We were sitting chatting in a local coffee shop – which I’d been taken to via my own personal Jane’s walk through the neighbourhood – when a fellow customer stopped by the table to tell city council candidate Jane Farrow (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth) that he was a big supporter. This lead to an enthusiastic conversation about a nearby street he worked on and lived not far from that had been adopted by residents who built flower gardens and dog drinking bowls with construction detritus from an adjoining development site, a path cutting down the side of the road where there was no sidewalk. Both candidate and voter were genuinely excited about it.
It was an exchange that encapsulated what Farrow’s campaign was all about. So much so that, suspicious me immediately suspected a plant, a set-up. Too, too perfect.
If you don’t know who Jane Farrow is, well, first, shame on you. Second, here’s a brief summary of her career that won’t do it nearly enough justice. Broadcast journalist, founding Executive Director of Jane’s Walk, an original member of Active 18. She served as Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon’s (Ward 32 Beaches-East York) Executive Assistant during the tumultuous first couple years of the Ford Administration including the $19 million pushback on the 2012 city budget that emerged as the first crack in the mayor’s control of city council.
Jane Farrow has been a major urban thinker, activist and community builder in Toronto for some time now.
I’ve been chatting with city council candidates for a couple months and I just have to say that Farrow is as fully formed a candidate as I’ve met during that time. That’s certainly not a slag or thumbs down on the others. Everyone I’ve met so far seems to be running for the best of reasons, to help their neighbourhoods and communities, to improve the tone at City Hall, to build a better city. Farrow is all about that but knows exactly what her approach is going to be.
It’s as simple as it is appealing.
Bringing about a sense of proactive engagement and planning. “Convening a conversation,” she says. Getting people into the room in order to express their very strong impulses for better neighbourhoods and deliver fresh perspectives. Allowing them to ask for the things they want to make the improvements, point out the possibilities available to them.
Farrow sees the lack of community and resident associations in her ward as evidence of a more top-down approach to governance, where the community is consulted only after the big decisions have been made and set in motion. This has resulted in too many missed opportunities (her campaign chant) in building more liveable and equitable neighbourhoods. The Leslie Street makeover is a prime example of this exclusionary style where car parking once more trumped bike lanes. Maybe that’s what people in the neighbourhood wanted but no one thought to ask them beforehand.
“The whole city is agitated,” Farrow said. While that manifests itself in the tumultuous politics revolving around the Ford spectacle of horrors, its source is much more profound. Toronto and the GTA are experiencing the pain of growth, both in terms of development and population. We haven’t adapted to that reality and now everything is just moving slower, everything is that much more of a slog. People are edgy, angry and looking for an easy target to blame.
What’s going to better serve us in coming up with solutions, Farrow contends, is putting ‘ideas over ideology’. Building a better city shouldn’t be a left-right struggle. Good, positive, forward-thinking ideas don’t come with political stripes. Ideas spring from people, neighbourhoods and communities. The more of them that are brought into the process, the more ideas we have to choose from, the better chances we have of coming up with good answers to the problems currently facing us.
Yeah. I could go on and on, heaping praise on Jane Farrow’s candidacy. Suffice it to say, it’s so meaty and heady that I’m thinking of packing up and moving to Ward 30 just in order to vote for her.
But here’s the thing, here’s the hitch.
When she registered to run back in late May, there was great hue and cry from the left side of the political spectrum. Not Ward 30! That’s Councillor Paula Fletcher! You can’t run against Paula Fletcher! She’s… She’s one of us!
Of course, it was a little more tactical than that. Councillor Fletcher had narrowly been re-elected in 2010 by something of a cipher candidate, TV host, Liz West, who was back for another run at it this time around. Any serious challenge from the left would split the vote and allow West to snatch victory. This was no time to make “progressive” voters decide between two progressive candidates.
It’s this type of binary thinking that has caused such a political mess of things at City Hall. You’re either with us or you’re against us. There’s no middle ground, only stark, black and white choices to be made. Right versus left supplants right versus wrong. Decisions made according to allegiances not best practices or better ideas. The last 4 years has revealed a progressive bloc with, in Farrow’s words, “shared values not shared actions.”
She sees this election in the hopeful light of people taking back Toronto. Not just from the usual suspects like the Fords but, more importantly, from outdated and unhelpful modes of governance that keep the decision-making process largely in the hands of the elected not the electors. That’s not a partisan issue.
I don’t want to call the Ward 30 race a bellwether for the city but, man, it’s something close to that. Toronto’s future will look a whole lot rosier if voters in that ward send Jane Farrow over the bridge to City Hall. They won’t just be sending their champion there but a champion for the entire city.
— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr