Being re-elected with the highest number of votes and the highest margin of victory in the City of Toronto in the last municipal elections could have lulled Michael Thompson into a false sense of security and prompted him to take it easy on the campaign trail this time around.
Taking things for granted, however, is not a position with which the only Black big city councilor is comfortable. He was not brought up that way and he’s not about to change, especially with his mother keeping a close eye on him.
Despite securing 87 per cent of the votes in Scarborough Centre in 2006, Thompson is knocking on doors and turning a deaf ear to those who try to assure him that he has the ward locked up and there is no need to canvas.
“I remember as a young boy growing up that my mom would always tell me that the harder you work, the more successful you could be,” said Thompson who has been a councilor since 2003. “I think the notion that one should not campaign is ridiculous.
“I campaign from the standpoint that nobody remembers the last thing that I did that was positive in the community. That’s why I need to get out and remind my constituents what I have done and what I am going to do in the future. I enjoy electioneering and the elements associated with the process.”
An outspoken community safety advocate, Thompson played pivotal roles in the establishment of the Wexford Heights Business Improvement Area in 2004 which hosts the popular Taste of Lawrence East summer festival. He also launched the Scarborough Rocks community image campaign and hosts regular community events and town hall meetings.
As chair of the Scarborough Community Council in 2006, he led the campaign to create the first ever Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) strategy for Scarborough that promised to significantly expand and enhance public transit services.
“Transit remains an issue of concern,” he says. “As you know, I was a member and I was trying to implement a number of things there and the mayor (David Miller) removed me because he didn’t like the approach that I was taking. It’s funny because now a lot of people are talking about those approaches.
“I want to continue to fight for more transit, not only for Scarborough, but across the city because we have to find ways to move people who aren’t able to afford cars. My mother is a senior and her mode of transportation is transit and she talks to me about the inefficiency at times.”
Thompson also promises to create economic and employment opportunities and continue to push for a better way to manage the city’s resources.
“I believe, for example, that a zero-based budgeting principle and policy should be implemented in the City of Toronto where you start off the year figuring out how much money you have, determine what you want to do and figuring out what the cost is going to be versus the situation where you add three or four per cent to what you did the year before,” he said.
Thompson, who had considered entering the mayoral race, changed his mind last December because of family commitments. He said he does not plan to publicly endorse a candidate even though he has been offered enticing opportunities, including deputy mayor.
“What I have said to my community is that they should decide which of the candidates actually provides them with the vision that they can align themselves to. I can work with any of the candidates who become mayor. At the same time, I think it’s important for the people to make their decision. That’s not up to me.”
Working with the next mayor could be quite a challenge for Thompson, though. He said the candidates have failed to define the challenges facing the city and how they plan to address them.
“I think there has been a tremendous amount of negative information that has been basically presented to Torontonians and most of it has been inaccurate,” said the Concordia University graduate who worked in the financial service industry and owned a business service firm before entering politics. “The campaigns have been very negative and I think the candidates have not distinguished themselves by defining a real vision for this city. People have taken little snippets of things and emphasized them in a very negative way for the most part.”
It’s no secret that Thompson and Miller did not see eye to eye on many issues, prompting Thompson to describe their relationship as challenging. While their management styles and approaches to managing the city’s affairs are quite different, Thompson says he respects Miller as a person.
Earning his admiration might be the only consideration the next mayor might be able to get from Thompson.