I sure don’t envy any candidate running for city council in Etobicoke, especially Ward 2 where the Ford spectre must loom large. Not just because of the family’s dynastic pretensions there but the way their hands-on representation (more Rob than Doug) has surely disfigured residents’ view of how a city functions properly. Got a problem? Call your councillor directly, any time of day, 24/7. He’ll sort it out for you. Who needs more than a one man local government? The rest is, obviously, gravy.
I posed this question to Luke LaRocque, one of the nine council candidates running in Ward 2 this time around. He shrugged. The Ford factor is just a thing in these parts. Something not so much to be confronted as handled.
It’s about gently trying to change the perception of the dynamics of local governance. Where the Fords have built a reputation of what they can do for their residents, Mr. LaRocque wants to inculcate a sense of how can we do this together. He sees the role of city councillor more as a community leader rather than the local handyman.
In fact, for LaRocque, a born and bred north Etobian, there’s more to public service than just customer service. After receiving his Master’s degree in urban and international development, he worked for a relief organization in Malawi and has served as a volunteer both before and after that here in Canada. Currently he’s working with Matthew House, a group that provides temporary housing for refugees upon their arrival here.
There’s a natural progression to his desire to enter municipal politics. It’s the level of politics where you can most directly affect people’s lives. The nuts and bolts of daily life. Housing. Transit. Safe streets and public spaces.
Out on the campaign trail, LaRoque feels a little bit like he’s starting from scratch, going right back to the basics of local governance. What do we have? What do we value as a resident and as a community? What do we want? How do we set out achieving that together?
At the risk of sounding all consultant-y, it comes down to community based consulting. Consulting, engaging and actively encouraging participation in how and what decisions get made. LaRocque points out that the nearest constituency office for either Ward 1 and 2 is the Etobicoke Civic Centre, a fair drive or an even longer transit ride away.
(An interesting side note: during the Griffin Centre kerfuffle a couple weeks back, it should be noted that there seemed to be a definite lack of communication between the current Ward 2 councillor and the residents of neighbourhood where the house was. Some of the pushback might’ve been alleviated had everyone known what was going on. That appeared not to be the case here.)
Unsurprisingly, “better resident communication” is one of LaRocque’s goals as city councillor. It has to be a two-way form of communication, however, beyond simply giving out your personal cell phone number, only to be used when something’s not working. That’s a very limited scope and doesn’t do much to build any investment in the larger community.
It’s not a question of ignoring the day-to-day matters a city councillor has to deal with. Pot holes have to get filled and fences fixed. Those are the things you hear about when you’re out canvassing door-to-door. But a city councillor should serve in the role of last resort not first. There are other, more efficient, less expensive mechanisms in place to deal with those kinds of things. Only when they don’t get the job done, should the local councillor be called in to deal with it.
It’s this delicate balancing act a successful city councillor needs to pull off. Satisfying the hyper-local needs of your residents while contributing on a city-wide scale to ensuring ease of access and equality of opportunity for everyone. Ward 2 Etobicoke North has had a preponderance of the former to the detriment of the latter from its local representatives lately.
Luke LaRocque is part of a new wave of young office seekers for the suburbs whose formative political years have happened post-amalgamation. While he still catches himself referring to Up Here versus Down There, he’s part of a group who see themselves more as Torontonians than from Etobicoke or North York or Scarborough. They drive and they take transit which may seem like a trite observation but I think it points a much larger trend.
The new aspirants to political office in Toronto don’t tend to see City Hall, being located downtown as it is, as some beast to be tamed or reined in. HQ for some foreign occupiers. For the likes of Luke LaRocque, City Hall is a place of opportunity to make the lives of not only residents of Ward 2 better but the lives of everybody across the entire city. In the end, you can’t really have one without the other.
If we finally want to get past this whole urban-suburban divide that continues to plague the forward motion of Toronto, we have to start rejecting the politics and politicians who exploit it to their advantage. Luke LaRocque represents a break with that way of thinking. Both Ward 2 and City Hall would be better off with him in place as city councillor.
— helpfully submitted by Cityslikr