A call for a progressive Toronto

18506683800_6c96dcc66b_k.jpgI created this website two and a half years ago as a repository for the series of maps I created documenting the results of the 2014 municipal election. Unlike many political observers, I focused not just on the mayoral race, but also on each of the 44 council races; I created poll-by-poll maps illustrating how each ward voted, for both mayor and councillor. I thought that the information might be useful for the 2018 election.

I kept this blog going by sharing my thoughts on public transit, land use planning, electoral reform, as well as other diversions, such as out-of-town bike rides and my trip on Cuba’s Hershey Train. It has been a lot of fun sharing those thoughts. Yet I remain interested in city politics, especially in electing better people to Toronto City Hall.

The last municipal election was very disappointing. I originally supported Olivia Chow, before turning my attention to David Soknacki, who ran on a campaign of ideas and honesty, but dropped out in early September 2014. I was repulsed by the incumbent mayor, Rob Ford, and his brother, Doug, yet I couldn’t trust John Tory, who ran on a centre-right platform of low tax increases, a since-discredited transit plan called “SmartTrack” and not being Rob or Doug Ford.

Tory won that election, of course, beating Doug Ford and Olivia Chow. Tory’s support came from his midtown base of relatively affluent, mostly white, home-owning voters. Tory also did well in other affluent neighbourhoods, such as Etobicoke’s Kingsway, Swansea, the Beaches, and Cliffside, and in neighbourhoods where condominium apartments are a common housing type. As Chow’s campaign floundered, Tory picked up the votes from progressive electors afraid of a Doug Ford win. In the end, Olivia Chow did best in west-end, older downtown neighbourhoods like the Annex, Seaton Village, Parkdale, and Trinity-Bellwoods.

2014 Election - Mayor Votes by Sub 2014How Toronto voted in 2014

Giving Tory some benefits of my doubts, I had hoped that he would push a strong city-building agenda, balancing business interests with the needs of disadvantaged residents. Instead, Toronto got an austerity agenda with the top goal of keeping property taxes low, leaving essential city services underfunded and public housing units falling apart. He resisted police reform, including flip-flopping on the elimination of the racist carding program. His signature transit plan, SmartTrack, was watered down to a point where it’s nearly unrecognizable, wasting valuable time and capital that could have been spent developing the Relief Line subway. It’s almost as if we re-elected Rob Ford, but without the homophobia, overt racism, and self-destructive behaviour.

Tory is backed by a council that has mostly supported his agenda. Had a few council races gone another way, the mayor would have had a harder time freezing or cutting budgets for housing and shelters, transit, libraries, planning services, and other essential programs. Last week, Tory and his council allies endorsed a budget freeze for 2018, defeating motions to exempt homeless shelters, poverty-reduction programs, and long-term care homes. Accounting for inflation, this is in effect, another budget cut of two percent.

John Tory will run for re-election in 2018, and he is already in campaign mode, targeting the province for funds to repair TCHC housing and the Relief Line. It’s possible that Doug Ford will run for mayor again, on a right-wing populist message. So far, no one has indicated that they will run to the left. At least there’s still city council, with 44 members, which is difficult, but possible to change. Council, not the mayor, holds the power.

In 2014, only one incumbent —John Parker, in Ward 26 — was defeated. Parker, a thoughtful and reasoned conservative, lost his seat to Jon Burnside, a former Toronto police officer endorsed by John Tory. In total, only seven new councillors were elected to City Council that year, though there were two by-elections since.

But each of those newcomers were elected either on a second run for city council, came from another level of political office, or had family political ties. There’s hope for next year.

Right-leaning councillors Burnside and Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5) ran unsuccessful campaigns in 2010 and won office on the second try. John Campbell (Ward 4) was the previous Chair of the Toronto District School Board, and Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39) was a Liberal MP. Stephen Holyday (Ward 3) is the son of former Etobicoke mayor and councillor Doug Holyday, and Joe Cressy (Ward 20) is also the son of two former Toronto city councillors. Christin Carmichael Greb is the daughter of defeated Conservative MP John Carmichael. Carmichael Greb also enjoyed John Tory’s endorsement; Tory’s robocalls supporting her campaign  helped her win in a hotly contested open race.

To win a seat on Toronto City Council, especially without a party system, you need name recognition or you need connections. Having political connections makes it a lot easier to raise money and attract talent to run a campaign. That name recognition gives you attention from the media and helps at the ballot box. It’s a lousy system that shuts out too many fine, talented people who are unable to spend the money and time to run a serious campaign, and it creates political dynasties, for better or for worse.

With only 18 months before the 2018 municipal election, it’s time for anyone who opposes the Ford/Tory agenda to organize.

It’s likely that Mayor Tory will likely win re-election, but we still need a strong, progressive candidate for mayor, willing to take Tory to task for the consequences of his budget cuts, his dithering on transit infrastructure, and his resistance to police reform. If nothing more, it will make the mayor accountable, and energize progressive voters.

But even more importantly, it’s necessary to back progressive candidates for city council, ideally replacing weak representatives on City Council, and especially against unreasonable and uncooperative politicians like Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7), and councillors who actively resist change, like Tory ally Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5),who blocked municipal voting reform and is now fighting Toronto’s new ward boundaries.

Council, too, needs even more diversity. It needs more women and people of colour to better reflect the city it is supposed to represent. And there are good people working towards that. For example, on Wednesday, June 7, Women Win Toronto, will launch.

I will be backing several progressive candidates next year — some of whom will be running a second time — by contributing my time and money in key races. (I’ll share my endorsements next year.) Only a few new faces need to be elected to change the dynamic at City Hall. And even if you doubt your chances of winning in 2018, run anyway. You will have the chance to have your voices heard, and set the stage for running again in 2022. That’s how politicians get elected.

Good luck!

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4 Responses to A call for a progressive Toronto

  1. Kevin Hegarty says:

    Hey Sean

    Love your post. I am a new immigrant to Canada arrived in Toronto four years ago. I really want to help out with any progressive candidates running next year, how can I do that as I am not familiar with how this is done in this city ?

    • That’s wonderful to hear! The election campaign won’t really begin until about a year from now, but by then, we’ll know for sure if the new ward boundaries will be used in 2018, and who will be running where. There were a lot of great people running in 2014 that I expect will run again – people like Keegan Henry-Mathieu in Ward 7, Lekan Olawoye in Ward 11, and Dan Fox in Ward 24. I was also inspired by young candidates in other wards throughout the city. They will need the help of people like you and me to be successful and I’m hopeful that we’ll see some changes next year.

  2. Matt says:

    Great post, Sean. Any word on unsuccessful candidates in 2014 who are giving it another kick at the can?

    • Sorry for holding this comment back.

      I know of a few candidates that are planning to run again. Dan Fox, for example, in Willowdale (the ward boundaries themselves are up in the air), and Keegan Henry-Mathieu in Ward 7. I’m hoping more good people come forward. About this time next year, I’ll highlight some of those new people who deserve the voters’ consideration.

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