Challengers To Watch XVIII

There’s something of an opportunity brewing in Etobicoke this municipal election where 4 of its 6 city council seats are incumbent free. (More or less.) opportunityAn opportunity for new voices, new ideas. An opportunity for a new dialogue that’s refreshingly free of much pre-amalgamation baggage.

Alas, aside from the Ford factor freakiness in Ward 2 Etobicoke North, news from these parts has been scarce. Unsurprising in many ways, since most council races don’t get a whole lot of attention, especially when the mayoral campaign proves as preposterously outlandish as this one is. Open council races prove to be even more wobbly as there isn’t the touchstone of incumbency to measure them from.

Which may partly explain how candidacies like Raymond Desilets in Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore have slipped under the radar so far. Take a look at the campaign website and tell me you’ve seen many others (including some of those running for mayor) this detailed, thorough and thought out. Places To Grow. Queensway Revitalization. Streetcar Expressway! (Yes, really.) Townhalls. Development Permit System…

Search hard and try to find a platitude or any demagogic populism. This is intelligent discourse for an engaged citizenry. In a roster of Ward 5 candidates chock full of your run-of-the-mill anti-tax rhetoric, Desilets boldly writes: Property Taxes – I’m Not Complaining.ideas

Perhaps it’s the mark of a rookie politician. Hardly surprising as this is 25 year resident of Ward 5’s first foray into politics. What he lacked in experience, he decided to make up for in research, knowledge and diligence.

When Desilets mused about running for council back last Christmas, friends and family asked him why, what exactly he would be running for. Not having a satisfactory answer but armed with a background in urban planning and architecture studies, he spent the next 4 months on a crash course in the history and governance of Toronto and the GTA. Done, Desilets put together an hour presentation for about 35 people in his own mini-Townhall meeting, laying out the reasons why he wanted to run for city council and the platform he’d run on.

The reception was positive and here he is, now running for Ward 5.

I asked how his ideas were playing beyond that initial group with voters as he knocked on their doors. There’s been very little pushback, he told me. ward5Generally speaking people have been surprised, pleasantly so, to hear the ideas Desilets talks about being possible.

This goes to the wider observation I’ve been hearing from candidates running for council in the former inner suburban municipalities. A lack of community and neighbourhood engagement between voters and those they elect to represent them at City Hall. Low-tax and anti-growth sensibilities, telling voters that there’s nothing but out of control spending, corruption and downtown-centricity. No good can come from it. So… vote for more of the same. Rinse and repeat.

Desilets wants to change that approach.

Much of that can come from how growth and densification is handled, he feels. He encourages it but feels, to date, and especially in places like Ward 5, the city’s shown a knack for building ‘condo deserts’ but not communities. We have to do better ‘developing our neighbourhoods’. islingtonbloorThat means including more affordable housing, more mixed use development where people can shop, drink and dine, work locally. Create ‘urban space’ and not just park space.

“Intensify for us,” Desilets tells me.

He also advocates for more local solutions to our transit woes, ideas that are quick to implement. His streetcar express, for one. Never mind the subway/LRT debate. Lay down streetcar tracks now!

Look, I’m not sure if Raymond Desilets ideas are all doable. The thing is, he’s got ideas, positive, community building ideas and he’s willing to talk about them, to engage with people with the goal of creating more liveable and equitable places to live and work. Look at two of his more high-profile opponents in Ward 5. Justin Di Ciano, came within a hundred votes or so of ousting the then incumbent councillor, Peter Milczyn, in 2010. Fast-forward 4 years and he’s still filling out his website. Kinga Surma, former Milczyn assistant until she went to work for his opponent, Doug Holyday, in last year’s by-election, is talking even less about her plans as city councillor.turnthepage1

Obviously, no one ward of 44 in this city will change the course of history here in Toronto. But there’s a real prospect of changing how we talk about this city, how we approach governance in a more inclusive and constructive way. “Let’s take advantage of that,” as Raymond Desilets says. If Etobicoke begins sending the likes of Raymond Desilets to City Hall, that would be a huge, great step in the right direction.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

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