Tucked away at bottom in the very southwest corner of Toronto, Ward 6 may officially be part of Etobicoke but it feels quite a bit like much of the city’s downtown core. There are serious development pressures especially along the waterfront that make up its southern border. Public transit has not kept up with the area’s population growth. Congestion is part of the daily commute. Employment lands in this once industrial part of the city are being squeezed by the lure of big bucks from residential expansion. Likewise, affordable housing is under threat from the enticement of upscale condos moving in a westward wave from downtown. The expansion of the island airport and the use of jets there is a highly contentious issue.
While city council candidate Russ Ford (no relation) hears about these issues when he’s out knocking on doors, what he’s getting more than an earful of, however, is the M.I.A. status of the ward’s incumbent, Councillor Mark Grimes.
This is a recurring theme that’s playing out with many of the candidates we’ve been talking to, especially in the more suburban areas of the city. Out of touch, out of contact city councillors not in the habit of engaging with residents on the issues that directly affect them. This lack of visibility, Ford (no relation) tells me, leads to a lack of trust. It’s a feedback loop that plays into the anti-City Hall sentiment that’s the cornerstone of Mayor Ford’s populism.
Russ Ford (no relation) is seeking to change all that. He is a fixture on the Etobicoke-Lakeshore scene, engaged with the communities and neighbourhoods on the ground for 30 years now. For the past 14 years, he has been the Executive Director of LAMP, a local community health centre that promotes preventive measures to maintaining good health through access to secure housing and nutritious, healthy food, improved literacy. Before that, Ford (no relation) was the founding Executive Director of another south Etobicoke health centre, Stonegate.
Of course, such involvement at the street level brought Ford (no relation) into direct conflict with the Ford (the other, non-related one) administration during the 2012 budget process that threatened many of the community programs and services Ford (no relation) represented. A budget, like so much of the administration’s agenda, avidly supported by Councillor Grimes who even voted against the $15 million pushback that saved some of these programs and services from the chopping block.
Penny pinching over any sort of vision, Russ Ford (no relation) tells me. Just negligent cutting to meet some arbitrary budget number, consequences to those affected be damned. My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day…
It is crass politics at its worst. Since many of the people hurt by such an austerity approach, many of whom Russ Ford (no relation) has spent his career working with and advocating for, don’t tend to vote, there is little consequence for a politician not looking out for their interests. Russ Ford (no relation) believes he can help change that equation, make Councillor Grimes have to answer for his almost unwavering support for the mayor’s agenda.
The real threat to the incumbent’s decade+ plus reign in Ward 6, however, is what Ford (no relation) refers to as a group politicized by bad development. Specifically what comes to mind is the Mimico 20/20 plan along the waterfront. This energized a very vocal group — some driven by, undoubtedly, more than a little nimbyism — but for many, there was inadequate community consultation, a feeling that the project was a done deal and presented to them as is. Take it or… well, just take it.
Ford (no relation) takes comfort in the fact that, in the end, no residents of any affordable housing would be displaced by the development. Still, there is a sense that the best interests of residents took a back seat to those of the developers and even now, some of the community benefits of the project through Section 37 funds are not being handled in any sort of democratic fashion. Ford (no relation) wants to change the dynamic of that relationship, bring about a sense of inclusion and participation.
He’s got a bit of a mountain to climb. Despite the sense of antipathy toward Councillor Grimes Ford (no relation) is hearing from many residents, the councillor was elected with a healthy majority of the popular vote in 2010, building on each successive election since he first won in 2003. If he decides to run (and that’s not an absolute certainty as he has not registered as of this writing), Mark Grimes will be a formidable entrenched incumbent to oust.
But Russ Ford (no relation) has a few things going in his favour. He has a very strong team in place and growing resources to help overcome the name recognition factor which always plays as an incumbent’s strength. He has an established, long term presence in Ward 6, active in the community there, carrying a certain degree of name recognition in his own right. Ford (no relation) also brings a certain enthusiasm to the prospect of becoming city councillor. An enthusiasm seldom on display from the current incumbent.
Perhaps most importantly, Russ Ford (he’s in no way related to the mayor, OK?) is running for city council in order to spark a wider citizen engagement in Ward 6 with City Hall. He wants to bring residents with him not have them send him alone to represent their interests. There’s too much that needs addressing, too many significant changes in the offing for just one person to contend with on their own. This is going to take a group effort.
Russ Ford (unlike his in no way related namesake) has a long history of working well with others. It will be a fresh and much needed dynamic he’ll bring to City Hall. If we’re hoping to see a change for the better come October 27th, let’s hope Russ Ford will be the only Ford on the scene, a new and improved and better Ford.
— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr