Published on Tuesday, 19th Feb, 2019 at 7:24am
Interest in the race is high, as was demonstrated last night when over 450 people packed into Kingston Road United Church for a standing-room only Town Hall meeting featuring Ward 19 City Council candidates. With sixteen candidates running in Beaches-East York, it was the first opportunity for many local residents to meet and hear from their candidates. Beaches-East York is only one of two Toronto wards with no incumbent running, as current Ward 37 Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon announced last year that she would not be running for a third term. McMahon, who was in the audience, supports a two-term limit for city councilors.
Beaches-East York is also unusual for the sheer number of candidates running, at sixteen. Only Toronto Center (Ward 13) and Willowdale (Ward 18) have more City Council candidates, at nineteen and eighteen respectively. With less than a month until election day, voters are eager to get up to speed on the bewildering array of candidates
Despite the large field, diversity isn’t exactly a strong point among the City Council candidates in Ward 19, with twelve men and four women - including the only visible minority candidate. That's a 3:1 male-female candidate ratio.
Twelve of the sixteen City Council candidates for Ward 19 participated in the Town Hall. The event was co-hosted by the Balmy Beach Resident’s Association and Beach Metro, and was moderated by BBRA President John Cameron.
Candidates in attendance were:
|David Del Grande||daviddelgrande.ca|
Unable to attend were:
|Norval Bryant||No info|
|Dragan Cimesa||No info|
|Donald Lamoreux||No info|
Expertly moderated by John Cameron, the Town Hall was more akin to speed dating than political debate, as each candidate had less than a minute to answer a series of pre-selected questions which were not shared with them in advance. The sheer number of candidates meant that answers were limited to 45 seconds. Candidates were given one minute to deliver an opening statement introducing themselves and their platform.
If you’re interested in hearing the Town Hall for yourself, we’ve put an audio recording of the event on SoundCloud here. While the questions and answers were short and succinct, we’ll only be able to cover the highlights in this article, so we encourage you to stream the audio for yourself. The Beach Metro was also at the event, so keep an eye out for their coverage.
Some of the most interesting and dramatic moments came early on, when candidates were asked about their support for Mayoral candidates and term limits. Candidates were given the option to state if they were for/against/rather not say. When asked if they supported a particular Mayoral candidate, a majority of candidates abstained. When it came to expressing support for current Toronto Mayor John Tory, candidates Brenda MacDonald and Josh Makuch stood in support. Asked who supported Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, David Del Grande alone stood.
Asked if they supported a two-term limit for councilors, a majority of candidates stood in support, to a round of applause. Only a single candidate – Adam Smith – stood against. When we interviewed Adam Smith last week for an upcoming article, we asked him about term limits. Smith said that he believes term limits are fundamentally undemocratic. “If someone on council is doing a great job for the community, who am I to tell them that they can’t vote for that person? Let the voters decide” Smith said.
The next segment of the Town Hall was devoted to a single all-candidate question, again with each candidate having only forty-five seconds to respond. On the question "Now that the ward has doubled in size, how are you going to manage the ward and make sure that constituent’s voices are heard?", a number of candidates noted that – despite Ford’s claims of cost-savings – support staff for councilors would probably need to double. Adam Smith suggested creating two dedicated teams, one each for the Beaches and East York, with constituency offices in each of the former wards. Conversely, Brenda MacDonald stressed the need to integrate the former wards in order to combat the provinces “divide and conquer” strategy.
While most candidates espoused an open-door policy and direct constituent consultation, veteran politician and former Kitchener Mayor Morley Rosenberg argued that effective delegation would be a necessary key to success, a sentiment echoed by Veronica Stephen. Matthew Kellway drew applause when he argued that the City's 311 service is understaffed and underfunded, and that addressing the situation would be a good start.
The balance of the evening was given over to a series of category questions on Development & Housing, Transit and Transportation, Safety and Security and the Local Economy.
On the topic of housing strategy and affordable housing, inclusionary zoning was a hot topic. City planner Brad Bradford drew applause for his position that higher density development needs to follow transit, specifically advocating six-story developments on Danforth Avenue. Bradford said "for me, to have two stories with a billion-dollar subway underneath, that doesn’t make a lot of sense". Morley Rosenberg called out the province for underfunding transit in Toronto.
On the question of sub-dividing lots to increase density, candidates were generally unanimous in their support of the idea. Diane Dyson added a unique twist, suggesting that barriers to co-housing be reduced as a means of increasing density. Dyson pointed out that antiquated rooming house laws in Toronto discourage co-housing, and that demographic trends point to bigger houses with fewer occupants. Candidate Frank Marra underlined the need to reduce red tape in the planning department, as did Valerie Maltais, who pointed out that permitting costs can be prohibitive – up to $35,000 by her reckoning.
One of the livelier topics of the evening was Transit & Transportation, with the focus on squarely on the TTC and Woodbine Bike Lanes.
On the contentious issue of the Woodbine bike lanes, candidates almost universally supported increased cycling infrastructure in the city, while most expressed concern over the implementation of the Woodbine bike lanes. Most of the criticism was leveled at the process the City followed. Paul Bura questioned the need to reduce Woodbine Avenue to two lanes, suggesting that cycle lanes in both direction could have been confined to a single side of the road, and that a barrier should have separated the bike lanes from other traffic.
Brad Bradford said that suggestions the bike lanes be torn up were disingenuous political hay-making, stating that he supports the city’s 10-year cycling plan. Valerie Maltais criticized the City’s consulting process, calling it “passive engagement” rather than an active approach to stakeholders in the area.
On the subject of transit, the candidates were again nearly unanimous on the need for the relief subway line, which the Toronto Star covered in detail in this article yesterday.
Former Beaches-East York MPP Matthew Kellway scored points with the crowd on transit, drawing applause when he said he’d like to see “the end of short-turns on our streetcars”. Kellway cited the example of women being forced off short-turned streetcars at night, far from their destination. He also suggested that the waterfront LRT be extended to the Beaches, and floated the idea of a community bus free to seniors. Veronica Smith again hammered home the need for increased funding.
Josh Makuch also struck a chord, saying “my hand shakes whenever I hear the phrase Bombardier”. Makuch called for increased streetcar service on Queen St. E. and Kingston Rd., and improved express bus service.
On the hot topic of community safety, gun violence was at the forefront. Morely Rosenberg focused on the need for increased attention to mental health issues, and called for the elimination of handguns and assault weapons across the country. Paul Bura also called for improved strategies around mental health and youth programs. Bura also asked "why don’t we have programs that are in place from 9pm to 5am, instead of 9am to 5pm?", as most youth-related crime presumably happens at night.
Finally, the topic turned to the ailing local economy. On the topic of maximum square footage and patios restrictions impacting local restaurants, Valerie Maltais said that the real issue was red tape at city hall, with local business owners unable to get permits even for existing patio space. Adam Smith said that many of these restrictions are unique to the Beach, and that regulations need to be brought into line with the rest of the city. Matthew Kellway cited the exorbitant cost of rents in the area, blaming “speculators and/or developers” for driving commercial rents to unaffordable levels. Kellway also took a swipe at the local BIA, stating “we cannot do BIA’s by planters, benches and banners.”
The session wrapped up with a 45-second closing statement from each of the candidates. Topics not touched on during the town hall included affordable child care and the Woodbine Beach concessions.
Overall, the Town Hall was very well run and it was certainly well-attended. In our opinion, particularly strong performances were turned in by Matthew Kellway, Adam Smith, Brad Bradford, and Josh Makuch. All of the candidates are to be commended for sticking to the grueling schedule, and for the spirited presentation of their positions. The debate was polite, informative, and well received by the large crowd. While the issues were squarely focused on the Beach, candidates from the former Ward 35 comported themselves superbly, and it was a pleasure to get to see them in person.
We urge you to acquaint yourself with the candidates and their platforms. If you enjoyed today’s article, stay tuned. We’ll be running detailed profiles of each of the Ward 19 candidates in the coming weeks.