Election Politics Toronto

Toronto election 2018: no surprises

Last night, there were some disappointments and one or two bright spots in the results of Toronto’s municipal election, but there were no big surprises.

It was disappointing to see voter turnout drop. In 2014, 54.7% of eligible voters turned out. There was a three-way mayoral race between John Tory, Doug Ford, and Olivia Chow. This year, only 41% of eligible voters came out. This was no surprise: the election was tarnished by Premier Ford’s vindictive Bill 5, which cut the number of wards from 47 to 25, in the middle of the campaign.

While I was very happy to see former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat declare her candidacy in response to Tory’s inadequate response to Bill 5, Keesmaat didn’t have the time or the organization to compete against Tory. She took less than 25% of the vote and Tory came in first place in all 25 wards.

It was also hard to see many good local politicians defeated by fellow councillors in the new larger boundaries. It was difficult to see Josh Matlow and Joe Mihevc run against each other (Matlow won in the end). I would have also liked to see new voices, including Tiffany Ford and Amber Morley, do better. There are only four persons of colour on the new council. As Toronto Star columnist Ed Keenan points out, this is the same as the number of Michaels elected.

But at least Giorgio Mammoliti is gone.

The balance of power on the smaller 25-ward Toronto City Council is similar to the old 44-ward council. By my count, there are eight left-leaning councillors, five swing votes, and eleven conservatives. John Tory leans conservative, and he will need the support of 14 councillors to get items passed.

Progressives (8):

  • Shelley Carroll (Ward 17)
  • Joe Cressy (Ward 10)
  • John Filion (Ward 18)
  • Paula Fletcher (Ward 14)
  • Mike Layton (Ward 11)
  • Josh Matlow (Ward 12)
  • Gord Perks (Ward 4)
  • Anthony Perruzza (Ward 7)
  • Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13)

Swing votes (5):

  • Paul Ainslie (Ward 24)
  • Ana Bailão (Ward 9)
  • Brad Bradford (Ward 19)
  • Mike Colle (Ward 8)
  • Jennifer McKelvie (Ward 25)

Conservatives (11):

  • Gary Crawford (Ward 20)
  • Michael Ford (Ward 1)
  • Mark Grimes (Ward 3)
  • Stephen Holyday (Ward 2)
  • Jim Karygiannis (Ward 22)
  • Cynthia Lai (Ward 25)
  • Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 16)
  • Frances Nunziata (Ward 5)
  • James Pasternak (Ward 6)
  • Jaye Robinson (Ward 15)
  • Michael Thompson (Ward 21)

Despite these three simplistic labels, it’s impossible to predict how each vote may go, and how Mayor Tory will tackle new challenges brought on by the Ford government and the fiscal iceberg.

In the next few weeks, after the official election results are released, I’ll delve into the numbers and map the more interesting ward races, if not all 25 wards.

Brampton Development Politics Transit Urban Planning

What’s next for Downtown Brampton?

Boarded up houses on Elizabeth Street, Downtown Brampton

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced the location of Ryerson University’s Brampton campus, a partnership with Sheridan College, to be built on the GO Station parking lot in Downtown Brampton. Meanwhile, Metrolinx quietly purchased several houses and office buildings south of the station for new GO Transit surface parking, replacing the spots that Ryerson will build upon.

The merits of a satellite university campus are open to debate – some smaller satellite campuses have struggled to attract students and faculty and distinguish themselves. Brampton’s the planned campus site was, by far, the best one for both the City of Brampton and Ryerson University.

But today, the Progressive Conservative provincial government, elected in June, cancelled three planned suburban post-secondary education campuses — the York University/Seneca College campus in Markham, the Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton, and the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton.

This announcement came only one day after the October 22 municipal elections. While Toronto elected a smaller 25-ward council and returned John Tory to the mayor’s office, the voters Brampton elected former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown as mayor, narrowly defeating incumbent Linda Jeffrey. Brown had just moved to Brampton after his campaign for the elected Peel Region Chair was cancelled at the same time Brown’s successor as PC leader, Premier Doug Ford, imposed the new 25 ward structure on Toronto. We can only speculate if the animosity between Brown and Ford was a factor in this announcement. It’s more likely that the decision to cancel the three campuses was already made, with the announcement timed to take place after the municipal elections. In any case, mayor-elect Brown’s job has already become more interesting.

Brampton’s satellite campus, which had a 2022 opening date, would have hosted 2,000 undergraduate students. Though this is tiny compared to Ryerson’ downtown campus, which 36,000 undergraduate students currently enrolled, it was the best possible site, adjacent to the GO station, several Brampton Transit routes, the Rose Theatre, and local shops and restaurants and recreation facilities. The school would have made use of the the planned Centre for Innovation, a proposed new central library to the corner of George and Nelson Streets.

university map
Map of the Ryerson University campus site, the Centre for Innovation, and other downtown buildings. From the City of Brampton website.

The York University/Seneca College campus in Markham was also strategically located, on a site adjacent to Unionville GO Station, in the mixed-use Downtown Markham development. In contrast, the Milton site was in a greenfield far from transit links. It’s fair to say that I’m not too disappointed on Milton’s behalf.

With Brampton’s campus dead, for now, there’s still the land on the south side of the station. Three homes are already knocked down, while two office buildings and several houses are boarded up, awaiting demolition.

Will Downtown Brampton see nothing more than additional GO Transit surface parking now that the campus is cancelled? Or will a new opportunity come along?

BramptonParkingLotThe existing GO Transit lot at Brampton Station, where the Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus was planned

Election Politics Toronto

The final days of a brutal municipal election

IMG_8629Toronto’s municipal election will take place in a few days, on Monday, October 22. A few months ago, I was energized by the possibilities a 47 ward council would bring, with several open races where new voices could be elected. I was looking forward to seeing Dan Fox win on his second try in North York, after an impressive run in 2014 against long-time incumbent David Shiner. I was excited to see Tiffany Ford’s campaign take on Giorgio Mammoliti. Downtown, three new wards would make room for new faces like Chris Moise. Meanwhile, several incumbents, including Janet Davis, Mary-Margaret McMahon, and John Filion were planning to retire.

The mayoral race was going to be a snooze, with John Tory sleepwalking his way to a second term but at least the council races would be interesting.

So much for that.

This municipal election is a sham. When Premier Doug Ford suddenly announced that he was going to introduce legislation to reduce Toronto’s council size from 47 to 25 — in the middle of the election campaign — it threw everything into chaos. Candidates who signed up to run in wards with a population of 50,000 to 60,000 were now forced to decide whether to run in a ward with nearly twice the population and against new opponents. Incumbents were now running against each other. Candidates had run in good faith, raised money, appealed to volunteers, and printed materials. It was no way to run a fair election.

Though a court ruling overturning the result briefly provided relief and elation, Ford’s threat of using the Notwithstanding Clause to re-introduce legislation, and an appeal court’s ruling ensured that Toronto would run a compromised election with only 25 wards. Good people like Fox, Moise, Kyle Ashley, and Ausma Malik understandably dropped out of the council race. Others, like Tiffany Ford, Lanrick Bennett, Kevin Vuong, and Lekan Olawoye decided to continue what they started, even if it meant running in a tougher race. Meanwhile, John Filion jumped back into the race, while Josh Colle dropped out. His father, former MPP Mike Colle, jumped in.

Doug Ford’s vindictive meddling sucked the energy out of the election; turnout at advance polls is down significantly from the last election despite the same number of days. About 124,000 voters cast a ballot in the advance polls held between Wednesday, October 10 and Sunday October 14, down from 161,000 who voted in advance in 2014.

It’s depressing, but it’s still important to vote. There are lots of good people worth supporting even though it sometimes means picking one of several worthy candidates in a single ward. There is also the opportunity to remove some of Toronto’s worst councillors. And at least there’s a higher profile mayoral race, now with former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat challenging Tory.

Here are several candidates worth supporting:

Kristyn Wong-Tam: In her first two terms, Wong-Tam has proven to be one of council’s hardest workers, balancing constituency work with social activism. She represents the east side of Toronto’s downtown core, including the financial district, Moss Park, Yorkville, and Church-Wellesley Village, all fast-growing areas with lots of new development planned or underway.

Under the old 47-ward model, Wong-Tam’s re-election would have been guaranteed, but now she is running against former provincial cabinet minister and mayoral candidate George Smitherman and appointed councillor Lucy Troisi. There are 19 candidates in total running in Ward 13, Toronto Centre.

Troisi, who replaced the late Pam McConnell in 2017, was backed by council’s right wing and has proven to be a reliable Tory ally on council. Last summer, when Premier Doug Ford moved to cut Toronto Council to 25 wards, Troisi wasn’t willing to fight. Like all council appointees, Troisi promised not to run for election if appointed, but has since reneged on that promise. Meanwhile, George Smitherman, who lost to Rob Ford in 2010, has drawn controversy for running a negative campaign, including targeting an affordable housing complex on Sherbourne.

Lekan Olawoye: Running in Ward 5, York South-Weston, Olawoye has proven to be a great community leader. In 2014, he ran in the old Ward 12 against Frank Di Giorgio, getting over 20% of the vote. I met Olawoye and his team after a mayoral debate in 2014, and I came away impressed. This time, Olawoye, an executive at MaRS, will be running against incumbents Di Giorgio and Frances Nunziata. Di Giorgio and Nunziata are both long-time conservative councillors and allies of Mayors Doug Ford and John Tory. Neither have represented the lower-income area effectively over their many years in office.

Shelley Carroll: I was hoping that Shelley Carroll would be elected MPP in the new riding of Don Valley North. She resigned her council seat to run in the June election, leaving a vacancy on council. She is a progressive Liberal with lots of municipal experience, including a stint as former mayor David Miller’s budget chief. Carroll would have been a valuable member of the Liberal caucus, especially if the party needed to rebuild after the 2018 election. Happily, she will be running for council again in Ward 17, Don Valley North.

There are also several awful councillors who might be turfed this year.

Giorgio Mammoliti: First elected to municipal politics in 1995 after serving one term as MPP, Mammoliti has been best known for his attention-grabbing stunts, his outrageous statements, and his disregard for many of his constituents. He barely even shows up to work. Earlier this year, The Toronto Star reported that Mammoliti missed nearly half of all council votes in 2018, the worst record among all 44 councillors. During the 2014-2018 term, he missed 43.1 percent of all votes.

Mammoliti has been in trouble several times for campaign finance violations, and has been under police investigation twice. Once for olding an illegal $80,000 fundraiser last year attended by lobbyists, developers and other businesspeople, the other for his involvement in a dubious land deal.

Under the 47 ward model, there was a promising challenger who looked like she could beat City Council’s resident troll: Tiffany Ford. Ford, elected in 2014 as a TDSB trustee, is a local resident, entrepreneur, and community activist. She is still running in the 25 ward election, but is also now against left-leaning incumbent Anthony Perruzza, and Deanna Sgro, the daughter of Liberal MP Judy Sgro. Deanna ran into trouble with the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2013 for questionable debt collection practices. While Perruzza would certainly be an improvement to Mammoliti, I prefer Tiffany Ford.

Mark Grimes: First elected to council in 2003, Grimes has been known for improperly backing developers in his ward, getting in trouble with the city’s integrity commissioner. Grimes has voted in favour of cuts to transit, the library system, and road safety improvements. Infrastructure has not kept up with massive growth in the Humber Bay Shores neighbourhood. In 2014, John Tory’s campaign supported Grimes’ re-election bid, despite the councillor’s poor record. But he’s been a reliable vote for the mayor on council. Grimes’ friend and ally Justin Di Ciano decided against running in 2018; the two would have otherwise faced off against each other.

Luckily, Amber Morley, who has been very active in the community, working at a community health centre and at city hall, is running to beat Grimes. Pamela Gough, currently a TDSB trustee, would be another solid choice to replace Grimes.

With Mammoliti and Grimes defeated, Toronto will be better off.

Unfortunately, without ranked ballots, it is more difficult to defeat long time incumbents or even underperforming rookies such as Christin Carmichael Greb. In 2018, Carmichael Greb will be running in Ward 8, Eglinton Lawrence against Mike Colle, Dyanoosh Youssefi (who came in second third place to Carmichael Greb in 2014), and Beth Levy. In Ward 7, the anti-Mammoliti vote could be split between several candidates, which could allow him to win with less than 30% of ballots cast.

The reduced wards has resulted in some very difficult and unfortunate choices as well. In Ward 12, Toronto-St. Paul’s, long-time progressive councillor Joe Mihevc is facing off against centrist Josh Matlow, both great councillors despite their differences. Mayor Tory endorsed Mihevc, probably because Matlow has been Tory’s harshest critic on council, largely because of the Scarborough subway extension. Either councillor, each very hard working and attentive to their constituents, will be missed. Another difficult decision is in Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth, where incumbents Paula Fletcher and Mary Fragedakis are running against each other, with worthy challengers such as Lanrick Bennett having to compete for attention and votes.

This election has felt anti-climatic thanks to Doug Ford’s meddling. Many good people were shut out of the election, or have a much greater challenge running in a 25 ward election. But I remain inspired by some of the people who decided to continue to run, and at least there are worthy people — veterans and fresh faces — worth voting for on Monday October 22.

Correction: Dyanoosh Youssefi came in third, not second place in Ward 16 in 2014. 

Election Parks Toronto Urban Planning

Why closing Toronto’s public golf courses is a boon to the public

IMG_8013-001.JPGDentonia Park Golf Course

Yesterday, Thanksgiving Monday, mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat proposed closing three of Toronto’s five municipally-owned golf courses. Keesmaat, Toronto’s previous chief planner, pointed out that the municipal golf courses operate at a loss, and that $10 million is allocated for improvements to those three courses. Furthermore, she intends to consult the local communities to best re-program the sites to address local wants and needs for the opened-up greenspace.

The three courses are:

  • Dentonia Park Golf Course, located on Victoria Park Avenue north of Danforth Avenue, next to Victoria Park subway station, in the Massey Creek ravine.
  • Don Valley Golf Course, located in the West Don Valley near Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue, near York Mills Station. It extends under Highway 401.
  • Scarlett Woods Golf Course, located near Eglinton Avenue and Scarlett Road on the Humber River.

Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, near Sheppard Avenue and Kennedy Road in Scarborough, and the Humber Valley Golf Course in north Etobicoke, are not mentioned in Keesmaat’s proposal.

I’m very happy that Keesmaat has put forward this bold idea. Despite the municipal ownership of these lands, they are fenced off from residents. For example, Dentonia Park is located in a lower income neighbourhood made of many high-rise rental buildings. As Toronto continues to grow in population, greenspace reserved for golfers could be put to better uses such as sports fields (soccer and cricket, especially), playgrounds, natural wetlands and woodlands, and public paths.

Golf is an expensive leisure activity with a large environmental footprint: the tending of golf courses require lots of water and pesticides. (Golf courses are exempted from a provincial ban on certain types of pesticides.) They may not adequately address the local community’s needs either, especially in lower income areas. Interest in playing golf is waning in North America as well. It makes sense to open up these publicly owned lands.

Golf courses get in the way of potential linear parks. As I mentioned before, the Don Valley Golf Course blocks access to Earl Bales Park from the south. Opening up the grounds to the general public would provide a continuous path from York Mills Station to Bathurst and Sheppard and beyond. This would provide a safe and pleasant walking and cycling route across Highway 401, compared to the unpleasant and dangerous crossings at the interchanges with Yonge Street and Avenue Road.

Dentonia Park Golf Course sits in between the path through Warden Woods and the Taylor Creek Ravine. If opened to the public, there could be a car-free path for pedestrians and cyclists all the way from Warden and St. Clair Avenues all the way downtown via the Don Valley trail system.

Keesmaat’s plan to close money-losing, poorly-used golf courses is a great idea, much like her promise not to go ahead with the costly replacement of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, instead going with the locally preferred boulevard option. Both of these ideas may not be popular with some, but they are both fiscally and environmentally sound.