and somehow that’s not even the most redonkulous of this campaign’s ridiculousness.

Frankly, the whole fucking day felt like a setback. A setback and a rollback, a throwback to an earlier era. Not only are we now facing the prospect of a return to Councillor Rob Ford (a much more likely scenario than a Mayor Doug Ford regardless of how ill or incapacitated Rob may be at this point) but look at the artefacts who joined various council races yesterday.

Chris Stockwell, Ward 4 Etobicoke Center. (Last in municipal politics 1988.) John Nunziata, Ward 12 York South-Weston. (Last in municipal politics with an unsuccessful mayoral race in 2003.) Toss in Doug Holyday’s sound-a-like son, Stephen, recently registered to run in Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre, and, you know, we can start partying like it’s 1999.turnbacktheclock

Councillor Ron Moeser, mostly absent and/or devoid of contribution to city council for the entire last term decided, why not give it another kick at the can in Ward 44, deliver another 4 years of little more than confusing questions to staff and grumpy outbursts about ice cream trucks.

I don’t want to sound alarmist at this juncture. Name recognition and incumbency doesn’t guarantee victory come election but both certainly offer an advantageous leg up on the competition. Even the notion of any of these candidates becoming city councillors (or remaining one in Moeser’s case) sends chills down my spine however. They represent the political zombification of the 2014 municipal campaign.

I don’t think I’m too far off the mark to say this represents a crisis of governance.

Toronto’s at something of a crossroads. Having done little more than tread water (at best) for the past 4 years, problems have continued to pile up. Transit and congestion. State of good repair for a lot of our infrastructure needs, not least of which Toronto Community Housing. badolddaysDeep, deep political divisions.

The last thing this city needs going forward is a bunch of past timers, good ol’ boys talking and acting like it’s the good ol’ days. Old men (in spirit if not in age) with old ideas. The very ideas that got us into our current civic state.

What’s really frustrating is that there are a lot of interesting and exciting new voices out there already campaigning. The likes of a possible Councillor Rob Ford or Stockwell or Nunziata, another fucking Nunziata, Holyday the Younger, Moeser just smacks of regression and retrenchment. Yet another step back when we need to be looking forward.

If it wasn’t clear to everybody before Friday, this is not a campaign anybody should sit out and watch from the sidelines. deadwoodThis is going to take everything the city has to try and staunch the flow of reactionism that appears to be gathering steam. There’s all sorts of dead wood already occupying space in council chambers. We don’t need to be adding to that burn pile.

As the campaign now kicks into high gear, I implore you. Get out there, knock on doors, pick up the phone, donate some cash. The zombies are on the move and they want to eat our civic brains.

frightfully submitted by Cityslikr


Stupidity Not Mendacity

September 12, 2014

It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I hate the Scarborough subway plan pacification vote getter plan. hateitNothing more than, what do those politician-hating politicians call it? A boondoggle. If this monstrosity actually comes to be, and there’s no guarantee it will, folks. There’s no deal signed. No money in the bank. Just malleable promises, pandering politicians and one big novelty cheque.

But let’s say the political winds don’t change and sometime down the line, off there on the horizon, at a distant point in the distant future, 3 new stops get slapped onto the eastern end of the Bloor-Danforth subway. Hurrah! Scarborough gets more of a subway, civic pride is restored and… well, nothing much else will change. It’s all just questions after that. Will the ridership numbers live up to the pie-in-the-sky estimates or will there be more of a drain on the TTC’s operational budget? What about all those other residents of Scarborough who can’t easily walk to one of the three subway stops and are once more relying on bus service for their commutes? How come I’m still paying property taxes for this fucking subway?ooops1

What’s so particularly galling about this nonsense is that it’s all so unnecessary, unnecessary and counter-productive.

In a discussion paper released this week, Build Regional Transit Now, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, among other things, called for an end to political interference in transit planning. This being 2014, it is something of a sad irony such a plea had to be made since the provincial transit planning body, Metrolinx, was established just for that very reason. David Hains does a great job in the Torontoist, running down the rocky not so non-political history of Metrolinx.

I want to take you to page 17 of the TRBOT’s report. Under the subheading, “Decison-Making and Project Execution a Struggle”, it speaks directly to the Scarborough LRT/subway debacle. Or ‘standoff’ as the report calls it.

At the heart of any sound governance structure is accountability and efficient decision-making. These elements were clearly not in place with the on-going Scarborough subway versus LRT standoff. Indeed, it demonstrated much confusion around the roles and responsibilities of Metrolinx and who exactly was accountable for driving regional transportation expansion. Despite Metrolinx’s transportation planners recommending an LRT line, including close to $100 million in sunk costs associated with environmental assessments and other preparatory work, Metrolinx’s advice was, in the end, ignored by both the Province and the City of Toronto. Over the span of several weeks, the agency was compelled to first endorse a subway proposal from the then provincial Transportation Minister and later Toronto Council’s approved subway route.

In a paragraph nutshell. Expert advice was ignored. Money burned. Political pressure brought to bear on an apparently non-political agency.

The question, of course, is why? And the simple answer is politics. whyThe conventional wisdom went that Scarborough residents wanted a subway, so Scarborough politicians bent over backwards to give them a subway, good governance and a cool hundred mil be damned.

But here’s what really burns my ass about that line of non-reasoning. When did that become conventional wisdom? Rob Ford’s election and his Subways Everywhere mantra, perhaps. The minority Liberals, running scared and willing to do anything in order to keep seats in Toronto.

A good theory, I guess. I don’t have a better one. The problem is, I’m not convinced the very premise lying at the heart of all this holds water.

As a Forum poll showed this week, 56% of Scarborough residents asked stated a preference for subways over LRTs. Here’s the catch. It was a completely loaded and skewed question. thisorthatEssentially it went, subway or LRT, “if costs for building both were the same”?

The costs aren’t the same. Not even close. Subways are more expensive. End stop. Moreover, the Scarborough LRT wouldn’t have cost Toronto residents any additional money. The subway has its own property tax increase.

So it was a stupid question, for sure, of the all things being equal type when clearly they’re not but even so, even with a pro-subway angle to the question, only 56% of respondents in Scarborough favoured building a subway.

That is hardly an overwhelming majority. Nowhere near the 100% support the mayor and other subway proponents tout. Given a proper shaping of the question, it would be even less.

In fact, earlier this year, a Leger poll found 56% of Scarborough residents wanted to revert back to the originally planned Scarborough LRT. “I think we’re starting to see a shift now as people become more aware of the cost to build subways,” said a Leger researcher. ontheotherhand1Yet, here we are, being told the exact opposite by the politicians we elected to represent our best interests.

The confounding thing to me is why. If voters can be convinced of the folly of building a subway extension into Scarborough with little more than a money argument, how come politicians aren’t willing to do just that? To recommend the advice of the non-political experts who tell us that a Scarborough LRT is really our best option. How has this debate become so fucking convoluted and divisive?

I have no answer. It’s one thing to chalk up politicians’ motives as doing whatever it is they need to do to get elected, and re-elected, and re-elected. Putting their interests before the interests of the voting public. A time-honoured, tried and true formula.

But the decision-making process for the Scarborough subway doesn’t seem to be that. It’s not about some failure to lead. It’s about the desire to mislead.

steamroll

When all the factors point in the direction of one decision, and the public appears prepared to accept that decision, what politician would opt not to make it? That’s not crass and craven politics. It’s flat-out idiocy.

head-shakingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch XV

September 11, 2014

When former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson switched (*ahem, ahem*) horses over to a run for city council in Ward 20 Trinity Spadina earlier this week, ward20she threatened to suck the remaining oxygen from the race. An open ward after the departure of Adam Vaughan to the rank of MP in Ottawa, already with 27 candidates vying to fill the vacancy although there does seem to be some last minute consolidation ahead of tomorrow’s registration deadline, something of a known entity in local politics like Thomson could well vault to near the head of the pack, based solely on name recognition. She was a second place finisher in the riding encompassing Ward 20 in the 2011 provincial election and now would be facing the second place finisher in this summer’s federal by-election, Joe Cressy.

Here’s the funny thing, though. Neither of them are the best candidate in the race. Not even close. That honour goes to Anshul Kapoor.

If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll probably know his work. Kapoor is the founder and chair of NoJetsTO, standouta grassroots group that sprung up to fight Porter Air and the Toronto Port Authority’s attempt at expanding the island airport to allow jet flights from it. To date, NoJetsTO has been successful. The mad rush to get council approval earlier this year was fended off. The city has a long list of conditions that have to be met before negotiations even begin.

It is an organization that has spread its support far beyond Ward 20 and all along the waterfront. Chatting to candidate in Ward 3 a few weeks back, he told me there’s a sizable NoJetsTO presence when he’s out knocking on doors in central Etobicoke. It is community organizing at its best.

What else do you want from your city councillor? The ability to help bring people together in a way that contributes to and affects the life of your community. There really isn’t any stronger endorsement than that.

Fighting airport expansion was Kapoor’s first foray into political involvement. It was an issue that hit close to home. anshulkapoor1He and his wife moved to the waterfront in Ward 20 in 2010. They chose to do so because, for them, the ward represents the cultural and development epicentre of the city. It was where they wanted to raise their family. Being so close to the island airport was simply a bonus.

Until the expansion talk, bringing with it the push for jets. For Kapoor, that was a threat not only to his quality of life but that of every nearby neighbourhood. Once neighbourhoods come under duress, the building blocks of a vibrant city get chipped away at.

Just in case you think Anshul Kapoor is a one trick pony, someone representing a pushback on development, a Johnny-come-lately NIMBY type, you’d be wrong. He wants to promote development in a way that encourages a less transitory nature in the ward where young people pass through when they’re at school or just starting out in their careers and relationships, only to move on when it comes to raising a family. That means more family friendly building, more mixed income and affordable units. anshulkapoorIt means fighting to implement inclusionary zoning, to establish a percentage of affordable units be included in new developments.

“How is Toronto preparing for 2050?” Kapoor asks. Anyone seeking the city councillor job in Ward 20 has to be very, very mindful of the impact of development, 10 years down the road, 20 years, 30. Will the proper infrastructure be in place to handle such an enormous population increase? It’s already groaning under the strain. With projects like the Gehry buildings on King Street on the horizon, the pressure is only going to increase. The next Ward 20 councillor has to be prepared to tackle that.

How do they do that? Start talking about the ‘opportunity cost’ of low taxation, for one. What it costs us as a city to maintain a low tax base and restricted revenue streams. An over-crowded transit system. Crumbling and compromised infrastructure. Depleted public spaces. “Adult conversations,” says Kapoor, “lead to productive discourse.”frankgehry

Not only is Ward 20 a key centre for residential growth, it’s the 4th largest tech hub in North America, bringing in billions of dollars to the city annually. It needs to be nurtured and given all the opportunities to thrive. Kapoor believes Ward 20 businesses need to be promoted, their importance to the city, region and country ‘shouted from the rooftops’.

Anshul Kapoor wants to represent Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina at City Hall because it is his story. It lured him downtown from the outer suburbs of the GTA. It provides everything he’s looking for, for him and his family’s well-being. Amenities. Vital and energetic neighbourhoods. A solid sense of community. Ward 20 introduced him to local politics.

This is the 15th instalment of our Challengers to Watch series, and while we’ve met, ward201talked to and wrote about many good, solid candidates, there’s only been a handful who struck us as primed and ready to go as city councillors. A few who have truly excited us about the prospect of them going to City Hall and fighting for the future of this city.

Anshul Kapoor is one of those. Ward 20 Trinity Spadina will do itself and the entire city a huge favour if it looks past the big name and the anointed successor and elects Anshul Kapoor as its city councillor. He helped bring the community together once already from the outside. Imagine what he’s capable of working on the inside.

enthusiastically submitted by Cityslikr


See Ya, Soks

September 10, 2014

Even in light of David Soknacki’s withdrawal from the mayor’s race last night, I refuse to go blaming a campaign team for over-estimating the public’s desire to engage in meaty policy thinking during an election campaign. goodintentionsIt’s a good instinct to have, I think. Optimistic. Displaying faith in your fellow human beings. Respecting our collective intelligence.

Unfortunately, it also may be somewhat misguided. What a candidate really seems to need to be successful is an image consultant not some nerdy issue wonks. Keep it simple. Most people don’t pay that much attention.

“Ultimately, the reason Ford got elected is that voters were very superficial,” says [Soknacki campaign manager Brian] Kelcey, noting his awareness that these comments may come back to haunt him. “I believe that the reason voters were willing to vote for Ford in 2010 in such numbers was because they were being superficial about municipal issues. That they wanted change, but they bought into the idea that the solutions could were simple and could be expressed in meaningless slogans without a plan to back them up… The challenge is that we’re still facing superficial voters, and the voters who are being anti-Ford may be being as superficial as the voters who were being pro-Ford in 2010, by not demanding more of the other candidates.”

While this, in David Hains’ fantastic Torontoist piece from yesterday, might come across as sour grapes from a failed campaign, it’s difficult to disagree with Mr. Kelcey at this point. sourgrapes1Even in a campaign this long, months and months long, there was very little space given over to detailed ideas and platforms with even two dimensional complexity. Freak shows and catchphrases. Toronto Votes 2014.

Maybe that’s just politics in the Rob Ford era. 2010, Rob Ford, good. 2014, Rob Ford, bad.

But I think it goes much deeper than that. We’d like to think that in a robust democracy substance matters. An informed electorate will look past personalities and zippy slogans, and dig down into the meat of matters. The message is what matters not the messenger.

The fact is, we’d be idiots to believe that. “Firstly, it must be said that Soknacki is a dedicated and conscientious policy wonk and, I think, a genuinely decent human being,” @mightygodking tweeted last night. “All of that said: so what? This is politics. It is not THE WEST WING.”

We can blame this on all those ‘low-information’ voters out there, too busy or too ignorant to take the time to become really informed, substancebut I suspect most of us are not immune to our visceral, initial impressions of a candidate. Many of us love our brand affiliations. This is why the ‘NDP candidate’ Olivia Chow barb from John Tory has stuck so clingingly. That’s gut trumping brains.

Everybody knew that this campaign would be some sort of referendum on Mayor Rob Ford. That tends to happen when an incumbent runs for re-election. The calculus of engaging that by each candidate was different.

David Soknacki and his team rolled the dice, figuring the public was tired of the outrageous antics of the mayor, and wanted somebody the exact opposite. A low key, less colourful figure with good ideas. Toronto just wanted some peace and quiet, and for city council to get on with running things competently.

The problem for Team Soknacki turned out to be that John Tory did them one better. patricianHe was low key and less colourful than Rob Ford minus the good ideas part which rarely counts for all that much in an election campaign. Sorry.

Where in 2010, Rob Ford caught the spirit of voters with one word, resentment, John Tory is doing it in 2014, competency. Is he competent? Doesn’t matter. His suit fits perfectly.

David Soknacki ran smack dab into the impermeable bubble of illusion created by money, influence and class, frankly. The patrician John Tory had the Those Seeking Competency Above All Else vote from the outset. He didn’t have to prove it. He just was.

But I will throw mad props out to David Soknacki and all those who dedicated their time and energy to his candidacy for actually thinking we were prepared to engage in an issues-oriented campaign, for making a bid to our better angels. For various reasons, we weren’t up to the task. Toronto scared itself shitless 4 years ago and now was desperately, irrationally trying to un-inflict the damage. 2014 was no time to engage in ideas about the future.

hattip

grumpily submitted by Cityslikr


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