As the municipal campaign begins to gather a little mid-summer momentum of interest, there’s been an uptick in chatter about new faces, new voices challenging incumbents in various city council races. NOW’s Ben Spurr wrote an article last week, Progressives in the heart of Ford Nation, featuring a group of candidates running up in the city’s northwestern corner. “A group of young, bright candidates are tackling far right politics and voter disaffection in Toronto’s northwest”, he writes.
This is a most encouraging and welcome development. But let me just add that new doesn’t necessarily have to mean young. A challenge to the status quo only needs to be done in spirit and intention. Age has absolutely nothing to do with it.
So it is with Mary Hynes as she has stepped forward to take on the entrenchiest of entrenched incumbents, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, in Ward 34 Don Valley East.
For anyone who’s followed along Toronto politics over the last 4 years, you might recognize Mary as ‘Yelly Granny’ as she was pejoratively dubbed after she gave a blazing deputation at the Executive Committee during the Summer of the Cuts in 2011. Although intended, I think, affectionately, it diminished her impact, enabling those in the mayor’s camp to view her as nothing more than one of the ‘usual suspects’, as I think Giorgio Mammoliti took to saying.
It was unfortunate for another reason as it also undercut what has been a lifetime committed to social justice. An elementary school teacher in Scarborough for twenty-five years, she has also worked on and with a whole lot of community causes. Aside from the ones that pop up regularly at City Hall — Social Planning Toronto, Toronto Environmental Alliance, TTC Riders – Mary’s also a busy part of the Ontario Health Coalition, Older Women’s Network and Fairview Food Security Council.
While no stranger to political campaigns, having run previously at both the provincial and federal levels as well as in a 2012 school board by-election, I wondered what compelled her into this race at this time. It’s all about taking ownership of our communities, Mary tells me. “People don’t know what’s possible.”
At the doors, she’s hearing that, after the condition of the roads which to a car dependent area of the city like Ward 34 is, is a very important local issue, residents tell her there’s a definite lack of communication from their city councillor. As we’re discovering on our travels throughout the suburban areas of Toronto, people don’t really expect municipal politicians to come knocking on their doors. Residence associations, when there are residence associations, tend to focus on keeping property taxes low. There’s not a whole lot of community building going on the part of the city councillor.
So Mary sees big chunks of public space, green public space, going unused. There’s very little sense of connection between neighbourhoods in the ward unless you’re driving. While the bus service is adequate, this is not a part of the city easily traversed on foot or by bike.
None of which should come as much of a surprise since this part of the city has been represented at City Hall by Denzil Minnan-Wong for a long time now. He is the stodgy, reactionary, get off my lawn candidate in this race. Regular readers of this blog know the level of contempt I have for the man. He is easily in the top 5 on the worst councillors list, a truly destructive, malignant force at City Hall. The skies would be a whole lot bluer, the air much, much sweeter if he was shown the door in October.
Still, this is very much a David versus Goliath battle. At a political level where name recognition means a lot, the current Ward 34 incumbent has a lot of it. As chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, he hogs an awful lot of the spotlight, out grandstanding against almost all sorts of public building and spending outside of roads and bike lanes on roads he doesn’t want to drive on. You might not know why you know his name. You might not even like why you know his name. But you know his name nevertheless.
The one bright spot I’ll take from that, however, is over the past few elections, the councillor’s share of the popular vote has declined noticeably. From nearly 71% in 2003 to just under 54% last time out, it’s a trajectory that might suggest the more Ward 34 residents get to know their councillor, the less they like him. I know that’s certainly true for me.
Mary Hynes offers up a positive alternative for voters in Ward 34. She is running for city council to build something, to foster a sense of community for every resident not just a select few. She wants to be a councillor who listens first and talks second which is diametrically opposed to the sort of representation the ward has had for nearly 20 years now.
Don’t let the looks fool you. Mary Hynes very much represents the new guard of candidates looking to transform the dynamics at City Hall.
— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr