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Challengers To Watch

Dan Fox must feel as if he’s politically shadow boxing these days. As the only registered candidate for city councillor in Ward 24 Willowdale, shadowboxinghe’s had the whole place to himself since late-February. You’d almost think the guy was some deeply entrenched incumbent nobody was prepared to take on.

Actually, that’d be Councillor David Shiner, a long time city councillor, going back to the pre-amalgamation days of Mel Lastman’s North York. In fact, Councillor Shiner served as Mel’s 2nd term budget chief when the gang moved down Yonge Street to Toronto’s City Hall. No one’s sure if the councillor is planning to run again this year as he likes to keep his cards close to his chest. In 2010, he didn’t jump into the race until the very last moment, ultimately breezing to a comfortable win.

Wily. That’s how you could think of Councillor Shiner. At least, that’s the most flattering descriptor I can come up with. A wily veteran.

Councillor Shiner remains as part of the dwindling rump of that former municipality mindset who have no place conducting city business in 2014. His views are antiquated. His era is long past. Councillor Shiner came to City Hall with Mel Lastman. He should’ve done us a favour and left with Mel.

It also seems like the councillor has, I don’t know, gotten a little too cozy in his job. As Daniel Dale reported in the Toronto Star last year for five years (2006-2011), Councillor Shiner worked as a registered federal lobbyist. While not illegal or overtly unethical, it does smack of distraction, let’s call it. The smell doesn’t exactly dissipate when, in the same story, it’s revealed that the address the councillor registered as a lobbyist from is an apartment at Yonge and Eglinton rented out below market value and owned by a company that does business with the city.

Yeah. Take a sec to wipe some of that oil off you.

I guess it wouldn’t seem all so self-serving if there was much evidence of Councillor Shiner working hard for his constituents but if there is, I can’t find it. He has absolutely no web presence outside of the city’s site. His council expense report suggests he does little other than engage over the phone. A search to see if there were any Jane’s Walks or Doors Open events in Ward 24 came up empty.

To an outsider’s eyes, Councillor Shiner isn’t going out of his way to represent his residents in any obvious way.

So, is Dan Fox the candidate to oust him?

He’s certainly everything the incumbent isn’t. Young and enthusiastic. He cut his political teeth as a constituency assistant in the office of a local MPP. Currently, Mr. Fox is working in the federal civil service. So he is familiar with the mechanics of government.

His campaign material and website are certainly snazzy. And by snazzy, I mean professional. If that sounds like I’m being snotty or dismissive, I’m not. This is the kind of basic, on the ground stuff that wins council level campaigns. There are few high profile debates (especially if the current councillor doesn’t get around to registering to run until late in the race). There’s no glossy TV ads or radio spots. Just the tough slog of getting out to meet as many of the ward’s residents as humanly possible and introducing yourself to them.

Fox has been doing just that.

The question is, are enough voters in Ward 24 ready to break out from their complacency after so many years, decades even, of Shiner (but hardly shining) representation? The ward has experienced a serious bump in growth and development along its two subway connections, around the Yonge and Finch station and the stretch of the Sheppard Avenue west of Bayview station through to Leslie and eastward. But at its heart remains sleepy ol’ Willowdale, still very much the single family dwelling, auto-oriented neighbourhoods that reflect the approach to city governance of their long time representative at both North York and Toronto City Halls.

Unseating a municipal incumbent, especially one with such strong local name recognition as David Shiner is never an easy task. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of the concept of terms limits. But watching Councillor Shiner go about his business this term makes it difficult to argue against them. He remains defiantly old school when what this city needs right now are new ways of thinking, new approaches to governing.

We tend to focus on the mayoral campaign during municipal elections as the prime indicator for the direction we want the city to move, leaving ward races to their respective residents to decide. That’s change only partially done. Regardless of who’s elected Toronto’s new mayor, nothing would better serve the best interests of city council in October than the enforced retirement of the likes of David Shiner by Ward 24 voters.

Dan Fox represents a solid alternative. His election to city council would signal a whole new way of thinking and a noticeable shift in direction at City Hall. If you’re looking for ways to contribute to change from your local government, donating some time or money to helping elect Dan Fox would be a good place to start.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

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