There’s a municipal election happening here in Toronto, made all the more complex by Ontario premier King Doug’s decree that Toronto shall cut the number of Councillors by about half, down to 25. Tonight was the only all-candidates meeting for the new Ward 3. I sallied forth to the Assembly Hall to check out the candidates.
There are 10 candidates for Councillor. They are:
Mark Grimes (the current and long-time Councillor)
However, tonight there were only 6 candidates in attendance. The following individuals showed up:
Where was Councillor Grimes? A lot of people wanted the answer to that question and several loudly asked it at the beginning of the evening. There was no official answer forthcoming. The fellow in the seat beside me said Grimes never shows up for these things. I don’t know if that is true or not.
Does Councillor Grimes have an attendance problem? On Facebook, one of his opponents, Iain Davis wrote: If you missed work 33% of the time would you still have your job? Probably not. In 2018 Mark Grimes missed 33% of the council votes. But he still collected 100% of his $112,000 salary. I was hoping Mr. Grimes would be there tonight to explain his record. Missing a third of council votes is a whopping gap. Perhaps he has a legitimate reason for his poor attendance. I know I want a Councillor who is going to be there to vote on our behalf. That’s at the heart of the job.
I don’t know Councillor Grimes. I’ve been told some positive things about him by some people I know and trust in the neighbourhood, and I know he is very well connected in the community. Some people have told me that he has come to the table on the lot-splitting issue, written letters and launched some appeals, and I know that to be true. However, early on when the lot-splitting started in our area and some local residents wanted to oppose a severance decision, I contacted his office by email asking for advice and help and got no response at all. Another neighbour tried calling his office and did not receive a call-back on the same issue. Later on, when many individuals in the community contacted his office on the lot splitting issue, it seems Councillor Grimes became more tuned into it, and held a public meeting. While he clearly has done some work opposing some specific applications, in my assessment, this work has not been highly successful (you only have to walk around south Long Branch and look at all the soldier homes) and I suspect the lot-splitting and soldier homes in Long Branch will be the legacy of this Councillor’s terms in office when people look back at our local history in years to come. After all, the fabric of our community has changed more radically over the past 5 years than in 3 decades before that.
I will say that on smaller issues, when we have contacted the Councillor’s office, they have been responsive, and they did put notices about the garden tour we were organizing in the Councillor’s weekly newsletter. The garden tour turned out to be the biggest free garden tour in Toronto, quite an achievement for Long Branch. However, when we invited Councillor Grimes to join us for the opening “flower toss” for the garden tour, we did not receive a yes or no, and when I followed up asking if he was going to come, his office responded quite close to the date to say unfortunately the Councillor could not fit it into his schedule.
I think it is time for a fresh face representing us on Toronto Council. I’d like to congratulate all 6 of the candidates for showing up and facing public questions tonight. I think Councillor is an important but very difficult job. I know they have to work quite hard and the Council meetings are long and grueling. To be honest I think it takes a special personality to handle a job like this. I think I would grow to dislike that kind of work very quickly. They have to face constituents on all sides of difficult issues and make assessments and decisions I don’t envy.
I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail about the meeting tonight. I left thinking 3 of the 6 candidates who were there were particularly credible and impressive – Iain Davis, Amber Morley and Pamela Gough.
I should say that I’ve known Iain Davis for some time. His family lives just around the corner from us. I know his family because our dog Memphis was best buddies from puppihood with their dog Annie. I recall Iain as a teenager. He has since become a Pastor, and talking to him these days I see a highly intelligent fellow who is very community-minded. Although Iain does not have political experience, he grew up with politics all around him, as his dad Bruce was a Trustee and TDSB chair several years ago, and has been involved with political campaigns. I’m impressed with Iain as a person and as a candidate, and I think he did a highly credible job at the all-candidates meeting tonight. I liked his strong answer on the lot-splitting issue tonight in particular. He was able to come out say the lot-splitting has not been good for our community and he does not support it.
Pamela Gough is a 2-term school Trustee who wants to transition to the Councillor role. She certainly knows the lay of the land, so to speak, and is very conversant with the issues both in the old Ward 6 and the old Ward 5, which are now consolidated. I thought she was quite knowledgeable and gave thoughtful answers. I believe she has been dedicated and hard-working. I suppose my biggest concern is that she has been around the political scene already for 2 terms. No doubt the Trustee role is not the same as Councillor, and certainly not as complex. I think she’s a very credible candidate but I’m not entirely convinced.
Amber Morley is clearly very bright and well-spoken. She has a PR background and has worked at City Hall as an assistant to a couple different Councillors over the past few years. I have no doubt she was a very capable assistant in those offices and I know the staff in a Councillor’s office have highly responsible roles. She has a solid organization (I was even approached by 3 of them as I was leaving, who wanted to know what I thought about the candidates, and further wanted to engage me in discussion and try to win my vote). I do have one major concern. I’m interested in a candidate who is willing to take a side and take a stand on the lot-splitting issue (I want to vote for a candidate who has made it clear we need to try to curtail rampant over-development in the neighbourhoods and focus intensification on the main streets as laid out in the official plan). Amber stated that she thinks lot-splitting has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis, and that simply is not a strong enough position to win my vote.
It is very difficult to defeat an incumbent Councillor in Toronto. Voter turnout is traditionally low and for some people, the only name they know is the incumbent. There are a number of Councillors who have been around for a long time now. Tonight Iain Davis asked the capacity crowd in attendance how many thought the current guy has to go and the response was overwhelming. Granted, the audience was made up in part of supporters of each of the candidates in attendance. Can one of the candidates I highlighted tonight (or one of the others) be the so-called giant killer and take down the incumbent? I don’t know the answer to that. I would be happier if there was a single clear challenger, so the vote doesn’t get split. On the other hand, this is a very unusual election with the Council cut in half and anything can happen.
I’m supporting Iain Davis for Councillor. I trust him and I think he’s the right kind of person for this job. He said tonight he thinks the Councillor should be part of the Community, and available in office and at community meetings of various types. I like his spunk and his approach. As a Pastor, he brings a unique experience to the role which in my mind makes up for lack of political experience.
Good luck to all the candidates. I know they will continue campaigning hard before the election on the 22nd. I hope this experience is a good one for all of them and especially to the two younger candidates Iain and Amber. I think it is incredibly positive to see younger people step up and challenge for these positions. Only one person is going to win this election, but each candidate has an opportunity here to build some public profile and pivot to different roles in the future.