In one of Toronto’s only council races without an incumbent, the contest for Beaches-East York has been populated by a colourful 16-candidate cast – from Afghanistan war veteran Josh Makuch to Morley Rosenberg, the 81-year-old former mayor of Kitchener, Ont.
The ward’s former MP Matthew Kellway is running, but others are making names for themselves for the first time in the political sphere. Candidate Adam Smith, for example, made each of his 22 recycled lawn signs from collected pieces of old fences and delivery skids, which he and his supporters stencilled by hand. The local race is a far cry from the norm Toronto-wide − after the province cut the size of city council from 47 to 25, the majority of wards are seeing incumbents pitted against other incumbents, in fiercely contested races.
But in Beaches-East York, 16 candidates are vying to represent a new ward that runs from Lake Ontario to Sunrise Avenue, and from Coxwell to Victoria Park. It includes the Beaches, the Woodbine Gardens and Danforth Village neighbourhoods. It grows slower than the rest of the city, and has more homes built before 1960, at 73 per cent versus 46 per cent from that era city-wide.
The ward also has fewer visible minorities than most of the city, making up just 33 per cent of the ward’s population, versus 51 per cent of Toronto’s overall population. Roberta Tevlin, a resident of the ward for the last three decades, says she plans to cast her vote next week to encourage a female candidate of colour − like Veronica Stephen, a city veteran who worked in Parks, Forestry and Recreation, court services, and the city’s employment and social services divisions. In Ms. Tevlin’s research before voting, she said she was struck by the largely white, often male council.
“There are still barriers to the other candidates, so what can I do to maybe tweak it?” Ms. Tevlin asked. “I can vote for candidates who are not white and male, that I’d like to encourage to run again.”
Local issues such as the divisive Woodbine bike lanes and vacant storefronts along Queen Street East have been central to this campaign, placing them on even ground with issues such as housing and child-care affordability and transit. Mr. Makuch is referencing his time in the army to address gun control, and Mr. Rosenberg is running on the value of his experience in unsteady times.
“The Beach is dying,” declared council hopeful Donald Lamoreux. He’s one of several candidates currently proposing or supporting the creation of a vacancy tax, province permitting, to inject life back into deadened portions of major commercial streets.
“The property owners should be responsible for, one, maintaining the façade of the property, and making sure it doesn’t look run down or mismanaged,” agreed candidate Paul Bura, who said he’d also like a tax on the vacant commercial spots.
The revitalizing of main streets and vacant lots on Queen East is also a keystone of urban planner Brad Bradford’s campaign. Mr. Bradford has gleaned several high-profile endorsements, from the likes of Mayor John Tory, mayoral challenger Jennifer Keesmaat, deputy mayor Ana Bailao and Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon. (Ms. McMahon chose not to run this time around because of a belief in term limits. The other incumbent, Janet Davis, has chosen to retire.) Ms. Davis is endorsing Mr. Kellway, withdrawing her additional endorsement of Diane Dyson when two wards became one.
Two recent polls from Main Street Research and Forum Research indicate that Mr. Kellway is leading the local race. The Main Street poll clocks his support in at 43.7 per cent of the electorate, versus Mr. Bradford’s 32 per cent; Forum Research has Mr. Kellway at 44 per cent and Mr. Bradford at 27 per cent. The Forum poll results are considered accurate plus or minus 5 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The Main Street poll is considered accurate plus or minus 4 per cent.
The endorsements from sitting politicians have left many voters feeling the race is solely between Mr. Kellway and Mr. Bradford. Many of the other candidates expressed ire over the practice in recent interviews with The Globe and Mail, saying the endorsements stack the deck in favour of the mayor or outgoing councillors’ agendas.
“For a lot of us, it’s easy to get overshadowed,” said Mr. Lamoreux.
At a recent all-candidates meeting in the basement auditorium of a local church, 13 of the 16 candidates weighed in on polarizing local topics such as the year-old Woodbine bike lanes. Critics say the lanes have bottlenecked traffic, forcing drivers off the arterial road and onto residential streets; supporters say it’s a step forward to more sustainable transit, and will improve as the city unfolds the entirety of its 10-year cycling network plan.
But simpler issues were also raised − like who would reopen the closed public toilets at the nearby Taylor Creek Park.
Candidates laughed, and then raised their hands, to become the issue’s champion.