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Darrin Wolter, a Citizen Member of the Mississauga Cycling Advisory Committee riding his bike in the Port Credit area of Mississauga (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Darrin Wolter, a Citizen Member of the Mississauga Cycling Advisory Committee riding his bike in the Port Credit area of Mississauga (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

ontario election

Think you know the 'burbs, politicos? Think again Add to ...

Dalton McGuinty's party, by contrast, seem to be banking on a big-tent approach, which may in fact be better suited to Toronto's suburbs in flux. The Liberals' appeal to suburban voters has included promises to add trains on the GO regional rail network and reduce post-secondary tuition. Linda Jeffrey, the party's candidate in Brampton-Springdale, sticks entirely to the theme of better services in discussing the strategy for winning ridings like hers. She's also quick to link the rhetoric of cutting waste to the budget cuts of the last Progressive Conservative government.

“My voters still remember what those efficiencies meant,” she says. “I remind people in the 905 that, whether it was health care, education or social services, we weren't getting our fair share.”

THE NEW FACE OF SUBURBIA

Darrin Wolter grew up in the small Niagara Region town of Winona and, when he first bought a house 12 years ago, chose to avoid the bustle of downtown Toronto. But that didn’t mean he wanted a car-dependent, mall-oriented lifestyle.

So he moved to Port Credit, a former lakeshore village swallowed up by Mississauga in the 1970s, where civic-minded residents have worked hard to preserve an historic feel. Thanks to these efforts, its main street looks more Danforth than Dixie, with bars, restaurants and independent shops tucked into two-storey commercial buildings.

Mr. Wolter himself plies the city’s streets and trails on his bicycle, whether to take his 10-year-old son to baseball practice or on his commute to work as an analyst at a telecom company. His wife, meanwhile, takes the GO train to her job downtown.

“I know the mindset has changed from the way things were done,” says the 44-year-old, referring to the freeway-crossed method of subdivision development. “I think people know that’s not the way to build in the 21st century.”

This sort of thinking also informs the way he votes: Rather than simply picking a candidate who will offer up the most immediate benefits, he says he looks for people with a vision to make the world a healthier and more ecologically-friendly place.

His attitude is reflected in a strong push for urbanism unfolding across the GTA and encompassing everyone from community leaders to everyday citizens to local politicians.

In Port Credit, for instance, residents are involved in crafting the city’s plan for the area. Jim Danahy, who heads the local community association, rattles off ideas that have a decidedly downtown flavour: building office blocks on underused land, establishing a Seattle-esque houseboat community in the harbour, building more GO stations to distribute new development more evenly, putting bike lanes on Lakeshore Road East.

“In infill areas like this, we’re not dealing with sprawl. We’re dealing with intelligent intensification,” he says.

On a city-wide level, Mississauga is constructing a dedicated busway that will transect it from east to west; a north-south light rail line is also in the works. The city also has a 20-year plan to add 30 kilometres of routes and increase the number of riders twentyfold.

These plans also include the province: Mayor Hazel McCallion waded into the Oct. 6 campaign to demand Queen’s Park continue uploading costs that former premier Mike Harris handed off to municipalities. The city has also pushed for the abolition of the Ontario Municipal Board, arguing that it too frequently allows developers to build high-rise condominium towers that disregard local planning guidelines designed to ensure new communities fit a mixed-use, mid-rise model.

In Brampton, meanwhile, Mayor Susan Fennell has met with both Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Hudak to call for a second local hospital and a university campus in the booming city of nearly half a million people. Her council, meanwhile, recently approved a city hall expansion that would also create 16,000 feet of street-front retail by 2014.

Don Naylor, who has run a Brampton environmental design firm for 29 years and chairs the downtown redevelopment corporation, says planning in the area has to strike a balance between bringing more offices and condominiums downtown while preserving historic streetscapes. He suggests, for instance, leaving the street intact and putting mid-rise buildings behind.

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