After last night’s ward 19 council debate held at the Garrison on Dundas Street West, I have come to the conclusion that we’d have much more clarity at the mayoral level if the debates were held in bars. In the backroom of bars. With access to alcoholic beverages.
Formal structures tend to break down and the audience becomes involved. Candidates have to think on their feet especially when pat, pre-packaged answers are noisily shouted down by the crowd. It’s like a trial by fire for the spot they’re campaigning for at City Hall.
The first thing that became clear last night is that we have an embarrassment of riches for council candidates here in ward 19. Of the 9 running to replace outgoing councillor and mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone, three would easily be up to the task, each bringing a fresh, new perspective as the ward’s representative on council. That situation alone makes me more determined than ever to further the cause of a ranked ballot voting system which, oddly enough, few of the candidates spoke up in favour of when asked the question from an audience member.
But at this point, let me tell you who I will not be voting for. Neither Sean McCormick nor Mike Layton. Both men feel like consummate opportunists, stepping forward into an open ward in order to advance their own personal ambition. Former sportscaster McCormick puts a shiny face to anti-City Hall, Ford-esque politics without adding any substance whatsoever. He quickly turned the crowd — which had been rowdy but largely encouraging — ugly when, in answering the question about the Ossington bar and restaurant moratorium, said how the street’s development had been important because as recently as 5 years ago, he and his wife had been afraid to walk there at night. What?! Are we talking about the same Ossington Street? Our Ossington Street?
As for Mike Layton, well, his pedigree may well be as much a hindrance as it is a help. Possessing the unrelenting earnestness of his father with none of the spark of his dad’s wife, Olivia Chow, Layton the younger comes across as a design model for the “perfect” Ward 19 council candidate. The next generation, chip off the old block replicant, he tosses around empty left wing cant as easily and emptily as McCormick does neo-conservative blather. Mike Layton is part of a municipal machine that residents around here seem to be growing weary of. This became painfully obvious when questioned about the mandatory inclusion of school board trustee incumbent, Chris Bolton (himself an object of attack from his opponent earlier in the evening for being part of this same political operation), name on Layton’s lawn signs. Caught flat-footed, Layton hummed and hawed, seeming to be genuinely surprised that anyone who would be voting for him wouldn’t be voting for Chris Bolton as well.
While Layton and McCormick treated each other with a contempt that suggested they believed they were the only two candidates on the ballot, most of the others up on stage with them delivered a genuine passion for public service that elicited unadulterated warm and fuzzies. David Footman again impressed with what is not a blanket anger toward City Hall but a frustration born of experience dealing with its bureaucracy and elected officials. A frustration that suggests things between residents and the city, and small businesses and the city could and should just work better. Not with a massive overhaul but a basic rethinking and retooling of rules and regulations along with simply opening up and easing access to the officials in order to allow a freer flow of thoughts and ideas. Too often, however, during the course of both ward 19 debates that I’ve attended, Mr. Footman has simply shrugged his shoulders at a question asked him because he doesn’t have an answer. While such frankness about ignorance can be endearing in small doses, it suggests to me that Mr. Footman needs to broaden his knowledge base somewhat before expecting people to throw their support behind him.
Which is the complete opposite of candidate George Sawision. A lifetime resident of ward 19, Sawision ran against Pantalone in 2006 and harbours a lingering dislike of the man who seems to be one of the very few people Mr. Sawision bears animosity toward. Mr. Sawision works tirelessly it seems in, at, and around City Hall in an effort to understand the mechanics of municipal governance and to discover ways to make it work better. The guy loves this community and you believe him whole-heartedly when he pledges that if elected ward 10 councillor, he’d be working for the residents not for himself. He already does. If George Sawision possessed fewer libertarian quirks, he’d be hard to ignore as the best choice on the ballot.
A spot taken in our books by Karen Sun. Possessing all the progressive credentials that Mike Layton has with none of the political baggage, Ms. Sun boasts real life experience in implementing her ideals. An organizer, volunteer and committee member, she represents those ideals Toronto needs to embrace if it’s to move forward and maintain its place as a significant city at the core of a vibrant regional economic and societal hub. Diversity, sustainability, innovation, deeper and more inclusive civic involvement, all comprise the basis of Ms. Sun’s campaign and are why she deserves to be ward 19’s next councillor.
Our only concern about Karen Sun is how her youthful, wide-eyed optimism will fare in the shark tank that is city council. But at last night’s debate, she displayed a quiet steeliness that avoided the loud, personal invective that dominated the stage at times. Her positive enthusiasm transcended the bitter tone toward City Hall which has been the trademark of the entire campaign in 2010. So, who knows? Maybe Karen Sun will change city council more than it changes her.
Our one word of advice for Ms. Sun would be, if you’re elected on October 25th, your first move should be to hire both George Sawision and David Footman onto your staff. Mr. Sawision will give you his considerable knowledge about City Hall and the workings of its various departments while Mr. Footman could serve as your enforcer. He seems to have a gritty, no bullshit demeanour that would serve you well. The three of you would make a winning team.
Just throwing it out there.
— dutifully submitted by Cityslikr