Challenger Endorsements I

October 1, 2014

So, let me begin this, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first non-incumbent city councillor endorsement post, as a plea for ranked ballots by the time the next municipal campaign rolls around. (Looking good! Fingers still crossed.) rabitVoting should not be a tactical game, a compromise that rarely amounts to anything inspiring. Settling because, well, it could be a whole lot worse.

Take Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina, for instance. Of some 19 candidates or so, 5 are very interesting or, at least, palatable (says hello to Joe Cressy). It would be easy to list off your favourite 3 and be quite content with whatever the outcome instead of pitting them against one another in the hopes of one of them not winning. Or, whatever the mindset is in a first past the post mindset. It isn’t particularly positive.

That said. Here we are. In an imperfect system, we begin our imperfect endorsements.


Ward 2 Etobicoke North

Back in early June, before any sort of Ford entered this race, we talked to Luke LaRoque. We liked Luke LaRoque. We still like Luke LaRoque. He’s chock full of good ideas about how to re-engage with residents of the ward. He’s got a real grasp of municipal politics. Luke LaRoque is an ideal candidate for city council.

There’s just one hitch.

The air’s been sucked out of the race by the Fords, in particular the outgoing mayor and former ward councillor, the ailing Rob Ford. What little space is left over has been occupied by Andray Domise. He’s got the media’s attention. He is articulate and passionate about the ward. He presents the perfect foil to the Fords’ dynastic pretensions.

Having not talked in detail with Mr. Domise, I can only assess his campaign based on reading through his website and his entries on WiTOpoli’s Position Primer. I was happy to see things being fleshed out yesterday, starting with his transit platform because until then I wasn’t seeing many robust ideas. There were good, positive initiatives framed in vague generalities and rhetorical platitudes. That seems to be changing.

Andray Domise does, however, speak up for those who haven’t had much of a voice at City Hall under the Ford regime, those they claim to have done more for than anybody else in the world.

In an ideal world, one where we have ranked ballots, at this point, Andray Domise would be my second choice for Ward 2 city councillor. That’s not 2014, unfortunately. We have to deal with the situation at hand.

Andray Domise looks like the sort of positive change that could actually defeat Rob Ford at the polls. For the city to turn the page on this turbulent past 4 years, Rob Ford needs to be defeated at the polls. For that reason alone, we endorse Andray Domise for Ward 2 Etobicoke North city councillor.


Ward 17 Davenport

This one’s another toss up for me. It was in May when we sat down with Saeed Selvam and while he is a very impressive candidate by almost every other measure, he would still be our second choice in Ward 17. We endorse Alejandra Bravo.


Electability, in a word. She is well positioned to defeat a terrible incumbent. The stars finally seem aligned for her.

Ms. Bravo is seasoned and ready to assume her role as city councillor. She’s taken a run at this office a couple times before, in 2003 and 2006, and has a long history of community activism, most recently working on the Board of Health and with the Maytree Foundation. Mr. Selvam is a very, very worthy contender with a detailed platform that puts most other candidates to shame. Unfortunately, this just isn’t his time.

It sucks that this is how such important decisions get made. It feels cheap and shallow. But there it is. Politics in Toronto in 2014.

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Challengers To Watch II

May 20, 2014

If I were a voter in Ward 17 Davenport, and I was forced to choose between the incumbent councillor Cesar Palacio and,mrpotatohead say, Mr. Potato Head, I’d have to go with the plastic spud. You can pop his eye out when you’re mad at him, plus he sounds like Don Rickles. Neither of those qualities does Councillor Palacio possess.

Fortunately for voters in Ward 17, they won’t have to make that kind of choice. In contention this time around in the upcoming municipal election is Saeed Selvam. He is one of numerous new faces and new voices throughout Toronto running for city council in October. We really should be excited at the prospect of such a vibrant slate of newcomers putting their names forward as candidates. We just have to figure out a way to get them all elected.

Mr. Selvam is a long time social and community activist, going all the way back to high school. He was a member of the Toronto Youth Cabinet. accomplishmentsHe helped create the Youth Challenge Fund. He co-founded the SPARK Initiative. Most recently, Mr. Selvam managed the Your32 campaign for the CivicAction Alliance’s push for more dedicated transit funding.


I got kind of winded just listing the guy’s accomplishments.

When we sat down to chat last week, and with Mr. Selvam already out there knocking on doors in Ward 17, he told me that what he was attempting to do was engage the disengaged. Last time, voter turnout in the ward was a good 5% less than the city as a whole, one of the lowest of the 44 wards. There is a pool of voters out there, largely ignored. It’s a potent number if the right voice decides to speak to them.

While a lot of factors go in to determining voter turnout – personal income, home ownership versus renting, the weight of incumbency – I do think the quality of representation plays a significant part. If your councillor is something of a stiff, disengagedslow to respond to requests and questions, rarely venturing out into the wider community or connecting with them in a any regular and meaningful way, I tend to think they don’t generate a mad rush to the ballot box come election day. Apathy breeds apathy.

For Mr. Selvam, the local leadership in Ward 17 has been largely reactive not proactive. Nowhere is that more in evidence than the St. Clair streetcar right of way. Or the St. Clair Disaster as Councillor Palacio has been known to parrot regularly.

You notice the boundary line between wards 17 and 21 at Winona Drive. East of it in the ward represented by Joe Mihevc, an early and ardent supporter of the ROW, business has bounced back and is flourishing in fact. Part of that is as you head east you approach the St. Clair West subway station at Bathurst Street. The neighbourhoods nearby tend to get a little more upscale too, as you start to nudge into Forest Hill.stclairdisaster

The other way, in Ward 17 the traffic snarls at the western end by the railway overpass that squeezes traffic near Weston Road. This presents the streetcar ROW as a problem not an opportunity for economic development. A disaster!

But Councillor Palacio was an opponent of the ROW from the get-go. He fought it, resisted it and wound up not prepared for the rebuild when the construction did finally end and the streetcars started running. So Ward 17 lags behind its eastern counterpart along St. Clair, at least in part, because the local councillor never accepted it or came to terms with it as an economic driver for his ward.

Mr. Selvam points out another under-utilized asset. Earlscourt Park, a strip of green space between Davenport and St. Clair, on the east side of Caledonia. creatingcommunityIt’s perfectly serviceable, according to Selvam but it could be so much more, much more of a true community gathering space.

Creating a stronger sense of community seems to be one of the main driving forces behind Saeed Selvam’s desire to serve Ward 17 at City Hall. While that may seem like little more than a platitude, an empty talking point, if that’s not every municipal politician’s political touchstone, then you have to question their ultimate motives. A community is only built through inclusion not exclusion. That can only really happen when you endeavour to open engagement to a wider segment of those you were elected to represent.

The truth is, it won’t be easy to unseat Councillor Palacio. He is a wily politician who has beaten back challenges from very impressive candidates over the past couple elections. This time around, however, he has the additional baggage of being one of the ardent supporters of our disgraced mayor, remaining loyal to the end. mosaicHe needs to answer for such loyalty, explaining to every one of his residents how that helped them in their daily lives.

Once again, Ward 17 Davenport has the chance to elect a representative to City Hall who better reflects the new realities of their neighbourhoods and communities. A new voice seeking a wider engagement with a constituency bigger than just those who voted for him. Saeed Selvam represents an opportunity for not just the ward he wants to represent but for the entire city to press the reset button and put the mess of the last 4 years behind us. To get on with the task of real city building.

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Bloodied Cesar (I Just Had To)

April 7, 2014

I will give Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport) credit for this much. Talk about having the stones to bad-mouth a major piece of infrastructure that runs right through the heart of your own ward. citybuildingInfrastructure built under your watch.

That takes some nerve, it does. Stepping up and announcing to anyone listening, hey. Look at this mess I helped create. Vote Palacio!

But this is exactly the route the councillor took after signing on to Team Ford in 2010. Aside from maybe the mayor and his brother, and perhaps Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), nobody beat the drum about the St. Clair Disaster louder than Councillor Palacio. Never mind that most of the claims being made were untrue. Yes, the construction did not go smoothly. There were overruns in both time and money. Businesses along the strip suffered.

Don’t forget, however, Councillor Palacio was in office during all this. It’s not as if he inherited it. By yapping on about some perceived disaster, he’s basically announcing that he’s unfit for office. Almost like he’s daring voters not to support him.

Imagine being a resident up near St. Clair or a business along the strip, idareyou1and your local representative can’t seem to tell enough people about how bad things are there. I hear there’s a really good restaurant on St. Clair. Wanna go try it? I don’t know. I would but I hear it’s a nightmare up there. Or… or… You live near St. Clair? I hear it’s a real disaster. Who’d you hear that from? The guy you elected to represent you at City Hall.

Your councillor, Ward 17. Cesar Palacio. Advocating and fighting for your interests since 2003.

Councillor Palacio has been the closest thing downtown Toronto has to a bona fide member of Team Ford. He has accepted the role with particular relish, garnering himself a seat on the Executive Committee through his position as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. thumbsup3When Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s (Ward 7 York West) thumb fell out of favour or into disuse (was never sure which it was), Councillor Palacio, perched as he was directly behind the mayor, enthusiastically filled in, flashing his thumb to let folks know which way the mayor wanted them to vote.

Not that I’d imagine anyone followed his instructions. In fact, I’m not even sure the mayor was ever aware of what Councillor Palacio was doing. The gesture probably had more to do with the councillor signalling to everyone that he was behind Mayor Ford both literally and figuratively.

Despite the mayor’s recent woes, Councillor Palacio has remained a steadfast devotee although he did join the enemy’s list when he voted in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers. The councillor has been firm in his support of a Scarborough subway and against LRTs (because that’s what made St. Clair a disaster, don’t you know). He was part of the gang of 5 TTC commissioners who helped engineer the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster after he had the temerity to publicly suggest it best to stick with the LRT plan that was already in place and paid for by the provincial government. Councillor Palacio was, in turn, thumbsuprobfordunceremoniously dumped when then TTC chair Karen Stintz pulled off her own putsch (curiously however the councillor voted in favour of his own termination), booting those known as Ford loyalists from the board.

Ford loyalist.

I think that would be the most apt and probably only term I’d come up with if asked to describe the councillor’s time in office this term. What else can you say about Cesar Palacio? A Ford loyalist.

And like all Ford loyalists whose last name isn’t Ford, what did the councillor get in return for such fidelity and reliability?

Why just last week in these very virtual pages we reported how the councillor, in his capacity as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee, overseeing the food truck issue, seemed to have been blindsided by the mayor’s motion to eliminate the 50 linear metre from any restaurant rule the councillor was proposing. gotyourback1Councillor Palacio asked the mayor if he realized it was his motion that the mayor was seeking to amend. So obviously there had been no consultation between them. The councillor also wanted to know if the mayor knew just how long it had taken to bang out the sort of compromise he was now seeking to undermine with his off-the-cuff motion.

Mayor Ford appeared indifferent to the councillor’s plaintive tone. That’s just the way he rolls, yo. Loyalty’s a one way street with him, baby.

Still, Councillor Palacio hasn’t come away empty handed with his toadying to the mayor.

Only in a Rob Ford administration could an undistinguished councillor like Cesar Palacio rise to the rank of a standing committee chair, even a lowly regarded one like Municipal Licensing and Standards. But hey. If a Frank Di Giorgio can become budget chief, the sky’s the limit for mediocrity. Chances are Councillor Palacio’s star will never shine as brightly (such as it) as it has for the past 3+ years, although I did spot him at the official launch of John Tory’s mayoral campaign, so his time in the sun may not yet be done.droppedball

The bigger question is, what have Ward 17 residents got in return for their councillor’s brush with power? Used as a political cudgel to fight a transit war across the city in Scarborough. Check. The implementation of the Ford agenda. Check. Fighting to remove a methadone clinic. Check.

Ummm… after that, I’m kind of drawing a blank.

After 10 years in office, you’d think Councillor Palacio and the ward he represents would have a lot more to show for it than that.

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