Challengers To Watch XII

August 26, 2014

This one’s a tough one.

I know J.P. Boutros. I’ve chatted with J.P. Boutros. jpboutrosHad drinks with J.P. I like J.P.

It’s going to be difficult to be seen maintaining any sense of unbiased perspective here. So be it. Take it into consideration as you read on.

J.P. Boutros is running for city council in Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence. He was an advisor on transit for the former Ward 16 councillor, former TTC chair and former mayoral candidate, Karen Stintz. To say he had a fiery baptism in the heated cauldron of city politics would be whatever’s under an understatement. Rob Ford. Public transit. Subways, subways, subways. Let’s get rid of streetcars.

The death of Transit City. Service cuts. Fare hikes. Gary Webster. The coup against the mayor to take back control of the file, put the Eglinton Crosstown LRT back on track. One City.

This kind of turmoil might’ve put off public life for some people, apparently not J.P. He cites “loving city politics” as one reason for deciding to enter the race. fierycauldronThe second, and probably more important reason?

Well, it starts with the Scarborough subway.

We all know this story, pretty much by heart now. The mayor’s dream of the Sheppard subway extension dead, reborn in the form of a subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line instead of the planned LRT line. How’d that happen? Well, your guess is as good as mine but it was probably a toxic mix of both political ambition and cravenness at a couple levels of government.

Its appearance as an item at the TTC commission meeting caught J.P Boutros by surprise. When he expressed a WTF after the fact, he was pulled to the side (not by his then boss, I’m assured) and told to know his place. “You’re an advisor not an elected official.”

Correcting that situation is reason #2 Boutros is running for city council.

Since announcing, he’s been stridently hitting that anti-Scarborough subway note, specifically the property tax increase needed to pay the city’s portion of it. ward16It’s absolutely unnecessary since the proposed Scarborough LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway was going to be paid for entirely by the province. A better transit option, as he sees it, with none of the costs.

If we’re fine with a bump in our property taxes, why not use it instead for things the city actually needs? Which Boutros has pledged to do if elected, and if he’s able to help put council back on the LRT track in Scarborough. Yes. As city councillor for Ward 16, J.P. Boutros would push to have that debate opened up again.

“We have something on the books that’s signed right now [the city’s Master Agreement with Metrolinx to build a Scarborough LRT], that’s good to go,” he told the Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore. “Let’s do it.”

Instead, the city could spend some of the additional revenue in the wider community, better and more parks and green spaces, for example. hitthegroundrunningBoutros has proposed that the city buy some school land the Toronto District School Board is trying to sell off, Bannockburn, keep it as a park for Ward 16 residents. Spending money where you need to rather than where you don’t.

This would put J.P. Boutros at odds on a couple of important levels with the ward’s outgoing councillor and his former boss. Even more so than on the TTC file, Karen Stintz stands as a rabid penny-pinching conservative of the most extreme kind. Not for nothing was she regarded as one of the leaders of the Miller era Responsible Government Group, a de facto opposition band of councillors including the likes of Mike Del Grande, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Frances Nunziata and Case Ootes.

Is that the kind of representation Ward 16 expects from its city councillor?

Boutros doesn’t think so. At the doors he’s been knocking on, taxes haven’t really been much of a talking point he’s hearing. Development, and the proper managing of it, is always a big issue in Ward 16. goodeggTraffic and congestion. Minimizing the impact on the community as the Eglinton crosstown makes its way through. Parks. Ward 16 loves its parks.

People want to believe their money is being spent wisely. It’s a constant refrain I’m hearing from candidates. If that’s not what you’d call fiscal conservatism, then the phrase is utterly meaningless.

In what is now an open ward, J.P. Boutros brings some actual City Hall experience to the table. Some serious City Hall experience. I asked him if there was any baggage that comes with it especially given how acrimonious the transit debates were. Did he make it on many councillors’ shit list?

He shrugged. Not that he knew of. Thought he was able to talk cordially with all the councillors, regardless of political stripe. This time around, if he gets elected in October, he’ll be able to do so as a colleague not as someone’s assistant.

Again, let me re-iterate here. I know J.P. Boutros. I like J.P. Boutros. So, I’m very biased when I say this but it would represent a notable shift at City Hall if Ward 16 elects him as city councillor. shiftgearsKaren Stintz was something of a polarizing figure during her time in office, even before she became TTC chair. I think Boutros brings less ideological division with him. The tone will be different.

“If you can’t run on your own beliefs,” he tells me, “you’re doing it all wrong.”

I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt with that statement and take him at his word. I hope voters in Ward 16 do too.

hopefully and helpfully submitted by Cityslikr