A youngster as Apollo 12 touched the first men down on the moon, I remember, as best as one can remember particular moments 50+ years in the past, where I was at that moment. Outside on my bike. Rocket ships and outer space hold as little interest for me now as they did back then, the horizon of my focus much more prosaic. In those days, probably hockey, Red Skelton and those zany, crazy Looney Tunes.

A little more than a year earlier, I feel much less confident in placing my whereabouts when the news of MLK, and then mere weeks later, the murder of RFK broke. Probably eating, waiting to watch Batman on April 4th, sleeping on June 5th. I’d like to think what I do remember from those times, much of 1968 for that matter, is a sense of disbelief and disorder. Even deep in my little outpost in southwestern Ontario.

As a historical figure, Robert Kennedy has stayed with me through the years. Not in terms of being a towering, transformative force like Martin Luther King Jr. but as the definitive What If. What if he had lived and had secured the Democratic nomination? What if he defeated Richard Nixon in the general election and became the 37th President of the United States of America? How would our subsequent history have been different? Would it have been any different?

What if, What if, What if.

Yeah. Me and millions of other Boomers.

RFK also remains compelling because there seems to have been two of him, at least as a public persona. Robert Kennedy pre-his brother’s assassination in 1963 and Robert Kennedy 1963-1968. Virulent anti-communist Robert Kennedy who briefly worked for Joseph McCarthy and made him godfather to his very first child, who continually sought ways to depose Fidel Castro even after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The early Robert Kennedy and his uneasy, even antagonistic dealings with the emergent civil rights movement and its leader Martin Luther King. Robert Kennedy, the family fixer, consigliere (and maybe even participant) to his brother’s seamy side.


Senator Robert Kennedy. The would-be warrior turned anti-war objector. The social justice urbanist, If men do not build, how shall they live? Robert Kennedy 2.0. The quintessential establishment man turned spirit of the ‘60s, reactionary to revolutionary.

Only one of ourselves existing in one of our alternate universes would be able to answer that conundrum satisfactorily, the one who slipped through that particular sliding door.

All of which has been a very tangential way of setting this particular narrative plane down on the runway of today’s topic: Councillor and mayoral hopeful Josh Matlow.

Last week, Navneet Alang profiled the candidate for the online news site, The Local, asking, “Can a politician change?”

Matlow arrived at City Hall in 2010, smack dab at the start of the onslaught of the Rob Ford shitstorm, and established himself as part of the ‘mushy middle’, rookie councillors caught in-between the wrecking ball of the mayor’s office and the rump of the opposition faction, a loose coalition of councillors that was seen by Ford Nation as the detested remnants of the previous mayor, David Miller’s administration. Matlow quickly earned the enmity of Mayor Ford’s foes (including this particular site) by trying to forge some sort of ‘middle ground’ with attempts to determine the ‘truth’ between the two sides, with one of those sides, the mayor’s, quite consciously allergic to any notion of truth in almost every situation. This stance left him as an outsider, mistrusted by both sides. Not so much a maverick as an outcast with suspect motives.

Along the way, Councillor Matlow seized onto the lunacy that became the beating heart of the Ford’s transit policy, the Scarborough subway. Subways! Subways! Subways! A campaign slogan that ripped up plans already in motion in some cases including a proposed LRT extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway eastward, deep into parts of Scarborough that had never had rapid transit. An extension, quite possibly, operational by now if the fuckery hadn’t metastasized into every level of government and succeeding administrations at City Hall which now will force transit users in Scarborough onto busses in mixed traffic for nearly the next decade.

‘Evidence-based decision-making’ has become Josh Matlow’s political mantra and has maintained his outsider status throughout the John Tory years as it ran up against the former mayor’s continued support of the Scarborough subway plans (now fully in the hands of the province), Tory’s own chimerical transit project, SmartTrack, now in its death throes, and the ongoing debacle of the Gardiner East rebuild, a capital expenditure suck that continues to threaten much of the city’s ability to build new or maintain old infrastructure projects.

It’s his dogged pursuit of this principle that has helped to keep Matlow on the outside looking in, garnering him the top spot on Mayor Tory’s enemy list. An odd state of affairs since Matlow continues to win handily, even laughably, in a ward that has also gone quite comfortably in John Tory’s favour at the mayoral level. An odd dichotomy that may speak to a schism at the larger city level: Yes, to progressivism, bike lanes and safer streets, affordable housing and increased density. Just not here.

Nimbyism, in other words, a label that has dogged Matlow, with his ward bounded to the north by Eglinton Street and the ongoing LRT build that has rightly put densification pressure on the area, a pressure opposed by vocal, more affluent residents, keen to keep the ‘character’ of their upscale, largely single-family neighbourhoods intact. Which may go to the root of his early embrace of the political centre, a need to thread a very, very thin eye of the needle. “There is no one perspective,” Alang quotes Matlow from his radio program in 2011, “that is completely more virtuous than the other.”

The Josh Matlow running for mayor of Toronto a dozen years on seems to disagree with such milquetoast banality. He’s most definitely picked a perspective, chosen sides. The question is Why?

If the polls are to be believed, it so far hasn’t proven to be a winning strategy for Matlow, mired as he is in mid-pack of the contenders, rarely now with numbers even in the teens. His I-Do-Progressive platform has been deeply overshadowed by Olivia Chow’s I-Am-Progressive. Two weeks out from the election now, it’s hard to see how he can manage to flip that script, barring, of course, some mid-June October surprise.

Still, he plugs away, just earlier this morning, announcing a proposal to build transit out along the east waterfront, a long dormant but extremely necessary idea. But if at this stage he’s not in it to win it, what then? Positioning himself as a leading voice of the left when city council reconfigures after the election? Test running his mayoral campaign for 2026?

Digging much further down past that risks unearthing little more than trite speculation and idle gossip. What if, setting aside the fun parlour game of divining the hidden machinations of all things political, we just evoke Occam’s Razor, and assume maybe the most obvious solution is the closest to the truth as we can determine? What if Councillor Josh Matlow has simply changed? After serving 3 terms at City Hall, his views have evolved, dare I say it, progressed? Certainly Toronto has changed over the course of the past 12 years, precious little of that change has been for the better.

Arguably, if an elected official in this city is still operating in the same manner they did back in 2010, that’s not a virtue. It borders on negligence. Ideological purity eventually hardens into crystal form. Nice to look at, perhaps, but pretty much useless aside from a method of exchange.

You don’t have to vote for Josh Matlow. But impugning his motives at this point with the implied message that leopards can’t change their spots negates the possibility of transformation, both personally and politically. In him. In us. In the city.

Worse, it drives a stake through the very idea of progress.


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