If taxes were to rise in Toronto, you wouldn't hear any complaints from Beaconsfield resident Rhea Lavery.
Ms. Lavery, who wants to see more separated bike lanes around the city, said, "I want to vote for somebody who's actually honest enough to say, 'If you want these things in the city, it's going to cost money.' These people who say we can have something for nothing, I'm just so tired of that."
It's for that reason Ms. Lavery said she's supporting Harvard-educated lawyer and policy adviser Alex Mazer in the race against the incumbent councillor, Ana Bailao, in Ward 18, Davenport, which stretches from Dupont Street to Queen Street between Dovercourt Road and the Kitchener GO Train tracks to the west.
Mr. Mazer is among nearly a dozen challengers looking to unseat Ms. Bailao, who took over for former councillor and TTC chair Adam Giambrone after winning by more than 1,300 votes in 2010. He's racked up endorsements from the Toronto Star, Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, and his old boss, former Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan. Mr. Mazer and Ms. Bailao's platforms are similar, with both pledging to improve bus and streetcar service by reducing bunching, increase affordable housing options and provide better access to affordable childcare services.
"City council has become dysfunctional and is in need of new ideas and new leadership," Mr. Mazer said in an interview. "I feel [Ms. Bailao] has supported the Ford agenda on too many occasions."
He pointed to her support for the Scarborough subway, elimination of the vehicle registration tax and removal of the Jarvis Street bike lanes as examples of her siding with the Ford administration.
"There's a difference between being a hard-working councillor who shows up and real leadership," Mr. Mazer said. "She's voted for tax cuts and then she's also said we need better services."
Ms. Bailao, who is endorsed by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, rejected the notion she was a Ford supporter.
She said Mr. Mazer was ignoring times she pushed back against the mayor's policies, such as a plan to sell off 675 Toronto Community Housing properties to raise revenue. As chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, Ms. Bailao got that number down to 111 and said she found other ways of raising money, such as revitalizing properties and refinancing mortgages.
"Am I going to vote against everything a mayor does just because it's the mayor doing it? No, that's not the way I work," Ms. Bailao said.
Having lived in Ward 18 since she was a teenager, Ms. Bailao said she understands the ward and has served it well through her work on affordable housing, getting new Dufferin Street buses and a line supervisor pilot program to avoid bunching. She also ensured a new development on Sterling Avenue included a childcare space, she said.
"In probably the worst time of municipal government in this country, I was able to deliver," Ms. Bailao said. "It's results versus an idea or a piece of paper."
While Ms. Bailao has worked extensively on the affordable housing issue, Mr. Mazer said TCHC still struggles with a climbing wait list and an enormous repair backlog.
"We haven't seen any shift in federal or provincial policy despite the advocacy efforts that she has been trying to lead," he said.
Ward 18 residents pay $978 in average monthly rent, compared to Toronto's $1,026, according to the 2011 National Household Survey, and nearly three-quarters live in apartment buildings. The ward's average household income is about $67,000, which is $20,000 less than the city's average.
"Low-income people and seniors are the ones who have the hardest time staying in their homes," Mr. Mazer said. "I'm proposing to help champion a more progressive property tax system [based on income]."
He said he will also ensure new residential developments in the ward include some affordable units.
Ms. Bailao similarly said she would advocate for affordable units in new developments and also use part of the land transfer tax to pay for affordable housing.
"We actually opened more affordable housing this term than ever before, 3,000 units," Ms. Bailao said, pledging to continue with a 10-year capital plan for affordable housing she helped draft, one-third of which the city has already committed to pay.
Ms. Bailao recognized her tenure at city hall hasn't been without controversy. She held a tearful news conference last year to announce she'd pleaded guilty to an impaired driving charge she had vowed to fight.
"I believe that people will judge me on my character, what they've known from me and on my work," Ms. Bailao said.
Her work has built her a strong reputation in the community, said Ward 18 resident Manuel Mediros.
"She helps a lot with the old people," the retired Mr. Mediros said, adding he's heard she visited seniors' residences to hear their concerns. "That's what a councillor has to do."
He said Ms. Bailao, who moved to Canada from Portugal and serves a ward where 20 per cent of people listed Portuguese as their mother tongue, according to Statistics Canada, has got on well with the Portuguese community.
Davenport's Portuguese community is declining in numbers, however, as the demographics of the ward slowly change. In 2011, there were about 2,500 fewer people who said Portuguese was their mother tongue compared to 2006, according to Statistics Canada.
Bridging that gap between old and new Davenport is key to another Ward 18 council candidate, Jolene Hunt.
"They're not really talking to each other in the way that they should," she said, adding there is sometimes tension as older Portuguese establishments feel they're losing patrons to new businesses. "I just want to make sure it keeps moving in a way so that everyone in the neighbourhood feels included. No one feels like they're not welcome any more."
Ms. Hunt, a senior project manager at Scratch Marketing, is also campaigning for full funding for the TTC, affordable housing built by the city, and community-led development.
Voters hoping for change in Ward 18 should vote for her instead of Mr. Mazer, Ms. Hunt said, because he already had the chance to bring more funding to the city through his time as a director of policy to Mr. Duncan.
"I think he's had opportunities to make change and he hasn't taken advantage of them," Ms. Hunt said. "It's anyone's race to win."